Grapevine: Paddock Life - Barcelona edition

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

Grapevine: Paddock Life - Barcelona edition

The start of the European season always bring a more familiar feel to Formula 1, with the return of the motorhomes in the paddock for the first time since last year's Italian Grand Prix.

Yet, the sense of deja vu that spread over the paddock throughout the Barcelona weekend had nothing to do with being back on familiar territory - or knowing exactly where to get the best espresso from. It was that damn volcano again.

Just as F1 appeared to have moved on from the fall-out of Eyjafjallajokull after the dramas of getting back from the Chinese Grand Prix, once again travel plans were thrown into chaos as the cloud shut down Spanish airspace.

While the dramas of travelling from Barcelona to Monaco were nowhere near as big as getting from Shanghai back home, it still meant plenty of furrowed brows in the paddock as contingency plans were put in place.

Some people were lucky and got their direct planes to Nice without dramas, while others decided that either a train or car were the best bet. One thing was for sure - no one was going to dare miss F1's blue riband event for a bit of ash.

Jenson Button still never gets bored of being called 'world champion' and he had another honour bestowed on him at the Spanish Grand Prix - as he was inducted into Barcelona's 'Avenue of Champions'.

The Circuit de Catalunya has a special spectator area where the great and good from motorsport's past are honoured, and Button was proud to earn his place there alongside the likes of Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Mick Doohan and his 2010 team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

As is tradition, the presentation of the honour was made in front of Bernie Ecclestone's motorhome in the Barcelona paddock - and F1's commercial supremo showed exactly who was boss as he kept the McLaren driver and the assembled press waiting beyond the scheduled start time until he was ready.

Button unveiled the plaque, which features a handwritten message to Spanish fans, shortly after Ecclestone had made a typically short and slightly cheeky speech about Button's title success for Brawn GP in 2009.

"There's not a lot to say except he took too long to do it," said Ecclestone about Button. "But it was obvious he was going to be a good champion and I'm sure this year we're going to see the same sort of thing from him."

Button wasn't the only champion to be honoured last weekend - as the curtain came down on Bridgestone's hotly-contested Media Karting Challenge.

The event, which has become a highlight on the F1 social calendar for the 13 years that Bridgestone has been involved, always sees the best karters from the paddock - including the occasional 'ringer' racing driver roped in - fight it out for the much sought-after victory.

This year though, the playing field was a bit more open than usual - as the racing drivers who are often drafted in to help certain teams win were mostly absent. Previous front-runners Anthony Davidson, Bas Leinders and Marc Surer all had commitments elsewhere, which meant some of us mere mortals actually had a decent chance of a good result.

This year's AUTOSPORT team featured myself and Tony Dodgins, with SPEED TV's Will Buxton and The Metro's Adam Hay-Nicholls joining us for some extra performance - with hopes high that the final event could result in a podium finish.

After qualifying fourth, those aspirations seemed on track, but things went even better in the race. Hay-Nicholls undertook the 'Le Mans style' running start and, despite dropping back to fifth at the first corner, he soon got us up to second place behind the super fast 'photographers' team for the first pitstop.

I took over and, after closing down on the leader, seized the moment when the front man got slowed by an unco-operative backmarker to move to the head of the field - and then pull away.

After that, we kept steadily increasing our advantage - despite some tense moments involving a spin caused by weaving backmarkers, a brief collision with a track barrier, and cramp fears from Dodgins, whose short legs meant he struggled to reach the pedals.

But in the end we came home a comfortable 40 seconds clear to claim the top prize of dinner at the Joel Robuchon's restaurant at the Metropole hotel in Monte Carlo.

One of the more surreal moments of the night though, was heading up to the podium and getting handed our Bridgestone winners cap by Alexander Molina, the same man who sorts out the watches and the caps for the real F1 boys, prior to taking the top step for a spot of champagne!

It is no secret that the Formula 1 paddock is full of poker lovers - with Fernando Alonso, Robert Kubica, Nico Rosberg and Giancarlo Fisichella often getting together to play a few hands in the evenings once the on-track action has finished.

So don't be surprised if F1's poker lovers soon start getting spotted popping into Virgin Racing's motorhome, after the team concluded a deal with online poker school Full Tilt Poker ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix.

While the deal itself is good commercial news for the F1 rookie team, it's the fact that the team plans to bring some of poker's big names to the grands prix to show off their skills that will be more of interest to the likes of Alonso and Rosberg.

In Monaco, the team plans to bring along five-time World Series of Poker champion Chris Ferguson along, with other Full Tilt members scheduled over the remainder of the year. So Fernando, don't forget to bring your cards.

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