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Grapevine: Paddock Life: Barcelona edition

AUTOSPORT brings you its regular column of life inside the paddock. This week: Barcelona

The start of the European season marks the arrival of the motorhome army that will now traipse all the way through to the Italian Grand Prix in September - thanks to the departure of Montreal from the calendar.

The walk down the paddock often gives you a pretty clear intention about the state of the sport's finances - so it was no surprise, amid the worldwide recession, that this year to find that almost all the motorhomes remained the same.

The huge Red Bull Energy Station was still there, but was no longer the big party centre that it once way. Thursday's night welcome party was very low key, and all but over before the sun set. And McLaren's new tradition of cocktails continued with its Brand Centre.

The only new structure in the paddock was at Ferrari - where a three-floor motorhome (including a top level balcony) lined up alongside the impressive media facility that the team introduced last year.

But don't think for a second that this was a sign of Ferrari splashing out in times of economic hardship. The new motorhome had been funded entirely by the team's sponsors - who could now use it to entertain their corporate guests at events.

In fact, if you wanted a sure-fire sign about the art of cost-cutting in the sport then you only needed to go down to Renault. The main team motorhome remained the same, but they had a 'new' second unit.

Those who have been in the paddock for a while instantly recognised it. The unit had originally appeared more than five years ago in the hands of Jordan Grand Prix - where it had witnessed many a deal (and journalist bollocking) by Eddie Jordan.

When the team was replaced by Midland, the unit was then snapped up by Super Aguri, where it remained until last year. When that team went bust, Renault moved to get it.

Recycling is well and truly alive in the world of F1!

Formula 1 drivers are often accused by fans and the media of being 'robots' when it comes to toeing the corporate line for sponsors and their teams.

However, well-known PR man Nav Sihdu made sure to go one better at the Spanish Grand Prix when he managed to get an actual robot into the paddock - although whether or not it had a pass is still unknown.

A big effort by Sidhu's company Sidhu & Simon had resulted in a deal being put together for Brawn GP to enjoy a tie-up with the new Terminator Salvation film at the Spanish Grand Prix.

As well as seeing the logos from the film appear on the rear wings of the BGP001 cars and the team's garage, most interest revolved around an eight foot tall 'Terminator' robot that Sidhu managed to get into the paddock and pit lane.

Sony's executive director of marketing acquisitions Josh Matas was delighted with the interest stirred up by the association with Brawn - especially as the team's dominant victory on Sunday ensured plenty of coverage in the entertainment media as well as sporting press.

The fact that once underdogs Brawn had come good, just as John Connor overcomes the robots of Skynet in the film, was also not lost on Matas.

"Brawn is a team that is new this year, they have taken little bits of pieces of what they can find and have put together an amazing team, and now they are out fighting as number one," Matas told AUTOSPORT.

"Like the resistance fighters in Terminator Salvation, who are forced to deal with a lot of the things that they have had to deal with - scrapping planes, finding little bits of food, and then scrape, gather and collect themselves together to unite and fight and reign supreme."

Never trust a grand prix driver with your car. That was the clear message that came from the friend of a certain high profile F1 racer when he leant him four wheels in the gap between the Bahrain and Spanish Grands Prix.

This driver, who shall remain nameless here to save his blushes, had been spending some downtime in Dubai - and thought it a good idea if he made the trip to Abu Dhabi to see how progress was going with the new track.

At the wheel of a Lexus RX-350, this driver thought he would cut the journey time down a bit - but got snapped by a speed camera exceeding the speed limit by around 15mph.

It was not until the owner of the car got an email notification about the transgression that the incident came to light - resulting in a £110 fine.

The owner of the car saw the funny side of the tale though. "The moral of the story?" he said. "Don't lend your car to a Formula 1 racing driver, especially not your wife's car!"

AUTOSPORT itself could have done with some extra speed on Friday night, though, as it totally underachieved in Bridgestone's annual media karting event.

The press centre empties quickly after practice each Friday in Barcelona as competitive instincts take over and journalists prefer psyching themselves up for the annual endurance race than chasing stories down in the paddock.

AUTOSPORT had a bit of a reputation to live up to - having taken podium finishes in recent years (and, I might add, without the help of former grand prix drivers!).

This year hopes were high of (with a bit of luck), gunning for outright victory, with regular winner Marc Surer a notable absentee. However it was not going to be easy with Anthony Davidson making his debut for Radio 5 Live

And although Belgian TV favourites, the Bas Leinders-led Belgian Fries, took pole by a comfortable margin, there was just eight tenths covering second place to AUTOSPORT's seventh slot on the grid. And Davidson was less than half a second ahead of our team - despite the huge weight penalty our stomachs carry!

However, just weeks after McLaren showed how off track etiquette can have huge implications on on-track results, AUTOSPORT fell foul of officialdom in a big way.

Running top six over the early stints, it all went wrong when F1 Racing writer (and AUTOSPORT columnist, but he's F1 Racing for this because of his faux pas), Bradley Lord, failed to do the mandatory signing in required before each driver change.

It resulted in an annoying 10-second stop-go penalty, before events tumbled out of control and we were recalled to the pits after just one lap of our third stint. As arguments raged about who was allowed to drive the kart, and whether we could swap drivers, our poor machine sat at the end of the pitlane for five whole minutes - costing us five laps and dropping us to last but one.

In the end, the Belgians won (with a Frenchman onboard), ahead of a team of French journalists and Scuderia photographers.

It was the end of a dream for AUTOSPORT. And, after what Lewis Hamilton had done in Malaysia, it was a bit disappointing that Bradley did not hold a press conference up in the media centre the next day to apologise to the world, the media, his fans and Bridgestone for his mistake....

Modern sportsman just aren't what they used to be!

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