A couple of weeks have already passed since the Hungarian GP, but we would like to invite you on a journey to relive some of its moments and let you in behind the scenes of a GP weekend. F1technical’s Balazs Szabo had the chance to attend the Hungarian GP. He was there for four days and tried to experience every single moment the Formula 1 paddock can offer over a race weekend.
Let’s start with a ceaseless ominous prognosis which so often swirls around among certain fans and journalists: If you assume Formula 1 is dying you are dead wrong. It is still as exciting as ever, with all its glamour and flare. People still get excited when they get a glimpse of their respected, admired and untouchable heroes.
I don’t want to bore you with reports of race actions or other news. I also don’t want to make any attempt at striving for strict structure or perfect grammatical cohesion. I just want to pick out a few outstanding moments of that weekend and enable you to get a view of what happens behind F1’s closed curtains.
It was my eleventh Hungarian GP in a row and the second one spent in the paddock. I can’t deny I live for Formula 1. I think in every single moment about our beloved sport. My love for it won’t stop for a second. I spend all my days during the year with my anxious waiting for the next Hungarian GP. I fell in love with F1 at the age of 6. I am 26 now. My commitment to motorsport increases with every year passing.
F1 seems so isolated from the outside, doesn’t it? Well, 2015 marked my first year in the paddock. That visit really shocked me. Bumping into Fernando Alonso around one corner and into Kimi Räikkönen around the next, walking through the paddock between the team’s luxurious trucks and stunning motorhomes can’t trigger off any other feeling than shock and amazement.
I was heading a bit more prepared this year. Still, the nervousness developed beyond measure when I was finally on my way to the track.
The F1 paddock looks glorious on a Thursday with its glamourous motorhomes, but it is yet to be occupied by people. Teams work on preparing the cars, equipment, tyres, journalists are in the media centre fully concentrating on writing their first reports from the track. The territory around the track gets more and more vivid as spectators – at least the early birds – arrive at the scene. Many foreign visitors arrive early to occupy the best places in the parking lots and best camping spots. The place around the track transforms into a small village.
Let’s return to the paddock on our journey. The Hungaroring paddock is pretty small for all those motorhomes, trucks, tents and its supporting series – GP2, GP3 and Porsche SuperCup. That means every single inch of the paddock is occupied.
The Porsche Paddock is in a small separated area between the end of the start-finish straight and the rundown from the first to the second corner. That is a very easily accessible place, but it never gets too lively over the weekend. GP2 and GP3 is located on a lower area behind motorhomes. They use huge tents to store and prepare the cars. If you imagine that you will bump into GP2, GP3 or Porsche drivers or team members in the paddock area, you are wrong. They only wander to the most admired place when they complete one of their sessions. Only those drivers or managers who have some connections to an F1 team spend time in the paddock.
What do the paddock and its surroundings look like in reality? There is the pit lane area which is, of course, a very well protected area. Only FIA members, some marshals, team members, drivers, photographers and some senior figures have access to that. Behind that is the pit building. This is pretty old at the Hungaroring, but the government promised to F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone on the Saturday of the Hungarian GP weekend that it will be either renewed or completely scrapped and rebuilt in the next three years. The width of the pit lane is pretty comfortable, it is medium-sized, some other tracks have much tighter pit lanes. The number of garages are alright for F1 teams after Hungaroring added a few more garages a couple of years ago.
On the first floor above the teams’ garages there is the F1 Paddock Club area which is pretty elegant. You can bump into elegantly dressed, but less F1-addicted people there. At the entrance of the pit lane there is the Hungaroring tower which hosts the media centre, the reception and the offices. The second floor is the most vivid, it hosts the reception, the FIA offices and the media centre. There is another media room on the third floor.
The media room is a very important place as you can get the news first hand. There is also a wall where the FIA, the track, Pirelli and the teams place their announcements. It has a separate board where media representatives can inform when different teams hold their own press conferences over the race weekend.
Behind the pit building there is a line of trucks of the teams. Those are used as garages, for storing the equipment and preparing the tyres for the next session and for analyzing them after the sessions. Those trucks are really special because they also house engineers’ rooms.
Behind that troop of trucks there is a line for walking. That is confined by the line of motorhomes just behind that. Motorhomes are something you can demonstrate your wealth with. Haas and Manor have low-key, small motorhomes. Sauber’s motorhome is a special one with its canvas roof. Renault’s yellow motorhome stands out as it has only one floor. Pirelli has also got a spacious, black motorhome with some nice plants in front of it.
