The drivers aren’t the only ones who get excited about Spa-Francorchamps. Everyone loves doing laps of the longest circuit in Formula One and on Saturday evening the track had never been busier. Runners and cyclists were everywhere, and there was one man in particular who was generating loads of interest in the media centre.
British journalist Tony Dodgins says he isn’t a runner; he likes playing ball sports. But a few gentle jogs while on holiday in Portugal during the summer break persuaded him to try a lap of the most demanding circuit on the F1 calendar and a large portion of the pressroom turned out in support on Saturday evening.
Eyewitness reports say Tony took Eau Rouge very gently, but at no point did he slow to a walk and he completed the lap in 40 minutes. That put him 21 minutes behind the fastest lap of the weekend, set by Englishman Joe Batchelor. When asked if he’d run around Monza next weekend, Tony replied: “No chance.” Not words that we at Puma like to hear!
While on the subject of running, Mark Webber raised a few eyebrows in the paddock on Sunday morning. He was spotted running into the circuit, which, given that he was staying 10kms away in Spa, was no mean feat. Only the small matter of a grand prix distance lay ahead of the super-fit Aussie!
Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, revealed today that he shied away from exercise during the summer break. He is one of the fittest drivers on the grid, and he’s particularly good on a bike, but he took no exercise for 12 days in August and enjoyed the relaxation.
“I went to the beach,” he says, “and I did nothing. Absolutely nothing! I didn’t even watch the Olympics on TV. It was nice to relax properly, but it was fun to get training again too because I like all sports. I need to be fit to do my job, and I like being fit.”
There were huge cheers for Lewis Hamilton on Sunday morning during the drivers’ parade. He’s a popular driver, having won at Spa-Francorchamps in 2010, but his taxi for the parade got a lot of admiring glances too. Lewis was driven around the track in the legendary Mercedes Benz 300 SLR in which Stirling Moss won the 1955 Mille Miglia in 10 hours 7 minutes. Think about that for a moment: 1000 miles in just over 10 hours; that’s an average speed of just under 100mph.
Given the appalling summer endured by northern Europe this year, it was inevitable that rain would blight at least part of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend. And so it came to pass.
The Ardennes region is notorious for its changeable microclimate and it served up lashings of rain on Friday. Wet weather tyres were the order of the day during both practice sessions and many of the drivers were spotted in waterproofs when they weren’t inside their cars.
The South Americans seemed to struggle most with the weather conditions. Bruno Senna was dressed for the Antarctic all day, while Felipe Massa stressed that he would only go outside with his helmet on. Pastor Maldonado, meanwhile, kept himself warm with copious amounts of camomile tea in the Williams F1 motorhome.
Being used to wrapping up warm at home, the Finns were less at odds with the weather than anyone else. Williams F1 third driver Valtteri Bottas was able to keep up spirits by regaling people with stories about a triathlon he won in Finland during the summer break.
It was a sprint triathlon: 250m swim, 10km cycle ride and 3.5km run. But before any of the contestants could cross the finish line, they had to drink a litre of beer! “It’s very difficult to drink beer quickly when you are out of breath,” says Valtteri. “I felt a bit drunk afterwards, I must say!” Still, he managed okay and completed all four tasks of the triathlon in 34 minutes.
Today’s bad weather meant Michael Schumacher’s 300th grand prix weekend got off to a slow star but it didn’t stop him reminiscing about his career and speaking of the affection he has for Spa-Francorchamps. “A lot of good things have happened to me here,” he said. “My first race in Formula One, my first victory, many good races and I clinched my seventh world title here too. The sun always seems to shine on me here, whatever the weather!”
With better weather forecast for the remainder of the weekend, the drivers will be able to do their talking on the track. And we’ll report tomorrow on a novel race that is taking place around the track on Saturday evening...
We’re halfway through the 2012 season, but there’s a real beginning-of-term feeling in the Spa-Francorchamps paddock. The last race in Hungary was more than a month ago, since when most people have gone ‘de-mob’ happy.
Team personnel and members of the media have scattered themselves around the world for two weeks and there seems to be a genuine feeling of camaraderie this weekend as people catch up and compare notes. It’s at times like this that the world of F1 seems like one big family.
However, one person hasn’t been keen to elaborate on every aspect of his summer holidays. Jenson Button organised the first Jenson Button Trust Triathlon during the break, but he wasn’t able to complete his own race after an unforeseen problem during the swim.
“Do we have to talk about this?” said Jenson. “The water was quite cold and people were wearing wetsuits. I’d left mine in the hotel, so I decided to try and squeeze into my girlfriend’s. It felt okay until I got into the water, when it tightened up in certain areas and that was the end of my race because I even had a panic attack in the water.”
Sounds painful, Jenson. But the triathlon raised a lot of money for ‘Help For Heroes’, so good on you, JB!
Like most of the world, the London Olympics were a focus of attention for many people in the F1 paddock. McLaren Technical Director Paddy Lowe loved watching the cycling at the Velodrome, and Mark Webber was happy to wax lyrical about his time in the Olympic Stadium on Super Saturday.
“It was an amazing atmosphere,” says Mark. “There were some great achievements out there on-track and I really enjoyed it. There were some genuine sporting heroes out there.”
Down at Williams, there must have been some anxious faces when the team’s travel department drew up its itinerary for Spa-Francorchamps. Four members of the race team got married during the break and there were question marks about whether or not everyone would make it back from honeymoon on time. But the team needn’t have worried; everyone showed up at the track on Thursday morning, albeit much browner than when they left the Hungaroring paddock at the end of July!
But perhaps the most exciting endeavour of all during the break goes to British journalist David Tremayne, who ran his new jet car for the first time at the Cotswold Airport in the UK. The car produces 3,000bhp and David is hoping to break the British land speed record of 301mph with it later in the year. Good luck!