Paddock Life: Sepang edition
|By Jonathan Noble||Monday, April 6th 2009, 07:25 GMT|
After the exhaustion of Australia, the Formula 1 fraternity arrived in Malaysia looking a bit more refreshed and relaxed after a few days of down time.
The paddock split into two camps - those who wanted to stay put in Australia following the race and those who wanted an early acclimatisation to Malaysia.
And after the sophistication of downtown Melbourne, there are always a few eye opening situations from the very different Malaysia.
Perhaps the biggest shock of the weekend (beyond lightning striking one of the grandstands in the race and briefly cutting the television signals) was for the poor press officer who found a snake in the ladies toilet of the media centre.
By the end of the weekend, however, most of the paddock's focus was on getting out of Malaysia and getting back home after a fortnight on the road.
The track emptied swiftly and by Sunday evening there were more F1 people walking around Kuala Lumpur airport than there were left at the rainy Sepang.
And if you were lucky enough, you could have ended up having a quick kickabout with Sebastian Vettel, who let off some of his athletic exuberance with a football as he awaited his plane back home to Switzerland.
Just like it is for Spa-Francorchamps, a rain coat is an absolutely essential item for any of the F1 paddock who come to Sepang.
The tropical clouds that swell up quickly over the forests surrounding Kuala Lumpur can transform a glorious sunny day into a typhoon type downpour in a matter of minutes. You only needed to see the chaos of Sunday's race to know that.
Leave the protection of a roof over your head to take a trip across the paddock at the wrong time without a jacket, and you can find yourself soaked to the skin.
And so it was that Williams co-owner Patrick Head found himself in a bit of a quandary when he arrived at the track on Thursday afternoon, having spent a few days in Melbourne post-race touring the Great Ocean Road on a motorcycle.
He pulled up in the car park just as the clouds unleashed their worst. Without a jacket or umbrella with him, Head thought it best to simply sit in his car and wait for the storm to pass. So wait he did. And wait. And wait.
"It was absolutely pissing with rain," recouted Head later. "I was sitting in the car so I rang up assistant team manager Paul Singlehurst at the track and said 'I'm quite happy to listen to Malaysian radio for a bit' but if it eases, could he come out with an umbrella. He did eventually, but I was sitting in the car for half an hour!"
In Australia last weekend, Scuderia Toro Rosso caused much amusement when its pre-event press release of a mock Sebastien Buemi diary was taken as fact by a local journalist. Poor Buemi had found himself asked in an official FIA press conference if it was true that his Toblerone bars had been confiscated by Australian customs.
But Toro Rosso went one better in Malaysia last weekend when an April Fools it sent out was also believed to be true by far too many people who should have known better.
In a press release issued by the team on the morning of April 1, the team announced that it was to use its Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) for the Malaysian Grand Prix. Indeed, the first paragraph looked like a genuine news story about KERS being used to power a cooling-aid for the drivers.
It was so good in fact that it suckered a few people in. It was only if you read Toro Rosso's story further that you realised what they were up to.
"We are indebted to Professor Hugh Masterby-Jerrkin of Imperial College, London for his department's assistance in moving this project forward so quickly," commented Wayne Kerr, Toro Rosso's Head of KERS.
"While the team was racing in Melbourne, we came directly to Kuala Lumpur to evaluate the system in real conditions and for this we were given invaluable help by the Thermal Energy faculty of the Kuala Lumpur Polytechnic, particularly the head of department, Doctor Ku Lin 'Ng Phaan."
The names should have acted as enough of a warning, but Toro Rosso's press office could not quite believe it when some publications printed stories briefly.
And their jaws dropped to the ground when Malaysia's local newspaper the New Straits Times, ran a big story under the headline: "Toro Rosso get 'invaluable' help from a local polytechnic."
Worse was to come later when senior management from Toro Rosso's clothing supplier Puma started asking questions about why it had not been consulted about modifications being made to the drivers' race suits!
The heat in Malaysia can be the most oppressive of the season - great if you are sunning yourself by the side of a swimming pool but not so great if you are trying to work in the paddock, or even drive a racing car.
Red Bull Racing wanted to provide some insight into just how hot it could be – so they got an unlucky volunteer from the team to jog along the start/finish straight in full race gear during one of the hottest parts of the day to see what effect it would have on the body.
Decked out in underwear, boots, gloves, a helmet and fireproof overalls, he completed the jog – seeing his heart rate jump from 75bpm at rest to 175bpm. His core body temperature rose from 35.8 degrees centigrade to 37.1 degrees centigrade.
Temperatures in the cockpit of the cars can be much higher, of course, so you would often see drivers demand a fan in their face, or cool air piped into the cars.
Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel had an alternative solution. "I've got a bag with dry ice in it, which I put next to my balls," he said. "At least they stay nice and cool!"