Before my trip to Valencia to visit the Formula One Grand Prix, my understanding of Formula One racing was limited to fast cars that cost millions, whizzing around a track, and gorgeous girls. Sure, I’d heard of Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton or Fernando Alonso but that was about as many famous Formula One names as I could muster.
The Land of Valencia, the Valencia Tourism Board who sponsored my trip, was incredible. They arranged prime seats in the grandstand that cost EUR 600 each. Even for a F1 dummy like me, it wasn’t hard to figure out that these were seriously hot seats!
An amazing coincidence
Call it a stroke of luck or a simple coincidence but something amazing happened on the evening before the big race. We were having dinner at a restaurant in Valencia’s Old Quarter when I noticed the Lotus Racing Team sitting at the table next to us. In the middle of the group sat Tony Fernandes, CEO of Air Asia, and Tune Group, the owner of the Lotus Team. I’d met him several times before and I knew he was in Valencia for the races but imagine my surprise to see him sitting at the very next table! I walked up to him and said ‘hello’ and after a brief chat, he extended an invitation to show me (and a few blogger friends) the Formula One paddock and tour the Lotus Team garage.
For a F1 dummy like me, even I knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that most people can only dream of! I headed back to my table and excitedly announced that I’d been invited to visit the “Lotus pits”. The roar of laughter was deafening! I quickly learned that it’s called the “pitlane”. Duh!
Our visit to the Lotus Formula One paddock
On the day of the big race, six of us headed to the Formula One track where we were met by Tom Webb, the press officer of the Lotus Racing Team. He handed us special green VIP passes for the paddock and casually mentioned that these were worth EUR 30,000 EACH!
Our excitement of being there in the paddock was almost tangible. Tom led us down the paddock to the Lotus garage, and as he explained the different areas of the paddock, I noticed that everyone just couldn’t stop grinning.
The first thing that struck me when we entered the garage was how spotless and organised everything was. There was a section where the tires were kept warm, another section filled with computer screens, a wall of personalised headphones and then the garage itself. Just two cars (that looked incredibly tiny) and a dozen technicians carrying out the final tests, just 90 minutes before the race. I felt like a kid in a candy store, albeit one that costs millions!
Tom left us for five minutes to have a look around – we looked at each other in total bewilderment. He was leaving us ALONE in here??!!! We were free to wander around the cars and watch how they tested the engines. The sound of those powerful engines was absolutely mind-blowing! I walked to the edge of the pitlane and watched the other teams prepare their cars. It was an impressive sight, seeing the technicians fiddling with the cars, testing the engines and analysing the streams of data on the screens.
The whole experience of visiting the Formula One paddock and the Lotus Racing Team garage was simply astounding. I wouldn’t know how else to describe it. As we left the garage, I could feel a constant buzz of excitement reverberating throughout my body and my head felt very light, as though I’d just received a massive shot of adrenaline. The best part of the day, a precious moment I won’t easily forget, was seeing the look of glee on my friends’ faces. This was truly the experience of a lifetime!
The Valencia Grand Prix Race
We made our way to our seats at the grandstand and waited with great anticipation for the start of the race. A bevy of beauties carried flags down the ‘grid’ (another F1 term I learned!) while technicians transported heavy equipment and the tires. Minutes later, the cars were rolled down the track into their starting positions. I paused to stare at a lone figure casually strolling down the track. I pinched myself and realised… yes, that’s him! The great man himself: Michael Schumacher, just twenty-odd meters away!
The race started at exactly 2pm. It was a deafening, adrenaline-charged experience and I found myself wiping tears from my eyes as the cars zoomed out of sight. The fresh sea breeze was soon filled with an exhilarating dose of exhaust fumes and the pungent smell of burnt rubber. I had ear-plugs in but the huge mosquito-like buzz emanating from the cars sent shudders down my spine and a monotonous pinging sound through my ears!
I asked my friend John how long the race would last and he said 57 laps. Err, why 57? He explained that the difficulty of the Formula One circuits around the world differ greatly but the race should last approximately two hours. In Valencia, that translates into 57 laps and top speeds of up to 350km/h. Rrrrright! 🙂
Halfway into the race, we witnessed a spectacular crash that made everyone rush to their feet. A Red Bull car collided with one of the Lotus cars, sending it into several flips and spins. By the time the car crashed into the boarding, it had split in half. We watched the horrific scenes on the large screen in front of us. The camera zoomed in as the Red Bull driver Mark Webber miraculously got out of the car unscathed!
The race itself was quite uninteresting. The leader from the qualifying rounds, Sebastian Vettel, led from start to finish. It was fun seeing Nicole Scherzinger, the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls, cheer on her boyfriend, Lewis Hamilton. 🙂
The ringing in my ears continued for a while but I was too excited to notice. It was an amazing day behind the scenes of the Formula One race, one that I’m happy I shared with my friends Melvin, Abigail, John, Diego and Stef.
Other posts on our Formula One weekend:
- Abigail King’s ‘Inside Action at the Valencia Formula One Grand Prix‘
- Andy Jarosz’s ‘Watching the Formula One Grand Prix: An Idiot’s Guide’
A huge thank you goes to Tony Fernandes of Tune Group and Tom Webb of Lotus Racing for the tour of the paddock, as well as Land of Valencia for organising this spectacular F1 blog trip (#blogtripF1 on Twitter).