Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Justice for Amy - How the Australian Grand Prix and Team Lotus fixed everything // The unfortunate competition results are rectified in Melbourne

Published by Amy Fulton

Last Thursday you may have read this blog post here at Sidepodcast. Now I’m here a week later to explain what happened as a result. I want to thank everyone for their retweets because I wasn’t going to take the issue any further and without the F1 community behind me I never would have ended up having the fantastic day I got from @myteamlotus and @ausgrandprix.

Spark in the dark

The first to respond to the story was Team Lotus, with this tweet. Considering how much an F1 team must have going on over a race weekend I was really impressed with the speed of their response. Later on Thursday night I got a text message from Tom Webb, the Team Lotus press officer.

Hi Amy. This is Tom Webb from Team Lotus. We’re going to try and get you in for a look around. Will text tomorrow to confirm details. Sorry about the problem you’ve had.

- Tom Webb

The fact that Team Lotus had sourced my phone number from my entry into their Spark competition astounded me. It seemed like so much effort to go to for a fan when they weren’t even the ones running the twitter competition!

The next morning as I was getting ready to head to 2 Doors Down for our Sidepodcast breakfast I received another message from Tom, letting me know that a 40 minute paddock tour had been arranged for the following morning before the gates were open to the public. I was more than willing to sacrifice my only sleep-in of the weekend for a chance to see inside my favourite F1 team. I also got a direct message from @ausgrandprix early on Friday morning.

Hi Amy, what time are you on-site today. I would like to meet you and see if there is a way I can make this right.

- AusGrandPrix

We arranged to meet at 3pm and I took Pamela along for moral support because to be honest I did feel like a little bit of a troublemaker after all the tweets they must have received! The lady who runs the @ausgrandprix twitter account was really lovely, and apologised for all the confusion over the competition. Her and her colleague then offered Pamela and I a paddock tour for the following day but explained that it would not be in conjunction with any of the teams so we would not be able to go into any of the garages or hospitality areas. This was more than alright with me, even getting to swipe your way past the turnstiles at the paddock entrance is more access than the majority of F1 fans will ever have and I was well aware what a privilege it was to get the opportunity.

Garage days

On Friday I met Team Lotus hospitality and events manager Mabel at Gate 1. There was already quite a queue to get in and it was still an hour before the gates would be opening so it was really nice to be able to walk straight in with a pink VIP pass! Once inside the paddock I was taken into the hospitality area that the team uses here in Melbourne. I’ve walked past these structures many times while the paddock is being constructed but they look a lot bigger from the outside. I was impressed by the fact the teams can entertain so many guests during a weekend in such a small area. I bet they love getting back to Europe and their own motor homes!

Home for the weekend
Home for the weekendCredit: Amy Fulton

I was offered a cup of coffee which was much appreciated after my early start and then I was shown where the drivers rooms and Tony Fernandes’ office is. Due to it being so early and there being no drivers around Mabel showed me the inside of Heikki Kovalainen’s drivers room. It was amazing to see the race suits and helmets of my favourite driver just sitting there.

Inside Heikki's sanctuary
Inside Heikki's sanctuaryCredit: Amy Fulton

We then went into the garage via the very funky entrance that Team Lotus has this year. It’s a bit livelier than what the other teams set up, which are normally just the teams logos. Having the drivers on it is far more interesting! Just inside the entrance was the room where the debriefs and meetings are held. I also got to see where they keep all their spare parts and where the fuel rigs live. There is so much behind the scenes in the team’s garage that it’s quite the opposite of the hospitality – it looks much bigger on the inside! Mabel was an excellent guide, as she showed me around she explained everything really well. I loved her insight that on a cold day it’s nice to go and hug a stack of warming tyres!

We then went out into the main garage itself, where both the cars were still under cover. I really like the interior design of the Team Lotus garage this year so it was quite a treat to see it up close. Mabel then offered to take my picture holding a piece of Heikki’s car. That’s not an offer you get every day! The carbon fibre was amazingly light and the colour of the livery is so beautiful up close. Mabel told me that the shade of green they use is especially mixed for the team by DuPont.

Green day in Melbourne
Green day in MelbourneCredit: Amy Fulton

After leaving the garage it was time for me to head back out of the paddock. The curfew that the teams must now stick by was due to end just as I was leaving so Mabel and I stood by the entrance and watched scores of people teaming in once the clock ticked 10am. It was quite funny to see which teams had been lined up outside and which teams weren’t quite so keen!

There was still half an hour before the public was allowed into the track so I took the opportunity to park myself on the other side of the barrier between the public and the paddock entrance so I’d be in a good spot to watch the arrival of the drivers. When the gates opened the size of the pack of fans swelled considerably and it became quite tough to keep my spot. It’s surprising how rude and pushy people can be when there’s the chance of an autograph from an F1 star, but a surprising number of the pushy people had to keep asking the rest of the crowd who the drivers were! Most of the drivers came over and I snapped a few photos of each but I didn’t get any autographs as it’s never been my thing. Heikki kindly posed for a photo with me though which was much appreciated.

When Amy met Heikki
When Amy met HeikkiCredit: Amy Fulton

A brief glimpse of heaven

After meeting up with Pamela and watching FP3 we had some lunch then headed over to meet the Australian Grand Prix staff who would be taking us on my second tour of the day. Our guide for this tour was Jennifer from their marketing staff. Jennifer used to work for McLaren so she was an excellent person to be shown through by. The paddock 45 minutes before qualifying was certainly a different atmosphere to a paddock under curfew, there were people everywhere! The very first people we saw were David Croft and Karun Chandhok who were on their way over to the 5Live commentary box.

Nothing gets past Karun and Crofty
Nothing gets past Karun and CroftyCredit: Amy Fulton

There were lots of drivers out and about doing interviews including Pedro de la Rosa who was talking to Spanish TV and Nico Hülkenberg doing one for the Germans. It’s quite funny how recognisable the foreign journalists become, even when you’ve never watched any of their coverage! Jennifer asked us who our favourite teams were and when I said Lotus she said that Heikki and his girlfriend Catherine are both lovely. Of course that’s the impression I already had but it’s nice to hear it from a paddock insider.

We walked down the paddock to Lotus and outside spotted Joe Saward talking to Tony Fernandes. Jennifer seemed amazed that we knew who Joe was, but I guess not everyone who gets taken on a paddock tour recognises the print journalists by sight! She said we would hang around Lotus for a minute to see if I could get a glimpse of Heikki but as I’d already had a photo with him that morning I wasn’t too concerned. Instead we saw Timo Glock head out of the Virgin garage to have a chat with Tonio Liuzzi. As we’d gone right to the end of the paddock by this stage we headed back the other way to the exit so Pamela and I could make it back to our seats in time for qualifying.

The great divide, Tonio talks to Timo
The great divide, Tonio talks to TimoCredit: Amy Fulton

Happy days

I can only hope that everyone who reads this lets them know that they’re awesome

I’d really like to thank everyone from Team Lotus and the Australian Grand Prix Corporation who went above and beyond to make sure I was a happy fan, even after they both got bombarded with many not-so-positive messages on Twitter. To have two chances of a glimpse inside the paddock on the same day was beyond my wildest dreams and I can only hope that everyone who reads this lets them know that they’re awesome!

I’m really looking forward to supporting Team Lotus at my remaining races this year and can’t wait to be back at Albert Park ready for the 2012 Australian Grand Prix.

If you’d like to see more photos from my paddock visits or my weekend at the Grand Prix you can find them on Flickr.