Friday, 15 April 2011

Practice makes perfect

Friday 15th April 2011

MP3 track of the day: Shut up and Drive– Rihanna

Weather: Cloudy but humid.

I awoke to the sound of my alarm beeping at me. Due to the excitement, of another F1 race weekend, I bounced out of bed and got ready as quickly as I could. I got ready so quickly that I had to wait around for a while, as I'd promised I would meet my new Colombian friends at 8am. After a quick surf on the internet one of the Colombians came into the common room, on time; the other arrived ten minutes later. Apparently he had to send an important email meaning that we didn't leave the hostel until around 8:20am.

There were three things that I hadn't previously known about my two new buddies. Firstly they had invited a Chinese chap to tag along with us, secondly they had 'pit lane passes' (which I was a little jealous of) and thirdly all three were Ferrari fans … I'm sure they'll grow out of it. We walked the short distance to the underground station and purchased our tickets. It was at this point that one of the Colombians had forgotten his camera battery; he ran off into the distance and we waited for him. At this point I was, yet again, reminded why I traveled alone and I wondered if making my own way to the circuit tomorrow would be the best course of action. I'd only just finished my thoughts when the Colombian came hurling back around the corner, slightly out of breath and with a very red face. Before going through the ticket barriers our bags had to be scanned; this didn't take long and soon we had made our first official pit stop. The queue within McDonald's was horrendous; not really knowing what the plan was I decided not to order my usual 'McPancakes' and opted for something that could either be eaten here, or on the underground, or in a hurry. As it turned out the others had forgotten to purchase food for the race; they were at the counter for ages ordering hamburgers to last them the entire day. This gave me ample time to eat my 'sausage and cheese McMuffin'. Once the three of them had returned from the chaotic sea of hungry people, laden with McDonald's bags, they put most of their food within their rucksacks and finally off we went. Practice started at 10am; it took a good hour to get to the track and the time was 9am … things were tight.

As we left McDonald's we heard some shouting; a young Chinese gentleman ran right out in front of us and up a set of stairs. Within his hands was a coat and a ladies handbag; he was being followed by a rather angry, older gentleman and a lady. It didn't take a brain surgeon to work out what had happened here however, the police at the ticket machines, didn't intervene or peruse the criminal. They did nothing which I found slightly odd.

It was luckily that I was with the Colombians as, with a lack of underground information, I had to choose between two 'line eleven' routes. They seemed to know which line to take - as they had been to the race before - but I wondered how other spectators managed; within the station there were few underground maps, none of which could be taken, and I did think that the information could have been better displayed. On London's underground information is everywhere. The train was packed but efficient; as I exited the station there, in front of me, loomed the main race track stand. I had to admit that, even if the underground information hadn't been that great, the fact that it had dropped me off, almost on the race track (and the fact that it only cost 50p to get here) made it probably one of the best transport systems to a race track on the Formula one calendar.

I pressed my F1 ticket against the ticket machine and it let me through. As Friday practice was classed as an 'open day' it meant that spectators could sit anywhere, no matter what ticket they had purchased. We could hear the sound of the cars engines firing up; the time was 9:58am and so we hurried into the main stand. I did stop to purchase a programme which, after flicking through, was in English and had some great photos; at £10 it was a little expensive, however it made an informative souvenir.

Fans say Formula one cars are loud, but unless you hear them yourself you cannot truly understand just how loud the noise of the engines are. Once at the middle level of the main grandstand I noticed that there were very few people; I listened to the engines for a short while before inserting ear plugs into my ears (the piercing sound could still be herd quite loudly even with the ear plugs inserted). I made sure that I got at least one photo of Lewis before getting a photos of the other teams. The atmosphere wasn't exactly electric; due to it being Friday there were very few people and, unfortunately, most of them were wearing red. I don't know if it's because the Chinese lucky colour is red but most Chinese had Ferrari shirts on. I'd like to think that Ferrari's merchandise was a little common and, even though my silver Mclaren hat was a little dirty, I felt that it was a little more refined. I sat down watching the cars go past as I read through my programme.

