Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

Amy's Australian diary - Part 4, Saturday - Qualifying day at Melbourne, with a bonus Crofty meetup

Published by Amy Fulton

On Saturday, we agreed to meet up for a late breakfast as there was no F1 action on track until 2pm. Even with a late start I was still not on time and when I finally got to 2 Doors Down the others were nowhere to be seen outside where we usually sit (outside is best for people spotting). After wandering into the cafe and not finding anyone in there either, I had just got out my phone to call Pamela when I spotted her talking to someone at a table at the cafe next door. I figured that more Sidepodpeople must have turned up for breakfast today so made my way over, but got the shock of my life to find Pamela and Paul talking to Ant and Crofty from BBC 5Live! I had spotted Crofty a couple of times on the Friday and gone ‘is that Crofty? I think that’s him? I’m not sure though...’ only to have Ant walk past a couple of minutes behind him, which made me go ‘oh that WAS Crofty!’

They were both very friendly and didn’t seem to mind at all that we had interrupted their breakfast, even with all their friends (we later found out that one was Autosport’s Jon Noble) laughing their heads off at the other end of the table at the fact they had been recognised. We thanked them for our shout out during FP1 and for their overall brilliant commentary. They couldn’t believe that there are so many people who bother getting up in the wee hours of the morning back in the UK to listen to them when they are down here in Australia. We talked to them about Sidepodcast and they knew straight away who Christine and Mr C were, in fact the first thing Crofty mentioned was when he met Christine for the first time she was drunk. Amazing what you can find out from F1 people! I couldn’t resist being cheeky and asking for more shoutouts at my other races this year, but I’m sure they’ve forgotten by now! After that they happily posed for photos with us and then said goodbye as they had finished eating. We went off to start our meals but the conversation never got far beyond ‘we just met Ant and Crofty! They were so lovely!’ and apologising to Jeremy that he missed out because he was even later than me.

Amy meets, greets, and is sandwiched by Ant and Crofty from the 5live commentary team
Credit: Amy Fulton / Flickr

Once we got to the track we went our separate ways again, for Saturday my seat was in the Brabham grandstand, inside turn one. I don’t remember anything too exciting happening during FP3, Bruno’s car stopped just by my grandstand and Heikki went for a shortcut over the grass but that was about it. The local crowd also was quite happy anytime Webber went fastest, the grandstand got a bit shaky as everyone stamped their feet for him.

Between FP3 and Qualifying we got caught up at Pete’s Bar again for some food. The two hours flew by and then it was back to the grandstands for the first real competitive part of the weekend. It was so cold during qualifying that I ended up with my Finnish flag wrapped around my legs like a blanket. It was a lifesaver! It then tried to rain but didn’t succeed, which was nice. Action wise, the main qualifying event I remember is when Lewis went out in Q2 most of my stand started cheering and applauding. Poor form, Brabham stand. There were also some boos when Webber didn’t manage to beat Vettel to pole.

Sebastian Vettel pushes his Red Bull to pole position, beating teammate Webber
Credit: Amy Fulton / Flickr

After qualifying the rain was picking up but I had agreed to meet the others at the paddock entrance to see who we could spot. I was determined to see Heikki’s girlfriend Catherine before the end of the weekend and Pamela wanted to see Christian Horner up close.

Every year there are some ‘regulars’ at the paddock entrance and at the autograph stage. These people even miss the cars on track just so they can be right up the front! They have folders with pictures of every F1 person you can think of with post-it tabs on top so when people come out they can find the pictures for autographs quickly. These people scare me! As much as I love seeing drivers I’d never not watch qualifying just so I could be at the front of the queue to see anyone, even a Finn. I guess lots of them are selling the autographs on eBay afterwards which is a shame.

It was quite a while after qualifying before people started drifting out as they all had debriefs to attend to first. Mark Gene was the first to appear, and after he had signed a few autographs and then left people started asking ‘who was that?’ I couldn’t believe that people were literally pushing each other out of the way to get the autograph from someone they had never heard of. After Mark the next group of people we spied were all media, with the likes of Jake Humphrey, Eddie Jordan and Mr C’s favourite Ted Kravitz spotted wandering between the paddock and the media centre.

