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A sunny Saturday afternoon in Jerez - An experience of the brand new 2010 cars up close

Published by Brawn 2B Wild

The hills are alive with the sound of music – or in this case F1 testing – which is music to my ears at least! Although I've been a stalwart fan for more than half my life time, I'm finding this year's off-season harder than usual. For me, 2009 was quite simply fantastic. Having supported the Brackley based team since their inception in '97, as well as JB since his Williams days, I feel that last season was my reward for the years of derision and torment I experienced through the dark (and boring) days of the Ferrari/Schumacher era. Now though the '09 season is sadly over and although Bahrain is in only 21 days it still seems far too far away.

Fortunately I live in the south of Spain at the moment. I chose to live in Seville, not for it’s wonderful culture, great night life or beautiful architecture (though it certainly has all of these) but for it’s proximity to Jerez Circuito de Velocidad.

As I approach the turn off from the motorway I can already see that there is a stream of cars going into the car parks and the police are out directing traffic. I'm beginning to hear snatches of engine noise over my taxi driver’s radio and the sun is (finally) shining - I've definitely made the right choice in coming down here today. As I walk up to the entrance gate with a legion of others, the noise of the cars bounces off the hills and the crowd cheers – Alonso must be on track.

Based on the angle of his helmet, I reckon he's looking at the crowds in this one.
Credit: Brawn2bwild

The Spanish have a reputation for being somewhat laidback and prone to procrastination, especially here in Andalucía. They are not known for their punctuality or customer service either, but if there’s one thing the Spanish do, it’s motorsport! Despite the high volume of Tifosi and other fans, the traffic is flowing, there are no long queues at the ticket booth or gates and gaining entry is a piece of cake. I am a little surprised by how many people are here today as historically Spanish petrol-heads have tended to be of the 2-wheeled variety more than the 4. This is not surprising when, as is the case in Italy, mopeds, scooters and bikes are the preferred mode of transport. But unlike their Latin cousins they don’t have Ferrari.

Now though, on this sunny Saturday afternoon, the car parks are full and there are people everywhere. Even though this is only a test session there is a good atmosphere with packed stands and men, women and children of all ages standing up to wave and cheer for their hero in his brand new shiny red (and sadly white) beast. As I walk up to the nearest fence for a view of the track Alonso obligingly slows down to avoid the Ayrton Senna chicane and instead takes the Alex Criville corner and drives sedately past one of the packed stands, much to the appreciation of the crowd. Standing here I am struck by how varied the crowd is, unlike my previous experiences of motor racing it seems to be roughly 50/50 men and women with all ages and walks of life represented. Next to me some young boys press their faces to the fence for a closer look and a young child is lifted onto his father’s shoulders to enable him to see over the tyre wall.

The back half of the car doesn't look so bumpy from the side.
Credit: Brawn2bwild

I can see now why I've been told that Jerez is a great circuit, from my initial stand point alone, I can see that it has some significant changes in elevation, although it doesn’t look to be as much as Spa. The track itself nestles amongst some small but steep hills, giving many possible view points to the adventurous spectator. Right now there is evidence everywhere of the uncharacteristically wet weather we’ve been having lately, with pools of water and a fair amount of mud lying around. In places the concrete paths connecting different stands have been completely covered over by deep mud slides. But this does not put off the intrepid Alonso fan in his pursuit of the perfect vantage point. Everywhere I look I can see people scrambling over steep muddy embankments in an effort to get to the other side of the track. There are old men with walking sticks and even a guy on crutches battling through the mud.

I also decide to go for a walk about in an attempt to find some interesting camera angles, I realise I don’t even mind messing up my favourite trainers to do so either. I start to climb up and around the track in an anti-clockwise direction and soon wish I had better stamina or was in some way related to Sir Edmund Hillary! It takes a while but I manage to clamber over near to the "Dry Sack Curva" without twisting my ankle or dropping my camera, and find a nice big rock to sit on. It’s pretty hot now the sun is baking down as it should be for this part of the world and my rock is nice and warm. It gives me a great elevated view down onto the turn but over the fence and heads of those in front of me. Unfortunately though there’s not much going on at the moment - only Trulli's Lotus out on track - so I decide to take advantage of the quiet spell and change location again, this time finding a half empty stand quite low down and close to the track at the Angel Nieto and Peluqui corners. I spend quite a bit of time here playing with the settings on my camera and end up taking what I think will turn out to be my favourite photograph of the day. It’s of Jenson going round the corner all slightly out of focus except his front left suspension. I take a lot of photos from here and get to see all of today’s drivers and cars except Glock's Virgin which has not been seen since just after I arrived around midday.

The Renault is amazingly bright to the naked eye, it's hard to explain just how strange it looks based on photos alone.
Credit: Brawn2bwild

The only downside to being here and not in front of a computer screen is that despite the size of the crowd, there are no screens or timing boards up and without an internet capable phone, I've no idea of the times the drivers are getting. I do notice that Lotus and Sauber seem to be putting a lot of laps in while, sadly for the crowds, Alonso’s Ferrari hasn’t been seen much at all since I first got here. Happily for me though, I get some good shots of the Red Bull, Williams and McLaren. I'm excited to see JB putting a lot of laps in but manage to restrain myself from cheering him – I stand out enough here as it is. It turns out he’s been top of the time sheets for much of the day.

Eventually I summon up the energy to return across the wet, sticky mud of the landslide back towards the entrance. I've managed to walk approximately half of the circuit and I've taken photos from 7 different places along the way. I've also met some cool and interesting characters too. There are a few Brits dotted about here and there and the odd German too, I saw a cute little girl in a McLaren race suit and an incredibly old man in a wheelchair halfway up a hill with his Ferrari hat on, a big flag attached to his chair and a huge grin on his face.

Right now though the clouds are starting to come back over and I fear it might rain again (more than likely as I've not brought my umbrella) so it may be time for me to think about how I'm going to get home. I can get a train from Jerez station, only problem is the track is out in the countryside and there’s no bus route out here or taxi rank. I could call a taxi but it’s gonna cost me an arm and a leg as I’d be paying for both directions. What I really need is to hitch a lift. (This is where being a blonde woman in Spain finally pays off) So I head out to the car parks, where there is still a steady stream of people coming and going from the track, and I strike up a conversation with a friendly looking guy walking out with a couple of kids. I'm in luck as he’s going my way and it turns out the children go to a school that I used to teach at. It works out well; his kids get 20 minutes of private English practice while he takes a short detour into the town of Jerez and drops me near the station – result!

As I write this now from the comfort of the train I realise how exhausted I am as with any race track spectators cover a lot of distance to get about. My feet hurt and my shoulders ache from carrying my camera bag but I've done a helluva lot of walking/hiking today! All in all though I'm very happy. I saw some beautiful cars and some eye-watering ones (boy is that Renault bright!). I met some nice people and watched some of my favourite drivers. In some ways it’s helped with my F1 withdrawal problems but I'm also more excited than ever now for the 2010 season. Bahrain can’t come soon enough!