Getting here today was thankfully only a short flight over, and one that I was fortunate enough to share with the 5Live guys, along with Andrew Shovlin whom I managed to sneak a seat next to (for those who are wondering who? He’s Schumacher’s race engineer). Unfortunately though I couldn’t think of anything to say to him other than cracking a Schumacher joke, so I just left him to his cycling magazine while I chuckled away to myself at my own poor humour!
I’m yet to take a proper look around Budapest, and as night has now fallen that’ll have to wait until tomorrow. So for now I think I’ll ask reception to recommend a decent bar nearby, and just relax into proceedings.
My first full day in Budapest was spent wandering along the Danube, taking the sights & sounds of this beautiful looking city. Come the afternoon Matt (here for his last race of the season) and myself headed to the track for the pit lane walk, or at least that was the plan.
Jumping off the train we were presented with an epic walk to make it to the circuit gates. Taking a cross-country route we stomped our way through what seemed like a never-ending series of fields & campsites - which even on Thursday were already heaving with Polish fans out for Kubica. Getting to the ticket office to pick up Matt’s tickets and he’d made the schoolboy error of bringing the invoice instead of the voucher, so the poor guy in the booth had to sift through the entire pile of tickets to try and marry up the invoice number - and you can image how many tickets there were! Around half an hour in there was a substantial queue built up behind us and people were clearly not seeing the funny side of things. Thankfully the ticket was eventually found and so we hot-footed out of there quick-smart! Making our way up the painfully steep hill to the main gate it was obvious that literally thousands had turned up, and checking the view into the pit lane confirmed it - it was absolutely rammed! So despite both of us wanting to check it out we opted to head back and dodge the sweaty crush.
This morning was a painfully early start to ensure that I get to the track in time for Free Practice One. Having got back early yesterday, Matt and I hit Budapest a little too hard. Of the several bars, clubs etc. that we ploughed through, we ended our night in the same place as Zsolt Baumgartner. Recognising him (and a little worse for wear), Matt bound over and with epic levels of enthusiasm reeled out the classic “Are you Zsolt Baumgartner?” line, to which Zsolt obviously replied “yes”. At this point Matt simply responded with “I thought you were”, and then strolled off leaving a totally bemused Zsolt in his wake! Once we’d got over the sheer comic value of that moment we found ourselves trying to think of another ‘famous’ Hungarian - failing miserably we decided that Zsolt was indeed the most famous Hungarian of all time, period.
We’re now back from the circuit, and I’m proud to report that whilst Matt didn’t make it, I did in, well, in body at least - it wasn’t a pretty sight! The track itself though is great, it may well be a little too tight and twisty for F1, but the contours of the landscape offer the fan great views. I’ve plumped for the higher stand on the final corner, and taking in the view today I was pretty happy. I can see the cars in full view for easily 25+ seconds as they negotiate the final sector, sweeping around the corner and thundering up the main straight. As well as being able to glimpse them flashing through the tree cover over the far side of the track. Practice itself was pretty uneventful, and from early on it was obvious that Red Bull were in a league of their own. But thanks to all the liquored -up Polish and Russian Renault fans there was a real atmosphere. Catching up with Alex (@f1photos) after the sessions had finished we managed to jump into his taxi back to the city - a considerably shorter and less tiring journey that’s for sure!
And so I find myself slumped on my seat as the train makes its way to the track. From the snapshots that I can recollect, last night was one that was both to be remembered and forgotten! So here comes a slightly edited version of events. It basically involved far too much drink and the kind of attitude that you only have when on holiday. Needless to say it ended up in the obligatory ‘dancing club’ if you know what I mean! Now I only mention this because it has a very loose F1 link. You see I’m still wearing my wristband from the Virgin Racing campsite at Silverstone. And upon seeing that I was wearing a band that had the word Virgin emblazoned upon it in vivid red for all to see, well, my card was marked! So one giant pineapple-shaped bottle of wine later we found ourselves descended upon by the ‘entertainment’, who found the idea of me being a ‘virgin’ too good an opportunity to be missed! The things I do to support my team, ha!
Well, as expected Red Bull sealed the one-tow in qualifying, although not perhaps by the kind of margin anyone expected, it seemed that Seb nailed his first flyer well and truly. And I can’t forget to mention the Glock-Dog either - I’ve never cheered so much for 18th place in my life! Track action aside I bumped into a couple of fellow Virgin fans on the way to the track (being criminally thin on the ground it’s the kind of thing I notice!). Both of them had home-made capes that they’d managed to get signed by practically the entire team, and after saying hi to them it turned out that they knew who I was as they followed me on twitter. Now this is one aspect of my trip that I never really considered, or that now it’s happening have got used to - the fact that people actually know who I am, or even want to meet me. This to me is an incredibly bizarre set of circumstances, seeing that this adventure was only ever about a regular guy chasing his dream, and that I’m in no way talented/famous/a celebrity, blah, blah. So it’s an odd feeling to be told that it’s cool to have met you. But at the same time I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t also something that will live with me for ever - the year that I was almost, kind of, well known!
