Sunday, Race Week

Sunday morning… the day we’ve spent all week working up to and the one where we’ll learn if our efforts have been fruitful. Once again it’s a late start due to the later timings this weekend so it’s a 10am leave from the hotel for us and we arrive at the track in time to make ourselves look pretty for the team photo. Not easy in 32 degrees of burning sunshine and humidity! There was the usual confusion that seems to abound at every team photo session involving over 60 people… how many chairs do we need, do we sit on them or stand on them, who goes where and will we all squeeze in enough to get in camera shot. It doesn’t take long to get us all sorted though and then it’s time for the big cheesy grin as all the flashes go off for about 60 seconds.

The rest of the morning consists of final checks on the cars, the equipment used on the grid, the wheel guns, the jacks and everything used for the pit stops and, of course there are the all-important sponsors to entertain. This weekend, we had a very special guest visiting our garage. Accompanied by the President of PETRONAS, we were honoured to receive a visit from the Prime Minister of Malaysia who spent quite some time with us and even arrived wearing a team shirt. He was very interested to learn about the team and especially the involvement of PETRONAS given that the company is state owned. I was fortunate to be able to spend about ten minutes with him talking about the fuels and lubricants and he asked a great many questions.

Eventually the guests retired to their vantage points to await the start of the race. Throughout the hours leading up to the start, the car crews have been periodically starting the engines to keep everything up to optimum temperature and at 3.30pm, both Nico and Michael drive their cars out of the garages, around the track and take their places on the grid where, amongst all the serious activity the beautiful PETRONAS grid girls add some glamour and serenity to contrast the burly mechanics pushing trolleys laden with tyres, cooling fans generators and what is effectively the ‘life support’ for the cars whilst they await the start.

Suddenly there’s the sound of cranking, engines burst into life all around and everyone clears to the side of the track as the cars go off on the formation lap, coming around to reform the grid and then they’re away, all dicing for position into the first corner. The engineers take up their positions on the pit wall whilst at the same time the mechanics run back to the garage carrying or pulling heavy equipment whilst dressed in their fireproof overalls. With the temperature and humidity in Malaysia, this is something that they most definitely do not look forward to and probably results in water going down necks faster than the fuel goes into the car! There’s always a sense of relief when we know that our cars have got through the first corner without incident and that the mechanics can get their breath back with having to go straight into a pit stop to change a front wing or a punctured tyre.

You’ll know the race result so I won’t go into the details of that, and as soon as the race is finished it’s time to get busy again with the pack down. We do like this to be delayed by having to go to the podium to see our drivers collect trophies but unfortunately this was not the case here so it’s straight to work with no champagne this time! We don’t see the cars until about two or three hours after the race as they are all kept in Parc Ferme until the results are made final. When you see the race on TV and the drivers go to the podium, the results are still only provisional at this stage until the scrutineers have checked the cars, downloaded the data for analysis and dealt with any protests which may be lodged. With all of this activity completed, the cars arrive back in the garage and it’s the final oil samples of the weekend for me. This will tell us how the engine has stood up to the race and what shape it is in for the next outing in China.

From the data, the engine engineers can make an informed decision as to whether the engines will go forward for another race or maybe used for Friday practice sessions until it has reached its target distance which is always measured in kilometres.

The drivers may have finished their race but now it’s our turn with a race against time to pack everything away, clear the garage and ship everything out to Shanghai to start again on Tuesday. The paddock is filled with massive airfreight containers, forklift trucks going back and forth and people working like ants, in and out of the garages, packing things into racks and cases and preparing them for transit to the airport.
For me, I finished at about 11.00pm and made a rapid dash straight to the airport for an overnight flight to Shanghai. Thank you for your company this weekend and I hope you enjoyed the blog!

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