- The Inside Line
Behind the scenes at a rain delayKate Walker March 30, 2014
Formula One is a funny place in the wet. Whatever isn't happening on track when Bernd Maylander is doing his exploratory laps in the name of safety tends to happen in the paddock or the press room, with anyone lucky enough not to be on TV killing time instead of filling dead air.
In my shortish F1 career (64 races so far, which makes me something of a minnow) I've twice seen qualies postponed till Sunday thanks to the sort of conditions that would make Noah baulk, what feels like eleventy million late-starting sessions, and that record-breaking Canadian Grand Prix. And while each and every rain delay has its own character, there are also common themes.
Often, the paddock feels as though it belongs to the TV cameras, with broadcasters from around the world talking into a swathe of cameramen all walking backwards. You're nobody in Formula One till you've been brained by a shoulder-mounted camera being swung around with no regard for the possibility that other people might be nearby.
But during a rain delay, when the typing journalists get to shelter from the storms while loading up on coffees and whatever food can be scrounged, the talking journalists are out there in the wet, fighting off drowned rat syndrome as they try to fill what feels like endless hours of dead air. There's only so much commentating one can do on a paper boat race taking place in the pitlane, after all. It's the one time we typists get to feel even remotely smug.
As people converge in any shelter they can find, from the press room to the team hospitality suites, odd groupings can be spotted. My personal favourite was in the media café in Montreal in 2011, after I had been sent off in search of cake. I found cake, and also found the grid girls and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Force engaging in a rather flirtatious food fight that also involved rather a lot of sitting on laps.
It was a lot more fun than anything we get up to in the media centre to fill the time. Singing is a not infrequent past-time, with popular songs made rather offensive through the creative use of swearwords invented that day. So too are pop quizzes, as the older journalists attempt to get the newbies to prove themselves by naming famous corners when shown cropped photographs displaying little more than a square of unpainted tarmac. What do you mean you can't tell the Spa track surface apart from Jarama? Rookie.
But by far the most impressive rain delay was the first I ever witnessed, at the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix. It was the usual scenario of monsoon conditions leading to a series of ten- to 15-minute delays before qualifying was postponed till Sunday morning. At most circuits, that announcement would have been the cue for the fans to pour out of the grandstands en masse, seeking shelter, or beer, or both.
Not at Suzuka. When I finished my work around 9pm that night, the skies inky black and rain still falling, the main grandstand opposite the pits was still full. No one had left their seats, and the assembled fans were sitting in near total silence, watching with rapt attention as the mechanics worked on their cars in the illuminated garages.
These days, whenever I hear myself or a colleague moan about being wet or bored in a delayed session, I cast my mind back to that Saturday night, and to the fans who were both heroes and nutbags. There's dedication to your sport and there's pneumonia. That night in Suzuka, I'd wager that a lot of the Japanese fans present had both.