• My Singapore Weekend Diary

Hello! My name is Charafeddin. I’ve been blind since I was 20. This is a link to a video clip that F1 made about me last year. Mercedes kindly invited me to the Singapore GP just recently.

I contacted Toto soon after the Canadian GP to know if it might be possible to spend time with the team at the track during this grand prix. The answer came back, let’s do it! It’s amazing but since 2010 and the return of Mercedes in F1 with his own team, we’ve been able to establish a very special relationship, starting initially with the return of Michael Schumacher to active competition in 2010. I met Michael in 2005 during practice for the Grand Prix at Spa and he has always had a place in my heart, and then later on, I was regularly in the garage during winter testing from 2010 to 2012 to listen to the radio communications.

I became friends with Nico Rosberg during these difficult few seasons for Mercedes. Nico has to be one of the smartest, friendliest and most humble drivers I’ve ever met. I also got to know Lewis when he arrived in 2013. He is a very interesting, charismatic champion. And from 2014 to the present day, the Mercedes team have been on top of the world in F1.

This is the first time that I’ve ever been to a circuit outside Europe, and I have to admit that I was a little stressed out, because in Europe, the motor homes and hospitality facilities are all different and are always positioned in the same place, so just by touching a hospitality, I know which team it belongs to and therefore where I am in the paddock. In Singapore, the hospitalities are more or less all the same and it took me some time to find my bearings. What I always find fascinating in the paddock is that from Thursday onwards, drivers have a whole series of meetings to attend non-stop.

You’ve probably already seen drivers running in the paddock. They have to, because otherwise, they would have to stop every five paces to have their photo taken or to sign autographs. For example, I was with Esteban in the paddock, walking from the Mercedes hospitality to the garage, a distance of some 50 metres. It took us a good 5 minutes. He politely posed for picture after picture. But imagine the same scenario with Lewis. I just want to say all this so you’ll know not to take offence if an F1 driver passes you by without stopping.

It was great on Friday to follow practice from the Mercedes box. It was like old times, comfortably installed in a chair with radio headphones and screens everywhere even though the screens are not absolutely essential for me ?. Still, many of the other guests must have thought they were at the cinema. Communications internally between engineers are very absorbing. Engineers always talk calmly and politely to each other, always finishing their sentences with a please or thank you.

I was in the garage when Valtteri lost the rear of his Mercedes at the exit to Turn 19. On the radio, no fuss. All was calm and silent. After Valtteri had confirmed that everything was fine as far as he was concerned, the engineers tried to estimate the damage even before the car had returned to the pits, and they always went about their work methodically. The engineers changed Lewis’s programme, because there was now only one car on track and they needed as much data as possible.

On Friday evening, I had a nice chat with Toto about the future of F1 and the upcoming changes in the regs. I had even more discussions when Jean Todt was in the paddock over the weekend. At dinner on Friday evening, Lewis very kindly came over to talk to me. He is a driver, who is always surrounded by adoring fans and guests, but I was very moved by the fact that he came across to speak to me of his own volition. When you come face to face with Lewis, there’s so much you want to tell him but you don’t want to keep him too long.

The race did not go as planned but what strengthened my love for this team that has dominated the F1 world championship for more than five years is that the drivers, managers and the engineers really demonstrate above all their passion for this sport, even after a defeat. It is always easy afterwards to appear intelligent as regards strategy. I was in the garage during the whole race and heard the frantic radio chatter between engineers trying to change Lewis’s strategy. Nothing is simple. There are a lot of different factors to take into consideration, managing traffic and tyre wear on your own car and also on that of cars from opposing teams.

I’m just a fan of this sport but it’s been fantastic during these four days to have had the opportunity to be part of the Mercedes team. Many thanks to Toto and to all the engineers and drivers, but I would also like to thank too from the bottom of my heart everyone who works behind the scenes, the people who work in hospitality, eg. The guys, who are responsible for comms were absolutely wonderful and looked after my needs really well. I hope to see them again very soon on my next big adventure and want to wish the team and everyone in this fantastic sport all the best for the future.

Charafeddin Aittaleb