Richland F1’s Dan Paddock recounts his experiences following his maiden bow in the Formula 1 paddock at the British Grand Prix.
Surreal is a word much used in Richland F1’s GP Diary series, but in this case I cannot think of a more spot on term to describe my experience of the British Grand Prix, my first ever race in the paddock as an accredited journalist. When you have set yourself a goal, especially one seemingly as mad as breaking into the Formula 1 paddock, then actually achieving it leaves you feeling almost dazed, it really is something special.
Having only moved home from Manchester on the Sunday evening beforehand, it was quite the frantic week for me even before the grand prix itself, with a day spent getting battered by my media buddies at karting courtesy of Red Bull on the Tuesday – I was slowest in my group – before a trip to a hipster Shoreditch bar on the Wednesday with Richland F1 Big Chief Luke Smith to play foosball with Williams’ Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa.
With victory in the bag for team Brazil – despite an own goal on my part – and a quick interview with Valtteri in the bar’s basement – the least glamorous place I’ve ever spoken to a racing driver – sorted, Luke and I were off to Rugby, our base for the length of the grand prix. Settled in, we did the decent thing and went for a pint, joined later that evening by our esteemed colleague Alex Goldschmidt – who was also making his debut in the F1 paddock – for a spot of ‘Spoons’ dinner.
Thursday is media day ahead of a grand prix, so that morning we headed to Silverstone to collect our passes. I will admit, it was a nervy minute or so waiting for my pass to be handed over, waiting for the dreaded ‘sorry mate, we don’t have your name down here at all.’ A signature here and a signature there and it was in my hand, quite a poignant moment. If I have my way it will be the first of many.
Pass safely around my neck we parked up and made the walk to the media shuttle. Now, when I say media shuttle I do not mean flash Mercedes tinted windowed minibus, I mean bus, as in the sort you might have once rode to school. Very glam.
A few minutes later and I was beeping my way through the paddock gates like a pro. I could hardly contain my grin as I walked in, my excitement only somewhat tempered by my first experience of ‘The Fridge’ as Silverstone’s media centre has been dubbed. Thursday turned out to be quite the day, as I shot up and down the paddock collecting quotes from the media sessions hosted by the teams, before getting a few pieces up on the site. My first day in the paddock had flown by, and it seemed that no sooner had I started that Luke, Alex and I were heading back to Rugby for a well earned pint.
We were back in on Friday as the on track action got underway with the major story of the day being Susie Wolff’s official F1 debut during opening practice, which unfortunately ended prematurely after an engine problem. Post session a big group of the media – myself included – flocked to the all-new Williams hospitality unit to hear Susie’s thoughts, an experience in itself as I got up close and personal with a couple of German journos as we jumped into the melee of dictaphones in front of the evidently disappointed Scot.
Friday also marked my first chance to have a listen to the noise of the all-new 2014 power units and the much debated volume, as I ventured out to Vale during FP2. My honest opinion, they sound great, especially the Ferrari. Sure, they do not scream like the V8s or V10s, but they have a deep throaty growl that I for one very much enjoyed. Definitely give them a listen in person before you bash them.
By the end of the day we were all flagging, but there was some comical respite late on as Alex lost his glasses whilst having a jolly over in the GP2 Paddock. Luke and I, full of plenty of complimentary coffee, had to crack up at our colleague’s plight, birthing the social media phenomenon #glassesbanter. Alex was understandably less amused by his errant spectacles as we headed for our customary ‘Spoons at the end of day two in the paddock.
Onto Saturday, which was without question the busiest day of the weekend, but in reflection my favourite.
It started with the reveal of 1carus, which caused quite the hubbub on what was a wet and gloomy morning. I was on my way out of Ferrari’s hospitality unit – full of bacon I might add – as the paddock’s newest member was unveiled. Stopping to look on at the statue adorning a plinth outside Bernie’s motorhome/office I heard someone say ‘What is it?’ My answer: ‘Well, he’s naked, he’s wearing a helmet, and he has a load of exhausts coming out of his back…’ And thus the legend of Naked Helmet Exhaust Man was born, just do not tell the sculptor.
A brief moment of fun over, the day really kicked into gear with FP3 and qualifying as well as a flurry of media sessions all to handle, meaning I effectively always had something to keep me occupied. Quali flew past, with plenty of ‘oohs and arghs’ in the media centre as Ferrari and Williams first blew their session, followed closely by Lewis Hamilton, who was utterly miserable with just sixth on the grid.
Having arrived at Silverstone at around 7.30am, Luke and I were still sat slogging through the last of our work 12 hours later. It was rough, and I admittedly felt frayed as we packed up for home, but as Luke said to me that evening ‘If you don’t leave the paddock feeling knackered at the end of the day then you obviously haven’t worked hard enough.’ He was absolutely right. A quick bite to eat and I was back in the hotel knocking up the last of the Qualifying Analysis, dedication.
Sunday was much quieter than the previous day, with the race not kicking off until the afternoon. I wrote up the two scheduled pieces planned for Sunday morning in the car on the drive in and then went for a wander around the paddock with some of the other younger members of the media, amongst them Rosie and Graham from F1Plus, Phil and Mike from GPUpdate as well as Ryan of The F1 Times. After a laid-back lunch at Red Bull, as well as some celeb spotting – Prince Harry was about – I grabbed a Magnum from Lotus and headed into the media centre for the race.
I was on race report duty, a task I usually revel in, but I am not afraid to admit that I felt a surge of tension as I sat down for the start. It proved to be a cracker of a race, and I was finished all in good time, before heading off to the last of the weekend’s media sessions, finally wrapping up for the weekend around eighth o’clock that evening.
As Luke and I made our way out of the paddock – in a state of dismantlement following the races conclusion – for the last time on Sunday night we happened to find ourselves on the same bus as the journalists David Tremayne and Joe Saward, both hugely respected members of the media. For them to introduce themselves, even as the weekend came to a close, as well as shake my hand and ask me how my first weekend in the paddock had gone meant a huge deal for someone who is striving to emulate their success, and was inspired to take up this profession by them and their contemporaries in the first place. Along with talking briefly to the legendary Maurice Hamilton on the Friday, it was one of the top moments of my weekend.
My time covering the British Grand Prix really was something very special, and it goes down as one of the best experiences of my life. To have battled and earned my place in that media centre was a huge personal triumph and the achievement of a long-held dream. Ultimately, thanks must go to Luke Smith, without whom I would just be another fan. Cheers mate. Next stop, Monza. It is going to be epic.
Images courtesy of Richland F1