Paddock Life: Shanghai edition
|By Jonathan Noble||Monday, April 20th 2009, 11:09 GMT|
Welocme to Shanghai. No, don't worry, it's not a typo - that was what the large banner over the entrance to the home of the Chinese Grand Prix declared.
They often say familiarity breeds contempt, but with the Chinese Grand Prix the F1 paddock has slowly got used to most of the quirks of the place - and actually come to appreciate all that the country has to offer. Even the crazy English typos on signs bring a smile these days.
The disasters of getting a visa are long gone; good hotels have cropped up just a stone's throw from the circuit (rather than the two hours drive in horrendous traffic into town), and being in a car itself is no longer the near-death experience that it was in the recent past.
And for Bernie Ecclestone, he too has noticed a change in China over recent years - as he told the local media during an impromptu unofficial press conference in the Shanghai media centre.
"When I used to come, and I used to come here a long time ago to try and make things happen in China, I used to feel like a giant because all the Chinese were my height," he said. "Now I cannot see over everyone – I don't know what has happened to all you people!"
It was not just the occasional spelling slip up that tripped up organisers last weekend, because Red Bull chiefs got a bit of a shock too at the end of the race.
Sebastian Vettel had taken a brilliant victory for the team, and straight after the German national anthem they had expected the Austrian anthem to be played – as RBR operates under an Austrian racing licence in deference to the energy drinks company.
Instead, it was 'God Save the Queen' (and no, not the Sex Pistols' version) that rang out over Shanghai.
Dietrich Mateschitz couldn't believe it, watching the race at home in Salzburg.
"I was surprised and I wondered why they played the British anthem," he said. "It was a mistake. This should not happen again. But we will give the FIA some more opportunities to get it right in the future!"
Of course the best Red Bull story of the weekend revolved around a small sticker on the front of Vettel's race winning car. Above the dashboard were three words: Kate's Dirty Sister.
It was a cause of much amusement, and the explanation for it was just as funny as seeing it in the first place.
Vettel has always given his racing cars ladies names – as they are sexy things. Last year's STR4 was Julie, and when he saw the Red Bull Racing RB5 he opted to call her Kate.
After trashing his first car in Australia in the shunt with Robert Kubica, he was given a new chassis for Malaysia – which featured some updated tweaks that he felt made it ever sexier than before. Et voila – Kate's Dirty Sister.
Formula 1 may be a fairly cut throat business at times, but the sport often goes the extra measure when it comes to providing for those less fortunate than its top stars.
It was no exception in China last weekend when Italian thoughts were dominated by the events that had taken place after the Malaysian Grand Prix – with the earthquake that devastated the Abruzzo region.
The Ferrari F60s of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen both featured the wording: "Abruzzo nel cuore" (Abruzzo in our hearts) – the charity that Jarno Trulli set up to help raise money for those left homeless by the disaster.
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali said: "President Montezemolo was keen to give a sign of support for everyone who lived through this tragedy and we are proud for our cars to carry the name of a region of Italy which is very close to our hearts, especially at a time like this."
Trulli will carry the logos of his charity on his overalls for the next few races and was urging people in the paddock to help support his efforts.
"We have probably all seen what happened there and being part of Abruzzo I wanted to do something special," said Trulli.
"It took a few days before really realising what was going on, because honestly it is a dramatic situation there. Nearly three hundred people died which is not so many compared to what really happened. We don't have a city or villages anymore; everything has gone, blown away.
"There isn't much difference between the tsunami and the earthquake in Abruzzo, it's a dramatic situation and I want to make my contribution. Eventually, the final target will be to raise money first of all and then at the end of the season see how much we have and try to go there and rebuild schools – everything basically has to be rebuilt. I just want to try really hard. For once in my life, I will probably go and knock on everyone's door to raise some money."
Toro Rosso ran with 'Vicini All'ABruzzo' on its cars, while every member of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association offered his support.
Just as has been the case since the start of the season, the main talking point in China revolved around diffusers.
In fact, there seemed to be a strong correlation between those teams who were furthest away from developing it and the venom with which their comments were thrown around the paddock.
In particular, the man hitting the rev-limiter the most in the Shanghai paddock was Renault boss Flavio Briatore – who was deeply unhappy at the way the whole diffuser situation had panned out. He was probably annoyed that his private jet had had to have its seats ripped out so it could fly out Renault's new diffuser for Fernando Alonso.
As well as calling Jenson Button a "paracarro" (Italian for being as slow as a milepost at the side of a road), and threatening to try and stop Brawn GP from getting its television rights income, he was fuming about suggestions Williams CEO Adam Parr made in the FIA Court of Appeal hearing that suggested Renault and Ferrari would have to accept they were using an illegal car in F1 if they believed the diffusers were illegal.
A gathered throng of Italian journalists could not believe how cheeky Briatore was about Parr though...
"Adam Parr is an idiot," fumed Briatore. "You can write that: he's an idiot. That's simple. I don't even want to talk about Adam Parr. He shouldn't dare to talk about certain things.
"We will grab him by the nose and take him to court, because it looks like he said the titles won by Ferrari and Renault were all illegal, and that was in front of the FIA. The federation itself should move against Adam Parr.
"He wasn't even scheduled to speak: he always misses a good chance to shut up, that's for sure."
When asked whether he felt Parr had a role within FOTA, Briatore said: "Yeah, breaking balls." That's Italian slang for being a pain in the neck!
Parr wasn't riled by the comments, though.
"Flavio is a loveable rogue, isn't he?" said Parr. "He is a fantastic, flamboyant character who I think doesn't necessarily always have his thumb on the details, but he is very happy to wave his arms and state his case.
"Again, you have to like Flavio really, but I would not necessarily take too seriously what he is saying – not least because I am not aware that anyone in the media has identified or commented on this point before he raised it himself. So he is running around saying, 'they said this, that and the other', but we are not actually. He is doing it. Flavio is Flavio."
Life in the F1 paddock. You have to love it.