After a great experience of going to F1's Barcelona pre-season testing in 2012, I decided to go back in 2013. Testing doesn't offers exciting racing, but gives any motorsport fan the chance to get to witness and hear F1 cars from a few metres away.
It gives fans a chance to show their support for their favourite teams, and see what they get up to in the pit lane, as well as seeing the new season cars before they head to Australia for the first race of the F1 season. It's affordable, great fun, and you're guaranteed to walk away with lasting memories. However, little did I know how many memories I would walk away with this time....
Arriving in Barcelona on the Thursday, myself and my boyfriend opted to explore the city that day before heading to the circuit on the Friday. Waking up at the crack of dawn, I recall tweeting everyone, explaining how excited I was to be heading back to one of my favourite circuits.
Around 7am, myself and Steve made our way to breakfast, then headed to the Circuit de Catalunya around 8am. The weather was awful, but we were too excited for it to bother us!
The journey from our hotel to the circuit was relatively short, taking around 10 minutes in a taxi. A word of warming if anyone decides to go to pre-season testing and opts to travel to the circuit by taxi - be wary of the costs! Taxis aren't cheap, but they are reliable.
As we got closer to the circuit, I got knots in my stomach with excitement. You can't beat the sounds, sights and even smells you get in Formula 1. There's no sport like it!
Prior to travelling out to Barcelona, myself and my boyfriend decided to buy Circuit Tour tickets for ourselves and my parents. Priced at 70 Euros each, the tickets not only gave spectators access to the circuit, but also the chance to access areas that are a 'no-go' usually. This meant a trip to the paddock, podium, pre-podium area, race control and the briefing room.
When we arrived at the circuit, we made our way to the main grandstand, situating ourselves across from the Mercedes garage. With coffee in hand, around 9am, we then heard that sound all F1 fans get goosebumps over...the engines! Now as many people who I have spoken to on Twitter know, I did once show my support for McLaren. Now to say 'I no longer like that team' is rubbish.
I will always have a soft spot for them, but my 2 favourite boys are driving for Mercedes, so naturally I have warmed massively to this team. This is a team that is incredibly interactive with their fans on Twitter, something I appreciate massively as a Formula 1 fan. In-fact I have a huge appreciation for all the teams and drivers in F1. This sport is incredibly dangerous, so hat's off to everyone that plays a part in it.
Shortly after Christmas, I bought myself a Mercedes flag, marking 'HAMILTON' & 'ROSBERG' on it. Using shoelaces from a pair of trainers back at home, we tied the flag onto the metal railing of the grandstand across from the Mercedes garage. Despite the flag being so small, I was doing my bit to show my support. This didn't go unnoticed by the Mercedes team:
For a couple of hours, we simply stood around the area, soaking in the incredible atmosphere. The weather wasn't as bad as we expected, but that didn't stop us having to buy zip up hoodies to keep us warm! At around 11am, myself and Steve made our way to the circuit shop, where our Circuit Tour would start from. Excitement kicked in massively!
One of the circuit officials came along and handed out passes to enable us access to the paddock/pit area. As we made our way through the tunnel towards the paddock area, excitement hit a new level. We were handed radios - so we could listen to the tour in English, which was pretty useful! The tour lasted around 1 1/2 hours - giving us access to race control, the briefing room, the paddock and media centre. It was a brilliant experience, and one I would recommend to any F1 fan. You even get a goody bag at the end ;)
At the end of our circuit tour, myself and Steve decided to situate ourselves about above the garages, watching the teams as their cars and drivers came into the pits. Not only did we get some incredible photos, but it gave us a great insight into how these teams work.
We could see my little Mercedes flag hanging in the main grandstand across from us. We felt very fortunate to be standing here! This wasn't something we had the opportunity to do in 2012.
It was around 2pm, when I decided to check my Twitter mentions during a quiet spell on track. It came to my attention that I had a tweet from Mercedes....
@MercedesAMGF1 - "Please check your DM's :)"
I remember going into a mini panic at this stage, desperately trying to access my private messages to see what was going on. The weather wasn't great, it was windy and I couldn't concentrate! I ran into a little 'hut-type' building on the roof, to try and get away from some of the noise. These engines can be heard for miles, so it was difficult to find somewhere quiet. Little did I know I was about to have one of the greatest afternoons of my life so far.
