Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

Amy's Australian diary - Part 3, Friday - Free Practice gets underway as we review the Melbourne action

Published by Amy Fulton

Sadly on Friday at the Australian Grand Prix, I had to skip Sidepodbreakfast as my work failed to understand the proper meaning of “annual leave” and I had to go to an interview at 9.30am. Eventually I got to the track and met up with the others, in a panic because I couldn't find the radio I take to races, before I left the house that morning. I decided instead to buy some radio earmuffs because I hate not having commentary available to me. The stand I purchased from only had white ones and I wanted black, so Paul swapped his recently purchased black pair with mine. Thanks Paul! We then had to head our separate ways as Free Practice 1 was starting, and we were all sitting in different stands. My spot for Friday was the Clark Stand, which is a fantastic stand at turns 9 and 10 but it’s on the opposite side of the circuit from where all the shops and stalls are and it’s quite a hike to get there.

FP1 is always fantastic, it’s always nice to hear F1 cars for the first time in 12 months, but it was quite a change for me, it not being the first race. For the last few years Melbourne to me had always been the place to see the new liveries on track for the first time and after seeing them in Bahrain it wasn’t quite the same this year. One thing I learned is that the Sauber livery was just as boring in person is it looks on TV.

While I was enjoying practice from Clark, Pamela and Jeremy were over in the Fangio Stand on pit straight.

Pamela and Jeremy show off their respective gadgets during Free Practice Friday

For me the most exciting part of FP1 was Heikki doing a wee spin right in front of my seat. It probably makes me a bad fan to be happy to see him spinning, but it was nice to get a slightly longer look at his car!

Heikki Kovalainen corrects a spin during Free Practice at the Australian Grand Prix
Credit: Amy Fulton / Flickr

The other exciting thing was getting a shoutout from Ant and Crofty on BBC 5Live. I didn’t hear it at the time because I didn’t have a Kangaroo TV, but Pamela heard it, and everyone in the comments said it was awesome. We listened to it later that night after the MP3 was posted and it was awesome! I decided at that moment to never be without a Kangaroo TV again at races in the future.

After FP1 we all met up over by the Roary the Racing Car stand but there wasn’t a lot to see there so we headed back to Pete’s Bar in the main area. While we were there I spotted Terry, a McLaren fan club member who organises lots of meetups and events for members over the course of the weekend. My brother and I had met up with him a few times in 2009, and being Kiwis we felt right at home with the bunch of New Zealanders he had rounded up! Jan McLaren is normally part of this group too but she didn’t attend the Grand Prix this year. Terry invited us to the members dinner after qualifying on Saturday, but we didn’t make it this year. You’ll see why in the next post!

McLaren had emailed me to advise the meeting point was outside Pete’s Bar at 3.30. There were about 20 people, mostly dressed in silver McLaren gear hanging around so Jeremy and I went and joined them, assuming we were in the right place. Paul came with us, hoping that he’d be allowed in to the pits as well. Everyone was starting to get concerned by 4pm as no McLaren staff had shown up, and Free Practice 2 was only 30 minutes away! Thankfully two McLaren hospitality folk turned up with the pit passes. They only had 16 and we were told we would have to split into two groups. Everyone was a little desperate to get in by this stage but I told the boys to wait, to try and go in the second group if possible. All day I’d been telling them about how I went in the second group in 2009 and how it was much better to go with a smaller group of people, as you got a better view of the garage from the cramped pit area and more chance to chat with the McLaren staff. The McLaren men told us they’d be out in about 15 minutes to ensure the rest of us got a chance to go in before practice started.

We had moved closer to the paddock entrance while we waited, and spotted Pamela there. We called her over because we had noticed that the McLaren guys didn’t actually appear to have any sort of guest list as to who had been given a paddock tour. Jeremy and Paul were stressing out by this stage because the other group had been in the paddock for ages and they were worried we would miss out. It didn’t help that after the first group came out there was no sign of the McLaren staff! After a few minutes one of the men came back with the 16 passes, but by then the only people standing there were the four of us from Sidepodcast and one other McLaren fan. He handed out five passes and we couldn’t believe our luck, that all of us were going to get to go into the paddock!

