Grapevine: Paddock Life - Sepang edition

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

Grapevine: Paddock Life - Sepang edition

Hot, hot, hot and wet, wet, wet. That pretty much sums up what life was like at the Malaysian Grand Prix, as Formula 1 flew in for its annual dose of tropical weather.

After an at-times chilly Australian GP marred by the downpour that helped turn Melbourne into a great spectacle, Malaysia was always going to be a bit more on the extreme side.

With local interest at a high thanks to the presence of Lotus on the grid, race organisers made even more of an effort to attract fans to the weekend's activities - and were duly rewarded with a bigger than usual crowd.

Part of the entertainment included a concert by Wyclef Jean and Fat Boy Slim - both of whom had a tour of the F1 paddock. Down at HRT, F1 rookie Karun Chandhok showed off his car to Bollywood legend Shah Rukh Khan.

But the highlight for many in the paddock was the return of what was once the annual Malaysian Air Force display - which witnessed Mig-29s buzzing the top of the grandstands and pit buildings over the weekend.

The F1 paddock is full of people who love high-tech machinery, so it was no surprise to see mechanics, engineers, drivers and even team principals venturing out of their air conditioned offices to stand in the paddock and gawp at the machinery that was zipping around overhead.

And there were plenty of laughs at the way the planes' after-burners were so powerful they were setting off all the car alarms out the back of the paddock.

Although the daytime temperature in Malaysia is regularly in a challenging mid 30 degrees Centigrade, it is the speed and ferocity of its afternoon storms that are harder to deal with.

And one of the earliest victims of one of these super storms was world champion Jenson Button, who thought he would do his regular pre-event track walk late on Thursday afternoon prior to his first media commitments.

Button clearly had no idea what the weather was going to have in store for him as, when half way around the circuit, the heavens opened with an immense downpour.

Coats and umbrellas offered little protection for the volume of water that was being dumped from the skies - so Button and his clan had to seek shelter until the storm had passed.

By the time a very wet Button returned to the paddock, a lightning storm had succeeded in knocking out the power in McLaren's offices - so he duly sat down with the press in near full darkness to talk about his build-up to the weekend.

"It's cosy isn't it?" he smiled. "It's like going camping..."

I bet you never got that web in Frome though Jenson...

The heat of Malaysia meant things got pretty sweaty for anyone needing to work outside - so it was pretty bad timing for one of the nearby hotels to have a bit of a shunt with its laundry organisation.

With just one week between the Australian and Malaysian Grand Prix, teams had made a bee-line out of Melbourne on Sunday night to get themselves acclimatised to the heat and time zone change of Malaysia.

This mass exodus meant on the Monday that one of the main hotels where a number of teams were staying found itself dumped with the laundry from more than 400 F1 team members at the same time.

With that number being far in excess of what is standard, the hotel unfortunately lost total control of the situation - misplacing team shirts and trousers, losing pants, handing the wrong team gear back to the wrong people.

With so many people affected, even the setting up of an extra 'laundry emergency' desk to try and repatriate people with their clothing, did not help the situation get totally resolved before team members had to return to work in the Sepang paddock.

And so it was that F1 personnel ended up either a) borrowing badly fitting clothes to get them through the weekend or b) keep wearing their old sweaty clothes!

By race day, thankfully, everyone had pretty much got their kit back - so everyone looked spick and span for the big Sunday audience.

Although the Petronas-sponsored Mercedes GP team delighted the home crowd with a podium finish on Sunday, there was little doubt that a majority of the local fans' eyes were on just one team - Lotus.

The return of the iconic name to Formula 1, especially with Malaysian road car company Proton owning Lotus Cars, attracted tremendous interest.

And it was quite a hectic time for the team all told. There was a host of press conferences in town, the launch of a new official Lotus drink LR8, the signing of a new sponsorship deal with telecommunications company Maxis - and a bit of help in pit stop practice from former English rugby player Rory Underwood.

But one of the most personal moments, which showed how strong the team spirit runs through Lotus, was when technical chief Mike Gascoyne was delivered with a birthday cake on the pit wall before Friday practice got underway.

The F1 paddock is always full of wild rumours and crazy stories - so it's ironic on April Fool's day that things actually calm down a little as people often think the truth is actually a wind-up.

There were people late that afternoon reckoning's stories on Michelin's potential return to F1, and the ban on outboard mirrors, were April Fools' rather than proper news stories!

There were of course some deliberate jokes though - and it was Scuderia Toro Rosso who kicked off the japes with a tale about how one of its old refuelling rigs had been turned into an ice-cream vending machine.

The team even offered the first 25 people who went down there a chance to try out some of its products - but did warn that the ice cream may have a bit of a fuel aftertaste.

Jenson Button found himself on the receiving end of a joke from one of his mechanics when he was told where the door to his personal room was - only to open it and find there was nothing behind it but a wall.

While down at Williams, Nico Hulkenberg issued a statement saying that he had had to change his name to 'Nico Hulker' for marketing reasons.

He quoted manager Willi Weber as saying: "The name 'Hulkenberg' was too difficult to bring to market, because it is much too long. Hulker' is shorter and even sounds way more dynamic."

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