My phone was running low on battery, so my boyfriend gave me his to contact the team. It was one of the most exciting calls I had ever made. The result of it? We were invited to spend the whole afternoon in the Mercedes garage, to watch the team at work.
The sudden rush of excitement was insane! Mental! Unbelievable! I was truly overwhelmed. Not only that, but the team had arranged for us to meet my idle, Lewis Hamilton, shortly after his interview with Sky Sports. I was completely speechless. In all honestly, no words can describe the emotions felt at that time. To say I felt grateful was somewhat of an understatement.
Soon after the call, we made our way down to the paddock area, where we were presented with passes to enable us access. We were welcomed by a member of the team, who then guided us to the back of the Mercedes garage, where we spent a great deal of the afternoon watching them work on Nico Rosberg's car.
It was surreal, fascinating and just brilliant. Never in my life had I experienced anything like this. Here we were, sat in the back of the Mercedes garage, watching a group of immensely motivated people work together. These kind of situations only exist in dreams, not reality!
Once I had calmed down a little, I thought about Twitter ....
'What are people going to say or think when they find out where I am!?' I thought to myself.
"People are going to go crazy!"
I didn't need to think about what people would say for very long, as Mercedes broke the news to all their followers on Twitter:
The smile on my face became that bit more permanent. I was on cloud 9 and none of this seemed real! Soon after the news broke, the data allowance on my phone began to suffer, as I read through the many tweets that were flooding in. Reading through as many as I could, I recall thinking how lovely people were being. You cannot beat the F1 community.
Around 3pm, we were informed that Lewis Hamilton was in the paddock, chatting to Sky Sports. I've been attending GP's for a few years now but never met any of the current drivers. If anyone told me that the first driver I would meet would be Lewis Hamilton, and it would be whilst spending the afternoon with my favourite team, I would have laughed. No doubt about it!
This team was making all my dreams come true in one afternoon. Crazy! We made our way out of the garage and waited outside the entrance for Lewis to complete his interview.
They say you should never meet you idle, but I'm so glad I did! As Lewis approached the garage, a couple of the guys from Mercedes explained to him we were there. Lewis came up to us, said hello, and signed a few things for us, including mine and Steve's 1/2 scale Hamilton helmets, my Mercedes shirt and Steve's cap.
Lewis even wrote a little message for me to give to my mum, who's celebrating her 50th Birthday this year. Many of my friends back at home always said that I would probably go crazy if I ever met Lewis or Nico, but I didn't. There were no nerves either. I even surprised myself!
PR took numerous photos, and before we knew it, Lewis had to leave. We thanked the team, then made our way back into the Mercedes garage. For those wondering what Lewis Hamilton is like in 'reality' - I can tell you that he is incredibly down to Earth, polite and 'normal'. He makes time for his fans, doesn't come across as the 'superstar' that he is, and was everything that I hoped he would be.
We were allowed to stop in the garage until the end of the day, watching the team at work. It was surreal watching Nico Rosberg come into the garage right in front of us. We could see his eyes reflecting through his mirrors to the back of the garage where we were situated. Lewis Hamilton would casually walk into the garage to chat with the team. It was just unbelievable!
At around 5pm, the teams had to call it a day and it was our time to leave. We were allowed to stay in the paddock as long as we liked, making the most of our paddock passes. As we left the garage, we stayed around in the hope that we would meet Nico Rosberg - which we did. He signed my Mercedes shirt, stopped for a photo and made my day that little bit better....if that was even possible!
As we made our way out of the paddock, I felt somewhat emotional and overwhelmed. Mercedes AMG F1 had made all my 'F1-related' dreams come true in the space of a few hours. If anyone from the team is reading this, I cannot thank you enough for this once in a lifetime experience. What you did for us was incredible.
We were truly looked after, made to feel welcome and you guys made me the happiest girl in the world that day. I thank you so much for giving me these incredible memories, that I will carry for the rest of my life. Going to end this with saying all the very best for 2013 and beyond, you guys truly deserve it!
You have my full support @MercedesAMGF1 - #SilverArrowsSupport