The sun went down and it got very cold, but we stayed as there was by now a steady stream of drivers and team personnel making their way over to the waiting crowd. That night we spotted Mike Gascoyne, Alex Wurz, Chris Dyer, Jenson Button and Paul Stoddart. Next out was Paul di Resta and we made sure to tell him that his biggest fan is a man by the name of Steven Roy! The next person to come out of the paddock was Heikki and he was with Catherine! I was rather excited but it looked like he wasn’t going to come over. Jeremy and Paul got up on the bleachers behind us with my Finnish flag and started waving it and calling him over, and Heikki being Heikki headed straight to us. Because I already had his autograph on the flag I was just pleased to see him but at the last minute I remembered I had been wearing my bright orange 2009 Heikki hat and he happily signed it for me. Catherine didn’t come near the crowd and because it was dark I couldn’t really see her, but the boys told me later that it looked like she had been taking photos of the flag on her phone. Hooray!

Heikki Kovalainen signs autographs after qualifying on Saturday
Credit: Amy Fulton / Flickr

After Heikki had left, the next drivers to appear were Nico Rosberg and Karun Chandhok. Both were very friendly! Mark Webber was then the last out. Apparently. The security guards told us that all the other drivers had left out the back entrance and no one else would be coming out so we had to leave. A lot of people took them at their word and left straight away but we were having so much fun we were trying to hang around as long as possible. After the crowd had halved, Michael Schumacher came out. He is notorious for waving at the crowd but not actually signing anything, but the crowd always chants for him to come over. This time he seemed to hesitate for a while, but then he headed over, to a large cheer!

He had a whole crowd of security guards with him which was fair enough as fans somehow were magically appearing on the other side of the fence and crowding him. The girl next to me was hyperventilating and almost crying because she is one of the crowd who are at the paddock 24/7 yet she had never managed to get his autograph before. He was remarkably friendly and one thing that stood out for me was when he stopped to chat to a German lady and then took a photograph of the two of them on her camera. She had been telling people about how she had tried to see him many times and had never succeeded before. He was so good with the fans for those few minutes it was hard to believe it was the same ruthless character we all feel so strongly about!

Michael Schumacher surprises the fans by signing, chatting and posing
Credit: Amy Fulton / Flickr

The security guards then tried to pull the ‘I swear, everyone has left out the back’ line again but no one was silly enough to fall for it the second time. Of course more drivers were still to come, the last two out were Bruno Senna and Felipe Massa. As a new driver Bruno wasn’t being mobbed like some of the others so I took the chance to ask him for a photo, which he very kindly agreed to. I wasn’t quite ready when it was taken though so I wish I had a better memento of the occasion! Pamela wanted to stay longer because she still hadn’t seen Christian Horner but it was clear that we really did have to leave.

Amy catches Bruno Senna for a photo opportunity post-qualifying
Credit: Amy Fulton / Flickr

This is where the fun really began. We decided to walk to the other side of the circuit and head back to Jeremy’s hotel like we had the night before. It was quite a hike to get over to Gate 4 and when we got there the gate had been padlocked for the night! We could see some security guards sitting on the other side of the fence but they weren’t much help. They kept saying they didn’t have the keys so couldn’t let us out, but also wouldn’t tell us where we actually could get out from. They didn’t even get off their chairs to talk to us so all communicating had to be done by yelling. It was starting to look like we would have to walk all the way back to Gate 1, where we had been in the first place. We weren’t keen to walk all the way back there just in case that gate was also locked. By now it was almost 11pm and there appeared to be no one else anywhere inside the circuit and we were starting to think we might have to sleep there the night!

It was then that a man in a big truck drove past, slowing down for a speed bump. We gestured for him to stop and asked him how we could get out of the circuit, because we figured if he was in there, he’d have to get out somehow! He told us that Gate 1 was still open and asked us if we wanted a ride, so all four of us piled into this strange truck cab with this strange man, and we really didn’t fit! I was sitting on people's laps and had to brace myself against the windscreen, we started filling this man in about how we had all met online but were now the best of friends and he must have thought we were crazy!

He apparently had laundry in his truck and just before he dropped us off at the entrance he asked us which part of the circuit we had been working at. I still wonder if he would have picked us up if he realised we were just fans! It was so crazy, being locked inside a circuit and asking for a ride from a stranger (what would my mother say!) but it’s definitely added to the list of stories from that weekend. With amazing things and meeting amazing people happening to us every day so far, we had to wonder, just how would we be finishing up the weekend on Sunday?

To be continued...

All content in the series Amy's Australian Diary