All of a sudden first practice had finished. Vettel had topped the time sheets with Hamilton not to far behind; the only incident involved Heidfeld (Renault) who had put his car into a wall. Instead of watching the 'Porsche supporting race' I opted to leave the others and go for a walk. We had arranged to meet up at another grandstand, near the final headpin, for 'practice two'. My first stop was the 'F1 village' where I planned to purchase a Mclaren Shirt and hat. Before doing so I checked out the other stores and exhibits. There were the usual team stores which held little interest; one stand, which that did hold interest, was the 'Mercedes Petronas' stand which housed a couple of Mercedes cars including an old 1950's 'silver arrow'; the display was beautifully done and spectators were allowed to take photos. The other stand, which held some interest, was the coca-cola stand. This housed a small karting track that spectators could have a go at driving a single lap on. The queue was huge and so I surrendered my opportunity and went in search of the Mclaren store.

I peered at the merchandise not believing my eyes. Even though I really liked the new black Mclaren shirt (and the black Lewis Hamilton baseball cap) I wasn't going to spend £105 getting the two. The shirt cost £70 with the cap costing £35; I walked away thinking that I could purchase both of those items, within the UK, for probably half the price. Ironically they would probably get shipped from China. I was a little gutted not being able to justify purchasing a new shirt; I continued my walk around the track hoping to find other vendors. I found one and, even though the price of the shirt was reduced to £55, the cap remained the same. At this point I could hear the Porsche cars reeving their engines, I gave up my search for Mclaren merchandise and continued my walk around the race track. As I walked Porsche super cars went flying by; I walked as far as I could in one direction until a barrier prevented my from going any further. I back-tracked and headed back to the main grand stand and the F1 village. I wondered why the race track had bothered with barriers; quite a few times I saw Chinese people scale the barriers and climb over. Two things struck me as odd; firstly this was Friday practice were a ticket cost £1 to get in. Secondly the Chinese police watched this activity and did nothing. I couldn't believe it, the Chinese officials didn't move and one policeman even walked by as three ladies climbed over a locked gate. With my jaw wide open I stood their stunned.

I walked back through the F1 Village (wondering if the Mclaren merchandise prices had changed … they hadn't) and out the other side. I continued my walk around the track where I met a Canadian. We chatted about all things F1 until we could walk no further. It takes an F1 car just under two minutes to complete a circuit of the Shanghai race track; it had taken me two hours to walk almost all the way around.

The time was getting close to practice two; as I walked back to my scheduled meeting spot, with the Colombians, the Canadian guy came with me. Unfortunately he was a Ferrari, and a Red Bull, fan. He told me that he'd been to the Montreal race and that he had a friend in Singapore, which he might visit for that race. Once at the last headpin I said goodbye to the Canadian as I went up the stairs, and into the grandstand, and he went in search of beer. There were less people within this grandstand than there were within the main one. I found myself a good seat, lined up my camera, and waited. After I'd taken a couple of photos I put my camera away, got out a little food, and watched the action. Overall 'Friday Practice' is a little dull, however it does allow you to walk around the track, find some great photo locations and see what the view is like in each grandstand. It had been a good day and, once the last cars went by, I packed my stuff. The Colombians 'pit lane walk' was scheduled for 5pm. As the time was 3pm I didn't fancy waiting around; I said goodbye to them before departing for the underground station, but not before checking out the few stalls outside the ground to see what Mclaren merchandise they had.

None was the answer. Most were cafeterias, the only F1 stands were Ferrari. Maybe tomorrow more stands will be in operation; or maybe, after the race, the Mclaren store might slash it's prices. If neither of the above happened then I'll just buy a shirt, and a hat, once I'm home. I sighed before heading down into the underground. Apart from standing up all the way back to my hostel, the trip was uneventful. Once I'd walked into my hostel I sat down, read the latest F1 news, uploaded my photos and had something to eat. Once the Colombians were back I asked how the pit lane walk was (the photos looked good); they decided to head out for some drinks but I declined the offer as I was feeling pretty tired.

Tomorrow qualifying!

Toodle Pip!

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