Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Race day at Renault F1 (Part 2) // A review of our day at the Enstone F1 factory

Published by Mr. C

Following hot on the heels of our morning excitement, the second half of our day at Renault F1 featured a trip into the beating heart of the factory and the nearly new Computational Aerodynamic Research Centre. This underground facility, dubbed 'the bunker' by the team and cheekily referred to as the Teletubbies house by our professional MC for the day, looks exactly like you imagine every F1 team factory should be.

Grand designs

Call it the Batcave, call it Tracy Island, Christine and I just wanted to call it home. There's something beautiful about a building that simply vanishes into its surroundings and if the team had given us permission we'd have moved in straight away. Inside, bare concrete walls give the place a contemporary feel, while large circular holes in the roof allow natural light to fill the rooms.

A room with a very big view
A room with a very big viewCredit: Sidepodcast

A small passageway leads into a brightly lit display area, featuring an old chassis rebranded in this years livery. A large LED screen behind the car plays out clips and stills of this year's drivers in action. As you enter the main room, to the left is an office featuring banks of computer screens lying eerily quiet as staff take the weekend off before F1 heads into its summer break. To the rear, a massive glass arc offers views of the local countryside, whilst scattered amongst the desks are models of future car parts in all shapes and sizes. Turn around 180 degrees and you'll see a large screen cinema and beyond that, Mistral, the teams supercomputer crunching its way through computation simulations.

This is the kind of construction that would have made for a great episode of Grand Designs had someone ever intended to live in it. Christine is already hoping to rectify that by planning her dream home along the same lines.

Are you sitting comfortably?

After more mingling and a glass or two of champagne, it was time to make our way into the video auditorium with room to seat 60 people. This is like having the ultimate home cinema in your factory, lunch time in this place must be brilliant. The team use it primarily for marketing purposes and presentations, the screen is something close to 7 metres wide and the chairs are so very comfortable.

Stuart was back behind the microphone for another live link up with Hungary, this time Alan Permane was in the hot seat. The conversation was audio only this time, but with the conversation happening so close to the start of the race, the atmosphere really came through in the excitement of the occasion. Kubica made several very loud passes of the garage as he got comfortable in his race car, wheel guns were tested and all havoc sounded like it was breaking loose at the Hungaroring.

On the big screen, two in-garage web cams flanked the central BBC video feed, Kubica to the left and Vitaly to the right. The surround sound system offered glorious audio fidelity, but you couldn't help but be disappointed in Bernie's lack of high definition feed when watching a television signal blown up two metres high. One day when the old man gets his technological act together, Renault's auditorium will be the best place to watch a race, anywhere.

Fernando is big at the Renault factory
Fernando is big at the Renault factoryCredit: Sidepodcast

Radio head

Before racing got underway, Christine perched her laptop on a small fold out table attached to the chair, and using the super-fast Renault wifi (which somehow worked perfectly amongst the concrete), readied herself to provide live race updates. We cannot thank the guys from the factory enough for allowing us to piggyback Sidepodcast coverage on the back of their network for the afternoon, and Christine did a fabulous job working outside of her normal environment.

Once the race had begun, it was disappointing to learn we'd be listening to the TV commentary feed for the whole race. Given that 5Live's pitlane reporter Holly does such a brilliant job on the Official Renault Podcast I expected some bias in favour of the radio team.

Our iPhone App sales pitch came into its own once again, passing the portable device amongst the audience after the all pitstop confusion, persuading others to consider the purchase. The screen in front of us had switched to displaying the team's interactive GPS map. This featured more data than we were otherwise used to, including very handy "blue flag" data to show when lapped cars would be overtaken and I'd swear it was detailed enough to show the line a driver took into a corner.

Watching race updates on the iPad, live timing on the iTouch and GPS map on the TV.
Credit: Sidepodcast

Watching a race with many fans is a lot of fun. Kubica's pitlane accident was met with disappointment, Schumacher's crazy chop with derision, while Vettel was laughed at for his post race sulk. The biggest cheer of the day was saved for Vitaly Petrov's fantastic 5th place finish, ending a perfect race and perfect weekend for the Russian. One bungled pitstop was the sole downer of the team's race.

Oh, such a perfect day

Thus, when the race ended our day came to a close. We managed to grab some post event quotes with team members and attendees alike, but we will save all of that for another post and another time.

A race day with Renault was an amazing experience. F1 factories are rarely open to the public and if the chance to visit comes along, Sidepodcast would recommend you find a way to get there. Amongst the gathering were people of all ages with even one chap travelling in from the States.

Organisers put on an outstanding event and they should be congratulated for making everything run so smoothly. We left with the overriding impression that this was a team very keen to reach out to fans, to do more to break down the barrier that wraps the sport in its almost impenetrable bubble. It should be noted that at no point did anyone suggest to us photographs were not permitted, and although we never got to see Mistral in person, I get the impression that was simply because we forgot to ask. Time as ever, got the better of us.

We exited the bunker and headed for home, branded goody bag in hand. To quote the immortal Toyah Wilcox, the sun was setting in the sky, Renault staff said bye bye. Something like that anyhow.