After swiping in and hearing that beautiful beep from the turnstiles we were taken through the paddock down to the McLaren garage. When I went in 2009 we weren’t allowed to walk through the garage itself, just down a little corridor next to it, and we weren’t allowed to step over the red ‘pit lane’ line. This year due to the extra teams the garages weren’t big enough to fit extra corridors, so we got lead straight out past the cars, actually having to step over various equipment on the floor!

Amy gets a glimpse of Lewis Hamilton's McLaren during a pit tour
Credit: Amy Fulton / Flickr

Having just five of us in there was fantastic, it felt like we had plenty of time to see what we wanted to see, and we were allowed to take as many photos as we wanted. We even tried to have a bit of a look at the Ferrari garage next door! By this time practice was only 10 minutes away and I couldn’t believe it when I heard the McLaren man say “Jenson has just arrived.” We had been standing outside Lewis’ garage but we all shuffled up the pit lane when we heard him say that! Jenson was standing talking to his engineers just inside the garage entrance.

Jenson Button arrives in the garage to prepare for Free Practice 2
Credit: Amy Fulton / Flickr

Then I noticed that Lewis had arrived too, so I started to head back to his side of the garage. He came straight out into the pitlane and stood about a metre away from me, looking up to the sky to see if it was raining. I was so shocked he was standing close enough to touch that I didn’t have my camera ready and didn’t get to take any good shots of him. He then went back inside to the back of the garage where his helmet was and started to get ready. He didn’t turn around again so I didn’t manage to get any pictures of his face.

Lewis Hamilton gets in the zone ahead of Free Practice 2
Credit: Amy Fulton / Flickr

By now it was only 5 minutes until the lights turned green so we had to leave the garage. The McLaren guy was great, and didn’t hurry us out of the paddock like they had done the year before. We took our time walking out and the first person I saw was Martin Whitmarsh.

Martin Whitmarsh meets and greets during Friday practice at the Australian Grand Prix
Credit: Amy Fulton / Flickr

Then I spotted Sir Jackie Stewart and I was quite excited to see someone so legendary so close!

Jackie Stewart deep in conversation during Friday Free Practice
Credit: Amy Fulton / Flickr

Pamela was excited to see her favourite, Christian Horner, and everybody’s favourite Rob Smedley also walked past us. He looked to be in a hurry to get to the pit wall but that didn’t stop Jeremy from asking him to say hello to Christine!

Paul, Pamela, Jeremy and Amy pose after their excursion into the F1 paddock
Credit: Amy Fulton / Flickr

Once we had said goodbye to the McLaren man, and I had cheekily asked him if I could come back to the paddock in Spa, Monza and Singapore (answer: he laughed) we stopped for a photo outside the paddock entrance and then went back to our stands.

By the time I had hiked all the way back to the Clark Stand I had missed a lot of FP2, and once I sat down it started to rain! Most of my stand got up and left but I figured I pay too much money to go to a race weekend to miss any of the on track action, rain or not! Nothing terribly exciting happened during FP2, but I was still buzzing from being in the pits and I’m sure the others were doing the same on the other side of the circuit.

After the day's track action had ended we were having too much fun to say goodbye to each other so we caught a taxi back to Jeremy’s hotel and ordered some pizza. We called Alex on Skype as he was the only person online at the time, and then we left Sidepodcast a voicemail of our adventures for the day. I started trying to find motorsport references in the Bible left in the hotel, so it’s plain to see we may have been a little bit crazy by the end of the day because of all the excitement. Eventually we decided we had better get some sleep for what was bound to be a good Saturday so Pamela and I shared a taxi back home, with no idea of who we would meet at breakfast the following morning.

To be continued...

All content in the series Amy's Australian Diary