Richland F1’s Jack Leslie recounts his experience in the Formula 1 paddock at last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
After attending the German Grand Prix just a few days earlier and a brief stop in Linz, Austria, I was back in the F1 paddock at the Hungaroring for the 11th round of the 2014 season.
Before I start babbling on about the race weekend, I just want to say what a lovely and beautiful city Budapest is. Believe it or not, I had very little time to take a look around, but from what I saw and experienced, it really seems like a fantastic place to visit and I can’t wait to hopefully explore more of the city in the future.
I still find it unbelievable that I have attended four races in the space of just over one month, three as a journalist for Richland F1 (Austria, Germany and Hungary) and one as a fan (Britain). All my hard work over the last three years had paid off. It has been an incredible adventure and I can’t wait to return to the paddock next year.
As always, Thursday was media day at the Hungaroring, with the driver sessions taking place in the afternoon. It was the latest start all weekend, collecting my pass and arriving in the media centre at around midday.
After a quick look around, it soon became clear that, again, the facilities were far from the standard of the Red Bull Racing in Austria, where the media had been well and truly spoiled.
We had everything we needed, like at the Hockenheimring, but the facilities were fairly basic, the food wasn’t great, there was no still water in the cafeteria (again) and we had to pay for Wi-Fi (again, although this time it was only €35).
The media centre was spread over the top two floors of the tower above the far end of the pit garages, opposite the start/finish straight. My base for the weekend was in the smaller room on the lower floor, next to Richland F1’s editor-in-chief and founder Luke Smith and site contributor Abhishek Takle (who was there for Midday).
Whilst the room I was in didn’t have the space or the view of the higher floor, it was one flight of stairs closer to the paddock (thank goodness). Thursday was largely spent running from motorhome to motorhome in the baking heat gathering quotes, before returning to the media centre to transcribe and post stories on the site.
The press conference also took place on Thursday afternoon. With a relatively ‘meh’ line-up, not much was expected, but it wasn’t too bad, with a big focus being on the recently-announced return to Mexico next season.
A bright and early start was needed for Friday, with the start of the on-track action. Lewis Hamilton topped both practice sessions, with Ferrari and Red Bull Racing looking more competitive than recent races.
It also was my 10th day in the F1 paddock, which meant a lot to me after three years of hard work leading up to my debut in Austria last month. The afternoon was fairly relaxed in comparison to the previous day, with few press sessions for online and print media.
Saturday was a completely different story, with a busy few hours following what was a dramatic qualifying session in Hungary. Nico Rosberg took pole but he was, of course, unchallenged thanks to Hamilton’s fiery exit from Q1.
The Brit stopped his car at the start of the pit lane, just a short distance away from the media centre. So, naturally, journalists and photographers ran to the back of the room to snap some pictures as Hamilton disappointingly walked away from his smoking W05.
He was forced to start from the pit lane on Sunday, behind Kevin Magnussen after the Danish rookie’s big Q3 shunt following a brief rain shower. Daniil Kvyat joined them after his car failed to get going on the formation lap.
During third practice on Saturday morning I also got the chance to see the cars trackside, from the paddock balcony that overlooks turns two and 13. The stopping power of the 2014 cars is just incredible and I still love the noise.
Sunday was a day of mixed feelings for me. Not only was it an epic race, but I also got lots of articles up on the website and was really pleased with my work over the weekend. However, it was also my last day in the paddock.
What a race it was. All three races that I have covered from the track have been good, although Hungary was hands down the best. Around one hour before the start a short but sharp rain shower saturated the track, causing several tentative out laps as the drivers sampled the intermediate and wet weather tyre, to see which one was the most suitable to use in the first stint.
All 22 drivers started on intermediates and it was great to see the drivers struggling and really fighting the cars in the slippery conditions during the early laps. The timing of the first safety car and the time that was deployed proved to be an important factor in deciding the race result, following Marcus Ericsson’s heavy turn three crash.
The top four dropped back after pitting a lap later than most, while Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen’s strategy to stick with the intermediate tyres (the former pitted for a new set, while the latter stayed out) backfired terribly. Meanwhile Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso were able to move up the order, putting them in contention.
Nico Hulkenberg had a disappointing race, colliding with his own team-mate at turn 14 – I initially thought it was the other way around, so the error took me by surprise. Sergio Perez’s race didn’t last much longer, as he hit the wall at the exit of the same corner a few laps later.
From my point of view, the whole accident was quite strange. The media centre was positioned right alongside where Perez hit the wall and with a delay in the TV monitors; we actually heard the tyre squeal and the collision with the barrier before seeing it for ourselves.
With Ricciardo and Rosberg completing three-stop strategies, there was plenty of movement at the front. In the closing stages we witnessed a fantastic scrap for the podium positions, with Ricciardo charging to first place after a late pit stop and Rosberg quickly catching the fight.
Unfortunately for the German, he couldn’t find a way through, with Ricciardo taking the win – the second of his F1 career – and Alonso (somehow) holding onto second despite heavily worn tyres. Hamilton recovered to third, with Rosberg in fourth. I don’t think anyone predicted that result!
It was great to end the first half of the 2014 season with such an action-packed and exciting race. Hopefully we will see more of the same when the sport returns at the end of August for the Belgian Grand Prix, after the summer break.
After completing my race report, getting up a few story pieces on the website and gathering quotes for news posts, it was then time to leave the F1 paddock and bid farewell to the Hungaroring after a fantastic few days in Hungary.
It was also the end of a hugely valuable and incredible two-week adventure across Europe. It was great to get home, but now as I sit here writing this diary entry on my experience, I really can’t wait to return to the F1 paddock in the near future. It was definitely the best experience of my life, as cheesy as that sounds, so a big thanks to Luke for giving me the opportunity!
Images copyright Richland F1