The paddock! It’s the dream of every F1 fan to be able to walk amongst the pit crews, engineers and drivers prepping the F1 cars before the start of the race. I was fortunate enough to be able to join in just one such expedition.
There are scheduled pit walks if you’re a member of the F1 Sepang Paddock Club (where you have to shell out a staggering amount for the privilege) but ours was by the Lotus Renault GP team.
Our liaison was Anita Nyers, who travels around the world with the Lotus Renault team as Liaison Officer. She brought us into their allocated garage, which was bustling with activity. There were people hurrying around, all wearing the Lotus Renault GP shirt. I am also donning one of the tees – which I got from PROTON, who is supporting Group Lotus in its sponsorship and involvement in F1 through the Lotus Renault team.
This is the almost magical Lotus Renault GP VIP Garage Access tag that granted us entrance into the area. I still have it. 🙂
The paddock visit was scheduled at 11 am in the morning and I drove down to Sepang much earlier than that (didn’t want to risk missing this chance) and parked in PA1. The SIC has decreed that parking this year will be slightly cheaper – I paid RM 50 for the ticket, which is valid for two days. I like the parking spot, it’s right in front of the Sepang International Circuit.
Anyway, back to the paddock trip, we saw the Lotus Renault GP team working on the cars, tuning and checking every single component before the race in their garage.
The weather and track conditions (temperature of the ground, ambient temperature etc) are tracked constantly with computer monitors. It’s an engineer’s wet dream.
They use all this data to give them an edge in the race. Here is a tyre stack – two front and two rear wheels which will be used during the race. There are spares in stacks all around.
The interesting bit about this contraption here is that it HEATS the tyres starting from 3 hours before the race based on the track temperature so it’ll perform optimally.
The attention to detail is incredible and F1 cars are amazingly complex machines.
These are the real racing helmets that the drivers will be using later.
Here’s a video of The Paddock! Experience it vicariously! 😉
Oh, we bumped into the Malaysian driver for Lotus Renault GP while walking in The Paddock – here’s Fairuz Fauzy.
We were also brought into the hospitality lounge where there’s anything and everything you can think of. I had a bottle of Italian sparkling water. There’s Evian, Perrier, various carbonated drinks and even Corona beer in the fridge. You can help yourself to it, or more accurately, Lotus Renault GP has a staff member which helps you get it.
They actually FLY these people all the way around the world with the Lotus Renault F1 drivers – everyone from the pit crew to the chefs. The drivers have very specific diets and brings along their own chef and food.
I discovered a coffee machine which is quite nifty – you just put a packet of coffee that you choose from a dispenser above and put the entire thing in. There’s no need for you to open it or pour it out. The entire packet – unopened – goes into a slot and out comes your coffee. I don’t care if it makes me look dumb, but I’ve never seen anything like that before.
I also had a croissant (which is one of the largest I’ve ever seen) and a banana coz I didn’t have breakfast and then we walked out to watch the pit girls parade past, waving to the drivers and teams in The Paddock.
Here is one final video of the Lotus Renault garage in The Paddock!
We had to vacate the premises soon after that for the qualifiers so we did. I watched the 4 pm qualifiers and went back to catch some much needed sleep before the real finals on Sunday.
Sunday came and I decided to go 5 hours early to beat the jam. It turned out to be futile. It was congested at certain parts of the road to Sepang and though the traffic police did a great job in directing, it took me the better part of two hours to get there.
There’s still ample time when I got there so I parked and started walking around before deciding I wanted to go up to one of the towers instead of sitting at my allocated seat. There’s a girl at the entrance which checks your ticket but I guess I was quite official looking with my tags and all on Saturday so she didn’t ask me for my ticket when I went up.
I decided to stroll up again and smiled at her. She recognized me from the day before…and yes, did not check my ticket. Heh! I went up to the 3rd floor, which offers an awesome 360 degree view of the track – I can see the starting point, several straights and two bends.
The pit girls came out parading the flags of the participant countries…
…before the F1 cars came roaring out of The Paddock and into their allocated slots.
Here’s a video of the lineup of all the F1 cars at the Malaysian Grand Prix 2011 final race!
There was an initial placement round and then the race started proper…
…and they’re off!
Man, was it exciting! Red Bull Racing’s Sebastien Vettel started charging right off but Vitaly Petrov of Lotus Renault was right on his ass, giving him lots of pressure. Vitaly finished 3rd with his Lotus Renault in Melbourne before this so he was a favorite in Sepang. His pacing was impressive and it must have kept Vettel looking at his rear. It was unbelievable!
I was rooting for Nick Heidfeld though. He’s also with the Lotus Renault team but didn’t start out as well as Petrov. However, he just kept at it and it paid off at the end, as you’ve probably heard.
Petrov did things with his Lotus Renault F1 car that it was not meant to do – aerodynamic stunts – and had to retire at the 52nd lap. It was sooo close to the end but unfortunately he hit the side of the track and actually became airborne for a while before gravity took hold and pulled the car back down. The impact damaged the front so he had to exit after that.
I was standing all through the entire race – running from one side of the tower to the other to see the action. Nick of Lotus Renault was the dark horse in this race and I like rooting for the underdog. He kept on pushing the limits.
The other fans up there were equally excited, some flew thousands of miles just to come and root for their team.
It was a nail biting race – each lap saw cars trying to outmaneuver each other at bends and vying for position on the straights and Hiedfeld of Lotus Renault managed to come in at 3rd place!
It’s not the chequered flag but being able to stand on the podium is quite an achievement in itself. This is especially sweet for PROTON since Lotus Renault’s Heidfeld did it on home soil. 😀
Out of the 3 Malaysian backed teams, only the Lotus Renault team managed to get into the top 3 and pop the cork on the champagne bottle in the podium. w00t!
Lotus Renault GP is sponsored by Group Lotus. PROTON in its support of Group Lotus’ sponsorship of the team kindly provided me the tickets to F1 and the rare chance to go into The Paddock and even better – get INSIDE Lotus Renault’s garage. Not many people have that chance and I’m glad I managed to experience it.
I also went to the Rain concert which was included in the ticket.
Thanks to Jeffrey and Alvin from PROTON for being great hosts and Anita Nyers from Lotus for being an awesome tour guide. I can now say that I’ve held a real F1 steering wheel in my hand and rubbed shoulders with the pit crew inside the Lotus Renault paddock. 🙂
An interesting fact about the Lotus Renault team: Their golden suits is not just for the bling factor – it allows them to stay cool in Malaysia’s hot weather compared to their traditional black ones.
Now that the Malaysian leg is over, I have one more year to recover from the sonic assault on my ears. I didn’t wear earplugs on both days and I think I might have developed slight hearing problems. 😉