The drivers’ briefing took place in the press conference room on Friday, adjacent to the media centre. Race director Charlie Whiting talked to the drivers about safety and any issues that had arisen over the course of the opening practice sessions.
At the end of the briefing, 23 of the 24 drivers left through the door that led straight into the F1 paddock. But Mercedes AMG Petronas star Nico Rosberg thought he’d take a stroll through the media centre, something that has never happened before. He walked through the throng of journalists, joking with them and signing autographs for Japanese scribblers.
“There’s a lot of you,” said Nico, in reference to the 350 journalists in the room. “Is there that much to write about F1?”
Yes, Nico, there is more than enough to write – and your team has received its fair share of publicity over the past few days! Despite this jokey comment, the five minutes that Nico spent in the media centre did more for his relationship with the press than any number of one-on-one interviews. F1 journalists like drivers who do things differently, and Nico is that man.
“What a good bloke,” said the man from Bild in Germany. “Funny too,” added the man from the Daily Mirror in the UK.
Nico looked fresher than most people in the press room, having been in Japan since last weekend. Not all of the drivers have overcome their jetlag, however. Williams star Pastor Maldonado got just one hour’s sleep on Wednesday night, which wasn’t ideal preparation ahead of driving the fastest cars in the world. “I was absolutely hanging yesterday,” said Pastor on Friday. “But I slept like a baby last night, so I’m feeling a bit better.”
No mention of Suzuka is complete without mentioning the fans. The grandstands were bulging during practice and there were some pretty exotic outfits being worn by the fans. A couple of guys wore Michael Schumacher helmets all day, while there was a lady wrapped in an Asturias flag in deference to Fernando Alonso.
“The fans are great here,” said Jenson Button. “They are really passionate about the sport and they give all of the drivers support, not only Kamui [Kobayashi] or the guys at the front. But they do like to get close to you and you have to be careful not to trample on them if you’re in a hurry!”
Michael Schumacher has found a novel way around the problem. He travels by scooter, so that he can’t be stopped…