The start of the London Marathon was a focal point of interest for the Formula One paddock. Lots of people knew someone taking part in the race, and none more closely than Bernie Ecclestone, whose girlfriend Fabiana Flosi was a competitor.
“I think she’s looking forward to it,” said Bernie when he arrived at the track. “I’m not sure what her time will be; I think she hopes to break five hours.”
When news of the early stages of the race filtered through to the Bahrain paddock, mouths dropped. The leaders completed the opening 10kms in 29m34s – the equivalent of 4m30s per mile. For 26 miles. “That’s hard core,” said Jenson Button.
Due to the support races, there wasn’t time to run around the Bahrain International Circuit this morning. Lots of coffee was drunk instead as people pondered the outcome of the race, but cappuccinos were not on the cards. To get a good froth, you need bespoke cow’s milk, not the milk powder on offer here.
The drivers had similar problems generating bubbles on the podium after the race. Being a Muslim country, Bahrain is dry in every sense of the word – it rains about once every two months and no alcohol is consumed. As a result, no champagne was sprayed on the podium and the top three drivers were left to ‘spray’ a cocktail called ‘waard’, which was made of rosewater and pomegranates.
“It doesn’t taste too bad,” said race winner Sebastian Vettel. “It’s just quite difficult to spray!”
Williams star Bruno Senna had to deal with something that wasn’t quite the real deal today as well. During the drivers’ autograph session, someone dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow approached him and asked for his signature.
“You’re not having my autograph,” said Bruno, “I want yours!” And that’s what happened: Captain Jack signed one of Bruno’s autograph cards, before politely moving on.
There’s now a three-week break in the calendar, before the European F1 season kicks off in Barcelona on 13 May. Before then, there’s a three-day test session at Mugello for the teams to get through. There’s no rest for the wicked.
When Sebastian Vettel, the man who scored a record 15 pole positions in 2011, pronounced his surprise at taking his first pole of the year in Bahrain, the media in the Formula One paddock nodded sagely. Is F1 really that competitive this year?
Yes, it is.
Last weekend Seb started the Chinese Grand Prix from 11th place; at Sakhir he snuck ahead of second-placed Lewis Hamilton by less than 0.1s. “It’s a real surprise to be starting from the front,” he said. “Our qualifying performances haven’t been very strong, but F1 is so unpredictable this year and you have to take your chance when you get it.”
He certainly took his chance, as he did when he left the paddock this evening. The Bahrain International Circuit laid on a barbecue for all F1 personnel and Seb was spotted grabbing a chip on his way to the paddock turnstiles. A celebratory chip? I’m getting a sense of déjà vu.
Nico Rosberg, who lines up fifth on the grid, is the only front-runner with a fresh set of option tyres available in the race. He no doubt fancies his chances as a result, and you can’t discount his MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS team-mate Michael Schumacher back in 17th.
“I think Michael can have a very strong race tomorrow,” said Sky TV pundit and former rival Damon Hill. “He has lots of fresh sets of tyres and his Mercedes has the necessary straight-line speed to see him make progress through the field quickly.”
With the parc fermé rules kicking in at 1830, many members of the F1 paddock chose to run the track this evening and the regulars were in for a fright. Williams third driver Valtteri Bottas blew them all into the weeds with a time of 20m12s - nearly a minute quicker than the next man.
This being F1, there were some raised eyebrows among rivals who wondered how such a lap time was possible (3m43 per km - Ed). So heated did the discussion become that Williams shareholder Toto Wolff, who was cycling while Valtteri ran, jumped to his driver’s defence and showed anyone interested the lap time on his watch.
What time would Jenson Button, a keen triathlete, do if he were allowed to run? “I’d be fastest, of course,” he said.
You’ve just won your first grand prix and brought Mercedes-Benz its first Formula One victory since 1955. The world is singing your praises and some sections of the media are even tipping you for world championship glory in 2012.
How do you celebrate such a breakthrough moment? With a burger and chips.
Nico Rosberg, the man in question, headed straight to Pudong airport on Sunday night. Once his bags were checked in, he strayed from his usual strict diet and opted for a slab of beef in a bun and some deep fried potatoes. That was as wild as the celebrations got.
“To win my first race was a hugely satisfying moment,” says Nico, “but I had no desire to go out and have a massive party. I knew all along that I had a flight to catch and by 2330 on Sunday night I was at 37,000 feet en route to Dubai.”
His only travelling companion on the flight was his physio, Daniel Schloesser; he had no other friends or team members with him.
“The sense of euphoria was still there when I landed in Dubai on Monday morning,” says Nico. “But it didn’t last that long because I had to begin focusing on the next race in Bahrain. On Monday afternoon I did a light training session to shake off some of the physical stresses of the previous day and by Tuesday I was back training hard.”
Nico did most of the training outside in an effort to acclimatise to the 31-degree heat of the Middle East. He ran along the beach and cycled along the seafront, and his only media commitment of the day was a long interview with German newspaper, [i]Bild[i].
Tuesday ended in frustration, however, when he couldn’t find anywhere in his hotel showing the Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid Champions League semi-final. Regular phone calls to friends kept him up to speed with events and the match ended in a second German victory of the week.
“Following a football match using text commentary isn’t very satisfactory,” he says. “That’s when you have to rely on your friends for information!”
Nico paid a visit to the headquarters of Daimler Middle East on Wednesday and he was welcomed like a hero. He then made the short hop to Bahrain in the evening and, come Thursday, he was into the swing of another grand prix weekend.
“Niki Lauda said to me on Sunday that the first win is the hardest,” says Nico. “I hope he’s right.”
He ended Friday’s two practice sessions fastest of all.