Grapevine: Paddock Life - Hungaroring edition

It was always going to be hard for the Hungarian Grand Prix to match the dramas, tension, excitement and politics of the last few years

Grapevine: Paddock Life - Hungaroring edition

With Fernando Alonso having taken on Lewis Hamilton and McLaren last year, and then the year before getting a grid penalty for brake testing Robert Doornbos, the Spaniard was one who wanted things to be a bit quieter this year. That did not stop him having a little bit of a pop at his former team in the build-up though.

Even so, the atmosphere in Hungary this year was pretty flat for the weekend. With the Beijing Olympics about to start, a lot of the usual F1 media brigade found themselves packing their bags for China rather than enjoying the delights that Budapest has to offer.

So an empty press room, allied to a paddock that seemed to be devoid of many people all weekend, left most even more focused on what they were going to be doing in F1's annual summer break.

Thankfully for the fans, especially the tens of thousands of Polish ones who travelled up to Hungary, the race itself produced the kind of drama and thrills we've been so used to this year.

The tight and twisty confines of the Hungaroring have been known to produce some pretty big traffic jams in the past, but that was nothing compared to the chaos that erupted outside the track on Saturday on the main motorway into the circuit.

Usually the location of the track, plus a special 'F1 personnel only' lane on the hard shoulder, means that there is very little problem getting from downtown Budapest to the circuit - up through 'Bernie Avenue' of course. However, that was not taking into account some crazy local driver who managed to swipe a mini bus being driven into the track by the DPR GP2 team.

The minibus got into a tank-slapper, ran off the road and rolled into a ditch. F1 track commentator Bob Constanduros was one of the first on the scene afterwards, helping extract the men on board - who thankfully had escaped serious injury.

Most impressive for Constanduros was the swift way local authorities arrived at the crash site. Police and ambulances, some dispatched from the track, were there within minutes - and then the whole road was shut while a medical helicopter landed right on the motorway just in case anyone needed ferrying to hospital.

It was all going well until it was confirmed that the helicopter was not needed, and the pilots there could not get the huge yellow beast, now blocking the road, restarted. Do they have chopper roadside assistance?

With a bit of rotor blade movement, however, eventually a few cars could get their way past the site - but by this stage the motorway was totally jammed up, leaving F1 personnel heading to the track for morning practice anxiously looking at their watches.

Robert Kubica spotted a local man on the motorbike and jumped on the back to weave his way through the jam - before they also picked up Sebastian Vettel a few miles further up the road.

And Ferrari dispatched a few of their staff members down the motorway on team scooters to make sure Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen arrived on time.

While mid-campaign Formula One fatigue had left many in the paddock desperate to get away for a short break before the final push, Hungary also marked the annual exciting build-up to another new season.

With English football about to kick off, McLaren title sponsor Vodafone helped host an annual 'Football Dinner' for journalists, photographers and the odd team member to recount their tail of success and woes of the last campaign, and their hopes and fears for the new season.

Each man present has to wear their team's football shirt and make a small speech - which includes predictions for the season ahead, like who will win the titles, which non-league side will go furthest in the FA Cup and which manager will get sacked first.

The predictions inevitably join much jeering and cheering, but they are all diligently noted down and the man who gets the most correct is awarded a special cup. This year's winner for his 2007/2008 predictions was the News of the World's Ian Gordon.

This column reckons it has found the answer to Ducati Marlboro's problems in MotoGP - thanks to a bit of insight from Bridgestone's director of motor sport tyre development Hirohide Hamashima.

Bridgestone held a media dinner in the Hungaroring paddock on Saturday night, where Hamashima offered some fascinating insight in the styles and driving demands of F1's drivers.

And, with him also in charge of Bridgestone's MotoGP tyre programme, he was very well qualified to compare and contrast the men in the two disciplines. In his eye, Valentino Rossi was very similar to Michael Schumacher in his technical analysis and approach to the job, while Casey Stoner was a mixture of Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton - blindingly fast and very, very demanding on machinery.

Talk then shifted to the woes that Marco Melandri has had this year, being unable to master the Ducati GP8 bike as well as his teammate. Hamashima reckoned that body size, plus arm and leg length, could play a factor in explaining some of the form - because of the combination of strength to keep the front end of the machine doing what the rider wants while also throwing the weight around the machines in corners.

The rumour mill in MotoGP has put Nicky Hayden as one of the favourites to join Ducati next year as Melandri's replacement, but Hamashima reckoned there was a perfect sized man who could cope with what the GP8's demands.

"Oh, it is easy," said Hamashima. "Patrick Tambay!"

PS: The other story that emerged from the dinner was of a poor newspaper journalist drafted in for his first F1 race as replacement for their regular correspondent. Sitting down in the Bridgestone motorhome, which was situated in this paddock right next to Ferrari, he thought the Japanese tyre manufacturer actually ran a team.

Turning to Hamashima he said: "I'm sorry to have to ask you this, but when do you think you're going to start competing on level terms with top teams like Ferrari and McLaren?"

Hamashima was a bit taken mystified by the question until another Fleet Street journalist leaned over and said, "Er, Bridgestone is a tyre company old boy." Cue much laughter...

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