I showed my pass to the security guard and he let me in, that in itself put me on a major high. After heading underneath the track over to the inside of the circuit, there I was, walking down a corridor lined with spectacular hospitality motor homes.
Two impressive branded cargo trucks were either side of me and before I knew it, I was stepping into the Force India garage. To a newbie in the paddock, this was a complete sensory overload.
The first thing I saw to my right was a group of engineers looking at a myriad of screens containing technical data and telemetry. Continuing on through there were rows of Skullcandy branded headphones each with a name underneath. To add to my excitement, I was handed a spare pair. I placed them over my ears and I was in the thick of it.
Both Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez were on track for Free Practise 1 when I stepped into the viewing area. I looked up to see the lap times displayed on the screens and by this point I was a little dizzy with all the buzz yet tried to stay as composed as possible. The sheer volume of selfies I was sneakily trying to snap were getting a tad ridiculous I will admit. The hustle and bustle was exhilarating. Engineers would rush from one side of the garage to another loading trolleys with tyres and the action I could hear between the drivers and pit wall in my headphones was something else.
The garage was beautiful, each corner was gleaming. From the Hype Energy drinks refrigerator in the viewing area to the shiny white shelving containing the various laptops and technical equipment, display cabinets for the drivers helmets when not on the track. There wasn’t an aspect of that room that wasn’t impressive and enough for any aspiring Formula 1 driver, engineer, mechanic etc to have a boost of inspiration.
Watching the action on TV, I have always assumed that during a race weekend the team must be manic, stressed out and panicked. I was completely wrong, the professionality sense of calm was impressive and really showcased the streamlined sense of perfection in Formula 1. Everyone knew what they were doing and everyone did their job to the best of their ability.
Watching the action from the back of the garage was a strange vantage point, one of which I’d never been privy to before. There is no Sky Sports F1 coverage, no BBC Sport Coverage, just good old fashioned lap times displayed on the screens, that is all you really need for practise after all. I was getting all my information from my headphones which is something I’m really not used to when watching F1 coverage, and I can assure you it didn’t make it any less exciting. If anything, I was more on my toes than I would be normally. Without being able to see exactly where the cars were on the track, it made my concentration on the feedback from the drivers even more intense and interesting when they were given direction from the team.
Free Practice was over and both drivers brought the cars back into the garage. The motors really are works of art, years and years of hard work had gone into making those cars what they are today and there they were glistening in front of me. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably watched countless Motorsport documentaries with films like Senna and Rush being a staple in your household. If that’s correct, you have probably seen endless clips of various drivers unstrapping their various belts, standing up, stepping out of their cars and taking off their helmets and balaclavas. This is always a classic scene and somewhat emotional, and there were two Formula 1 drivers right in front of me going through this motion. Something which put a lump right in the back of my throat.
With the action on track finished, I decided to go and check out the Force India Hospitality motor home. Each table, stool, glass coaster etc. was perfect, the colours were completely on brand and it just screamed luxury.
Unable to contain my curiosity, I walked outside in the scorching heat to explore the paddock. I was walking past faces I see every other weekend, I knew them so well and it felt like they should know me! I knew my way around the paddock after watching the TV coverage in years gone by. I knew this place so well, yet it was the first time I had ever been there; such an unusual feeling, I guess it would be like going to explore the set of one of your favourite, re-watched films.
I headed up the stairs and the likes of Mario Arrivabene walk past me, Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa and so many more. Complete Formula 1 legends and celebrities who are just in their workplace getting on with their job.
You know that feeling of butterflies you get before you have to go into a job interview, or you go and meet an old friend you haven’t seen for years, or you have to go on stage and make a presentation or present an award. I had that feeling locked in my stomach for about 4 hours, I just couldn’t get it to go away. My hands were shaking as I was trying to be steady whilst taking photographs yet still trying to blend in.
Sahara Force India are a wonderful Formula 1 team, a generous one. I was so fortunate to have this opportunity so I could share the experience with as many people as possible. I have now gained so many wonderfully embarrassing memories from this experience, including, clumsily stumbling out of the toilet cubicles nearly walking straight into Fernando Alonso, having the “oh my goodness I’m actually stood in the paddock!!!” phone call with my mum to find Bernie Ecclestone stood behind me and the hours of deliberation deciding what to wear (I didn’t think it would be appropriate to turn up in all my fan gear!).
One things for sure, this world is an impressive one. It’s a world which will always be a part of me.
Have you ever been in the Formula 1 paddock? Email in your stories to [email protected].