Grapevine: Paddock Life - Shanghai edition
Autosport.com brings you its regular column of life inside the paddock. This week: Shanghai
Nowhere divides opinion like the Chinese Grand Prix. Some view it as a fantastic chance to reach new audiences and experience new cultures in one of the more exciting cities in China.
Others view the event as a total nightmare. There is the pain and the costs of the visa, the hassle of travelling one hour each way on small buses at terrifying speed from hotel to track, and the pollution. The heavy, intense smog hits you the second you walk out the airport.
It is a shame that there are all the negative aspects about it because the track and facilities themselves are great. The media centre is right above the start-finish straight, the paddock houses offices and walkways that have a little bit of a holiday feel to them and the circuit configuration is pretty good too.
The Chinese also seem to like seeing F1 too. Although a lot of the grandstands were empty for the entire weekend, as Chinese fans opted against making the trek out to the Shanghai track, those that were at the track on race day were pretty passionate about their following.
In the grandstands they had painstakingly drawn up some banners declaring their undying love for almost all the drivers. As well as the usual support for Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton, there were hordes of banners for the likes of Rubens Barrichello and Nico Rosberg.
There was also this one - as a few fans made it clear that they felt the sport's governing body may not have been so even handed in their penalties this year.
But the eagerness of fans was nothing compared to how exited the Chinese journalists in the paddock were. As well as asking very direct questions, they made sure to make the most of their access to the paddock by demanding driver autographs - and one even hijacked a Robert Kubica press briefing to get his photograph taken with the Pole.
The paddock divided into two separate camps immediately after the Japanese Grand Prix. Half of it decamped down to Tokyo for a few evenings of karaoke (Wuthering Heights will never be the same again), while the other half made an early trip to Shanghai for some end of season shopping.
But Sebastian Vettel and Alexander Wurz did something very different - as they climbed up to the top of Mount Fuji on the day after the Japanese GP.
Having woken up at 2am, the pair were joined by journalist Tom Clarkson and photographer Lorenzo Bellanca for the climb - with a feature about their adventure appearing in a future issue of Autosport's sister publication F1 Racing.
Despite the early departure, the men were not the first ones up there as they experienced temperatures as cold as minus 15 at the top.
"It was good fun," said Vettel. "I mean it was very special. We walked up there. I woke up at 2 o'clock in the night and started walking at 3am. We thought we were the first ones but surprisingly when we were heading to the peak, the top, there were some funny Japanese people standing in the corners and waiting for the sunrise, so we realised we were not the first.
"But you know it was a good experience. Obviously it was very cold up there, I think around minus 15 degrees, so we all had gloves and jackets, winter hats, winter gear which was absolutely necessary but it was a good adventure. It was good fun."
The calmness of Fuji of course is in total contrast to bustling Shanghai - and the Japanese and Chinese cultures are certainly very different. From the polite and timid Japanese, the contrast of a few forthright and aggressive Chinese people can be a bit daunting at times.
That was certainly the case during qualifying on Saturday when a local cameraman's assistant got involved in a fist fight.
The television crews were packed behind Robert Kubica's pit garage and, with space at a premium, the CCTV camera assistant was taking up a plot of ground that he did not need to. He was asked to move so another camera could get in, but he responded: "Only if you ask me politely."
A following polite request responded with a no, just as Kubica emerged. A Fox TV camera crew started trying to force the CCTV man out of the way, but he hit out by punching the FOX TV man square in the stomach. He doubled up and fell into another cameraman, who in turns tripped up into Kubica.
By this stage, Kubica was pretty unimpressed and disappeared into the garage. Moments later, a Formula One Management official turned up and escorted our Chinese friend straight out of the paddock.
Lewis Hamilton has had plenty of scrutiny about his driving ever since he came into F1, but the criticisms seemed to reach a new crescendo in China as the memories of the first corner controversy at Fuji remained fresh in his head.
Matters were not helped either by some comments from Mark Webber about Hamilton's driving standards that had some, what is known in the business as, top spin attached to them. Suddenly, a debate about conduct in braking zones was turned into back page tabloid stories labelling Hamilton a killer!
Webber made sure to let Hamilton know what he had really said, as the matter was quickly brushed aside. And to Hamilton's great credit and self control, he never allowed himself to get rattled by any of the criticisms he was facing.
"You have to ask yourself why is all this happening?" he said one evening in the paddock, talking about the focus on him. "It is because I'm competitive and I'm winning. A lot of people have been in F1 a lot longer than me. I've been here only a short period of time and I'm at a great team.
"My whole career I've been in this kind of situation. People wanted to be associated with McLaren Mercedes. I was the only one in that position. It is just a part of the game. If I was at the back of the grid no-one would be saying anything. It is just the way it is. It was like that for Michael Schumacher, for Damon Hill. When you are a winner, when you are doing well that is the game."
And he suspected that some of former teammate Fernando Alonso's recent cheeky comments about wanting to help Felipe Massa win the crown may well simply be a legacy of the Spaniard's troubled time at McLaren last year.
"When someone has been winning then another driver comes in and takes over then of course they are not going to be too happy about it," he said. "There is nothing I can do about that except try to stay positive.
"I'm not here to piss anyone off. I'm here to race, be competitive and push everyone to their limits whether that be people in my team or other drivers. That is what motor racing is all about. If I get a challenger that comes along and gives me the toughest time ever, I'm not going to hate him for it. I'm just going to try even harder to try to get past him.
"I'm not here to make friends. I'm here to be successful, to win the world championship and enjoy my career in Formula One along the way.
He added: "He (Alonso) was a double world champion. He came to a team and got beat by a rookie. I'm not here to be involved in any mind games. I'm here as strong as ever. I put my hands up and admitted I made a mistake at Fuji.
"I have apologised to the team and now we move forward together. I have no need to play mind games with anyone. I'm here to do a good job and be competitive. The most important thing is to focus on my job. To be challenging for the world championship again is pretty cool in only my second year."
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