Honda has a separate building to McLaren. The Woking-based team has probably the most glamorous motorhome with three floors. The team hosts the media representatives on the third floor where you can get to if you climb the stairs up a narrow tower.
Mercedes has a huge motorhome with a spacious room on the first floor. That room is for hospitality and the team’s own press conferences also take place there. If the team invites a special guest, they usually go upstairs where it is much quiter.
Red Bull’s motorhome is probably the biggest and the most vivid one. It is pretty hectic inside. Everyone in the paddock can enter it and have a nice time there. The team’s drivers aren’t afraid of meeting anyone, they don’t try to hide themselves. You can bump into Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo or the Toro Rosso guys on the first floor having a nice chat or some meal. If you would like to recharge your batteries with some food or a drink, you have to climb to the second floor. That spacious room reminds you of an elegant, wonderful restaurant. It also has a terrace where you can have a glass of champagne and enjoy a wonderful look over the paddock area.
Ferrari has a special setting. It has a two-wing motorhome: one for the team and one for the media. That is how the team, which enjoys the biggest attention, secures a pretty peaceful environment for its members. It is not a surprise that Ferrari’s building is the most crowded regarding the media representatives. Sebastian Vettel holds an English and a German conference. Kimi starts with an English talk, after that he is available for the Finnish media. Ferrari is probably the only team which prohibits taking photographs inside its buildings.
FIA also has a dark blue motorhome and some trucks. Its motorhome can host meetings and its trucks house offices.
The most interesting, the darkest black, and probably the most admired motorhome is the one of Bernie Ecclestone. He has a one-floor building at the end of the paddock area opposite the FIA motorhome. Its windows are completely dark, that means you can’t see anything from outside. He travels by his Mercedes to his ‘paddock villa’ and his car is probably the only car which can enter the paddock area during the intense moments of the weekend.
Let’s concentrate on racing. It is the core of F1, isn’t it? I watched the different sessions of the weekend at very different points of the track. I have my favorite places inside the paddock where you can get a nice view onto the third and second-to-last corner, but I also wandered to a couple of grandstands to observe the behavior of the cars in different corners. Watching the cars live is the best thing you can experience on a race track. Even the most advanced television with the latest inventions can’t give you back the actual behavior of the racing machines. If you ponder over whether it is worth paying for a ticket, don’t do that. That is waste of time and needless time consumption. Watching Formula 1 cars on telly and live are still as alike as night and day in our ultramodern life.
Formula 1 has also been accused recently of isolating itself too harshly from its fans. I really think F1 has done its best to try to change that and get closer to the people who really adore it. The pit walk is the first occasion you can meet the drivers and watch the teams in action, observe the practices or the cars rolling for scrutineering within just a couple of meters. F1 introduced a so called red carpet walk which means that a real red carpet is laid down in front of the track entrance on Saturday and Sunday and drivers have to stop there and walk on it to meet the fans. My experience is that most of the drivers spent around ten minutes there. I reckon F1 is heading in the right direction to meet this requirement and make its fans happy. Those occasions are other pieces you can’t experience if you sit in your comfortable chair. In some ways it is isolated, but it cannot open all its real or virtual gates up, because it is still a working place for many as well as where people need a pretty comfortable area to get the best out of themselves.
Lets take a u-turn back to my starting question: Is Formula 1 really dying? An absolute no is the only answer I can give. There are always people who try to idealize the past. They happen to forget about the previous issues and remember only the good. That is called glorifying the past.
I can assure you that people still get excited by Kimi Räikkönen in the same way as 10 years ago. I mention that period because this is what I have personal memories with and I mention Kimi as he enjoys clearly the biggest support in Hungary.
Was racing much more exciting years ago? You can argue about it. You can also say DRS is artificial, you can also claim that drivers nowadays are less bold. If you happen to state that, you forget that drivers in modern F1 are all geniuses. They have all won races, titles, in lower categories; they are the best of our generation.
What we can’t deny is that Mercedes’ seemingly never-ending domination harms and hurts Formula 1. We could set our mind at ease that domination has always been part of the circus. However, F1 has never seen such an utter domination as it is experiencing now.
We can only hope that Ferrari, Red Bull or McLaren can benefit from the sweeping technical changes over the winter and hunt the untouchable Mercedes down so that we can have at least a two-team battle. F1 craves for fights at the top between more than one squad. This is the only issue Formula 1 has to address.
If real racing comes back, Formula 1 will be as thrilling as it has ever been.