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GP Week : Issue 193
21 GPWEEK.com // 21 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: Walking to the grid on sunday afternoon in suzuka, a colleague and I who were feeling far too lazy to make it to the far end of the paddock decided to do a cheeky cut-through, accessing the pit lane via the Caterham garage. It’s normally not the done thing – garage access is strictly invite-only – but for reasons I won’t go into here we thought we could get away with it. Not only were we ushered through with open arms, but the team did one better and asked if we fancied watching the start of the race from inside the garage. Not an opportunity I am ever likely to turn down, as they’re rare as hen’s teeth. So rare, in fact, that in my four years in this sport it was the first time such an offer had ever been made to me. I wasn’t sure what to expect from standing in the garage to watch the race. I knew it would be louder than the press room, and that I would get a brilliant view of the pit stops, but that was about it. What I didn’t expect was for the experience to reignite my passion for Formula One. Before I started working in F1, race weekends were focused entirely on the sport. My friends and I would watch FP at all hours of the night, texting each other to check we were all still awake. Saturday afternoon was qualies and a barbecue, after which the drinking would start in earnest. On Sunday mornings we would gather around the kitchen table, bacon sandwiches and coffee working their magic on our hangovers, and the afternoon was all about the race itself. And possibly a bit more beer. What I remember from those days was the way in which every session was a thriller, nails bitten down to the quick and bums hanging off the sofa as we edged further and further forward as the clock counted down to the chequered flag. Maybe the 2009 season was a particularly exciting one. More realistically, there’s a massive difference between watching F1 as a fan and watching it when you know there’s work to be done. A driver spins off in FP? Make a note to grab a quote once the session ends. A big driver crashes out of the race? Run downstairs and miss a few laps while you go in search of his comment. Then there are the lap by lap notes to take, the lap chart to keep track of... Much as I adore the life I lead, there are moments when I hark back to the simpler days of sitting on the sofa with my friends, cheering on my favourite driver as we argued over the merits of McLaren vs Ferrari, and whether Brawn’s double diffuser was as illegal as I thought it should have been. Watching the Japanese Grand Prix from Caterham’s garage took me straight back to 2009, although with an awful lot less of the shouting. I could see the timing screens from my perch, but for the first time in four years it was the race itself I was watching, not the emerging battles coming up on live timing. For a few laps, I let myself forget that I was a journalist. Instead, I was a fan with the best level of access in the world – the team’s branded ear protectors crackled into life shortly before the start, and I heard all of the communications between the drivers and the team, from Giedo van der Garde’s comments as he went off on the first lap, to the pre-pit stop preparations taking place over the radio before Charles Pic was called into box. I’ve seen around 100 million pit stops over the past four years, thanks to all of the practice that teams do over the weekend. A European morning hasn’t started until you’ve heard (and felt!) the first wheel guns firing up beneath your feet. But to watch an in-race pit stop from one metre away is something else entirely. Time slows as it speeds up, a bizarre accordion effect that allows you to take in every aspect of the tyre change while being blown away by just how fast the process is in real life. In an ideal world, Caterham would have had a perfect race, both drivers finding some hidden pace with which to blow away the field and finish the afternoon first and second on the podium. As we all know, the end result was rather different. But while the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix might not go down in Caterham history as the team’s best ever result, it will always be special for me. Not only did I get to watch the race from the best seat in the house, but I got to watch it through a set of eyes I thought I’d lost on the day I picked up my first press pass. For that, I will always be grateful. BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE OPINION OPINION KATE WALKER Editor