After a couple of nights of excess, last night was a far more sedate affair. We grabbed a bite to eat with Alex and made sure to have an early one so we weren’t suffering for the race. Chatting to him is an absolute pleasure, having 20 years of FI experience he offers a great insight into the side of things that the average fan would never get. The one thing that sticks in my mind on this occasion was his explanation of why the F-Duct is in fact called the F-Duct. Forgive me if I’m covering old ground but I had no idea about this. Apparently the reason was that it masked the ‘f’ of the Vodafone logo on the hood, so bereft of any creative thinking it was dubbed the F-duct! I should also mention that we were opposite the same restaurant as Christian Horner, Nikki Lauda, Heikki Kovalainnen, and Eddie Jordan. Who it has to be said was sat right on the street’s edge despite there being plenty of free seats, so one can only assume that he craves the attention, attention that he got in spades too!
Moving on to today I was fortunate enough to be given an invite for breakfast at the Virgin motor home. So after another hideously early start I got here bright (ish) and early, arriving at the paddock gate for 9am. Meeting up with Geoff he shepherded me into the paddock and into the cosy confines of the motor home. Within seconds of stepping in I was greeted with smiles and hugs from those who remembered me from Turkey - again something that to me is so unreal, and something that I’ll never forget. As if this wasn’t enough the actual CEO of the team came over to say hi, completely un-prompted, and he actually knew my name! At this point I drifted back into ‘wonderland’ mode, so the exact details of what followed are a little sketchy. But from what remember I had breakfast with Geoff and Ewan, complete with yogurt drink that apparently had the ‘best’ of its creator in it - which was slightly worrying! And so yet another completely surreal moment was had, tucking into brekkie with the Virgin team. No words will ever be able to articulate how it feels for an average Joe to find himself chatting over breakfast in the F1 paddock, it’s yet another memory for a scrapbook that is already bursting with unforgettable moments.
We then took a wander through the garage where the cars were completely stripped down, and I was lucky enough to be able to see a complete under tray flipped over. Seeing the flow of the infamous double-diffuser it’s easy to see why the teams last year couldn’t simply bolt one onto their cars - it really is a complex and fully integrated piece of kit. After a short wander through the paddock, which it has to be said, early in the morning as the sun was rising was an empty but visually stunning sight, we popped back into the motor home to say my goodbyes. Trundling in we found none other than 5Live’s very own Crofty tucking into his full English. Not missing an opportunity to make my visit even more memorable, Geoff was kind enough to introduce me, and yes, he really is as funny in real life as you imagine! After saying my goodbyes I made my way up and out of the paddock back to my grandstand. Which is where I’m now basking in the sunshine, the excitement building as race day unfolds.
Let’s be honest, the race itself wasn’t exactly a classic. But thankfully there were enough pit lane incidents and pit wall squeezes to keep us entertained. Joining in the track invasion after the race we were a little disappointed to find that guards had been placed along all the gaps on the pit wall, meaning that getting any photos of the garages was pretty impossible. That is unless you wanted to shove you camera through another man’s legs to get the shot! But to be honest the teams were packing up so quickly that there were really wasn’t much to see, plus the track walk was limited to only an hour before they herded us out. Taking our cue we boarded the sweaty bus back to Budapest and that’s where we are now, heading back to our last night before Matt is off tomorrow.
It’s now early Monday evening, and my last night here in Budapest. I’ve just waved Matt goodbye as he continues on his European tour, and having shared 4 GP’s with him this year, I’m not ashamed to admit that it was a tad emotional. I’ve said all along that one of the greatest aspects of my trip so far is the people I’ve been lucky enough to meet, and with Matt it’s definitely a case of when, and not if I’ll see him again. Classicooo my friend, and in your own words you truly are a ‘Lemon Wedge‘! - see you soon!
Back to last night and being a little cheeky I’d popped a member of the Virgin team a quick text to see if there were any parties going on, and lo and behold the reply came back with a name and place - result! Taking a long hike across the Danube to the club we arrived a little before 12, and found that the place was indeed heaving with F1 teams. Intent on enjoying ourselves the details get a little hazy again, but I definitely remember challenging one of the Virgin pit crew to a wheel-changing race up on the stage - to which he wisely dodged as it really was a lose-lose situation for him!
So that brings us up to date. As for today we spent all afternoon relaxing in the thermal baths, which after the last few days was just what the doctor ordered! It’s safe to say that Budapest is an amazing city and with a nightlife to rival any other.
So we’re now going into the summer break as far as F1 is concerned, and although they’ll be no racing a little break will probably do me good, especially after this last weekend!