Grapevine: Paddock Life: Valencia edition

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

Grapevine: Paddock Life: Valencia edition

In the end we didn't need Michael Schumacher.

The finish of Formula 1's summer break was always going to feel like the first day back at term - with all the stories and tales from holidays always likely to explode into a paddock full of gossip in Valencia.

And, sure enough, the European Grand Prix proved to be a non-stop newsfest, with the driver market exploding (Alonso rumours in overdrive and Kubica set for a Renault switch), intrigue over engine deals (how close are Williams to a Renault engine deal), questions of the future of teams (who will save BMW Sauber) - and of course just who is going to fill in that second seat at Ferrari in the next few races.

Poor old Luca Badoer found himself on the receiving end of the butt of humour by the press corps - who could not believe their eyes on Friday when minute after minute Badoer's name would appear on a stewards' report that he had broken the pitlane speeding limit.

In the end four offences (although there was talk he did a fifth after being summoned to the stewards for his fourth but it was ignored), a dismal qualifying performance, pitlane driving that would even be out of place in Formula Ford and a spin in the race left some hacks nicknaming him: "Look How Bad You Are."

Yet, despite a further embarrassing end when he ran into the back of Adrian Sutil's Force India in parc ferme as he parked up (see Raikkonen did give him tips), Badoer refused to be ashamed by the huge task he had found himself faced with in Valencia - and he even got a bit bolshy in his post-race press conference.

First of all he caused some humour when in response to a question about his thoughts on former (as test driver) team-mate Rubens Barrichello winning he responded with: "He won the race?

"I didn't know! I am very happy for him. Honestly, I didn't have the time to know, because I went straight to the briefing and then came straight to this press conference. I didn't know who won the race!

"Rubens is a good friend of mine, I am very happy for him as he is a nice guy. Very good. And who was second?"

Badoer also showed he wasn't a push-over when one journalist asked him how confident he was, on the back of his lacklustre performance, that he would still be in the car in Spa - as had been confirmed all weekend.

"What is your opinion?" he hit back. "What is your question? Where I should be? Are you a journalist? I told you already.

"For half an hour I have now answered what Ferrari said or not, what is the plan for me and Ferrari. Do I have to repeat it to you? No? Okay..."

After the disappointment of Valencia's inaugural race last year, which left the Formula 1 fraternity far from impressed at the facilities, atmosphere and track, most of us had headed to the event seeing it as a weekend to get through before the trek to historic Spa.

Having experienced in Singapore just how good a new street event could be, expectations were not too high.

But, with glorious weather all weekend, better located hotels allowing the leisurely stroll through parks into the tracks each morning rather than a manic drive through downtown, and the harbour beginning to fill up a bit more after the empty space last year, there was much more of a positive feeling this time around.

It still has plenty of room for improvement - as the area surrounding the venue could do with a big smarten up, and some of the infrastructure and attention to detail was pretty damn poor.

I'm sure race winner Rubens Barrichello and team-mate Jenson Button were not impressed each morning when they rolled up to their parking spaces in the F1 personnel area and found themselves driving for a slightly differently-named (and coloured) team.

Race organisers put a spanner in the works for a bit of a F1 tradition on Saturday evening, when a lot of the more athletic members of the paddock pop out for a quick run (or slow out-of-breath jog in my case!) around the track.

With temperatures in the 30s, quite a few people waited until gone 7pm for it to be a bit cooler, and I duly headed out with AUTOSPORT's GP2 man Mark Glendenning - out past Turn 1, around the chicane and down the long straight that heads out alongside the marina.

The only problem was, as we went around the corner at Turn 8, we were greeted with the Marina Bridge. Twelve months ago it had been welded shut for the weekend, but race organisers had obviously felt confident enough in it this year to leave it free to move - and had duly opened it for boat traffic.

While good if you had a yacht, for us the only way across would be to jump about 20 metres, something even the super fit of the paddock could not do.

So it was turn around time, retrace the steps and complete the first third of the track twice before calling it a day. Now, next on the calendar is the long and hilly Spa - but with no bridges.

Being based in the media centre during sessions can sometimes mean getting a bit isolated from all that is going on down in the paddock and pitlane when the cars are out on track.

That is why often it is the photographers, whose job it is to be out there close to the action, who often provide some good pointers as to some of the more funny aspects of a grand prix weekend.

On Saturday afternoon, the pack of snappers were much amused when one of their contingent (who apparently has a habit of knocking things over or losing his balance), somehow managed to topple himself over during the post-qualifying parc ferme - onto the fence surrounding the cars and taking that with him too.

Not only was that bad enough, but he actually managed to tumble right onto Nico Rosberg's Williams - with the German, waving his hands in total confusion as to what was going on, probably not finding it as funny as the numerous picture takers around who were giggling for ages.

Mercedes-Benz laid on a bit of a treat for a select group of journalists on Sunday morning when we were given an exclusive close-up glimpse of the benchmark Formula 1 KERS unit.

Although KERS had had plenty of critics since being introduced into F1, Mercedes-Benz and McLaren has stuck with the technology and it has helped play a big role in the team's resurgence in the second half of the campaign - and that win in Hungary.

The three parts of the KERS unit (the generator, the electronic brains and the battery storage system) were all laid out for us to see exactly what size and weight they are - and Mercedes-Benz had even winched one of its V8 power units upstairs for show.

The brown unit on show here is the batteries, officially called the 'Energy Storage System', while the orange part is the electronics brain, or 'Power Electronics.' It was fascinating seeing just how bulky the equipment was - and it easily explains why so many teams have struggled to get the systems fitted in their cars.

I plan to write a lengthier piece on the technology soon, but in a nutshell the three parts of the unit weigh around 25kg - with the generator situated on the front of the engine and the other two components fitted under the radiators in the sidepods.

That weight has put it well into the zone where KERS can be a benefit - and is much better than the very first test bed version that came in at 100kg, or the first dummy version that ran in a car in the middle of last year that was 37kg.

More details of all this will follow as soon as possible - hopefully there will be enough time before Spa, which is now just a few days away.

With seven races in 11 weekends, F1's final term hasn't just started - it's going to be like the worst possible spell of exams you've ever had. Bring it on!

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