Behind the Scenes at the Canadian Grand Prix – Part Two

You can read Part One of this story here.

On Friday morning, I was up nice and early as I had a breakfast date at Marussia to interview team principal John Booth.  When I arrived at the team’s hospitality area, the team members were all eating, but neither Booth nor the team’s communications manager were there, yet.  I sat down to wait and Max Chilton walked by and said “good morning.”

mar breakfast

Tracy Novak, the comms manager who had set up the interview for me (again, on quite short notice) arrived a couple minutes later.  She said that Booth was stuck in traffic—a common occurrence in Montreal, and particularly around the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve—so we just sat and chatted.  Five minutes later, Booth arrived and sat right down.

Booth built his motorsport career from the ground up and is a very interesting person to talk to.  Mostly, though, I was interested in the decisions and background that had led to Marussia scoring their first-ever points at the previous race, in Monaco.  Check out our talk here.

After the interview, I went back to the media centre to get ready for the first free practice session.  You can’t see the track from the media centre, but there are lots of TVs showing both the on-track action and plenty of data and information.  However, I knew I wanted to get as close to the cars as possible during practice.

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Media centre

After the session started, I wandered down to the far end of the paddock and out the gate at that end.  This is where the walking bridge crosses the rowing basin, connecting the paddock with the “car park” (it’s actually just a hill with a gravel road in front of it, with the cars all looking like they are about to slide into the water).  All the teams park there and walk over to the paddock, so it is a good spot for photographers to camp out and you always see lots of photos of F1 personalities crossing the bridge.

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Paddock entrance used by the team personnel.

Across from the bridge is the entrance to one of the VIP hospitality areas, which is right at the pit entrance with a view down the back straight and of the final turn and the Wall of Champions.  I stood there for a bit, watching the drivers attack the chicane, but I was also constantly dodging shuttle buses ferrying the VIPs to their lounge area.

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Final chicane with the press box for broadcast media on the right.

Eventually, I started walking down the back straight.  All the TV and radio stations had trailers set up right beside the track, as the press box is across the track, looking down on the final chicane and pit straight.  In the gaps between the trailers were firefighters and marshals, but I was able to stand wherever I wanted, just a few feet from the track.  Even that close, with the cars travelling over 300 km/h, ear plugs are not necessary.  But the speed of the cars is amazing—you would hear them powering up out of the hairpin and, before you knew it, they were past you.

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Kevin Magnussen’s McLaren blasting by me a few feet away at 300+ kph.  Yeah, that was pretty cool.

Needless to say, I spent most of the rest of the practice session standing there, smelling the burning rubber when the drivers locked their wheels as they tested the limits and found the braking points.

After another nice lunch in the media lounge, I headed back out for the second free practice session and wandered around the back straight a bit more.  Following the session, there was a press conference with some technical personnel from the teams.  I asked a question to Ferrari’s Pat Fry about their new team principal, Marco Mattiaci (see the transcript here).  When you ask a question, you say your name and publication first, so after the presser was finished, James Allen came over to introduce himself.  He told me he loved Bleacher Report, and particularly their coverage of Liverpool FC, his favourite club.

You can hear me at 17:10, if that happens to interest you.

After transcribing my John Booth interview, I headed back to the city in search of food and to finish writing up the story.  That night, we headed down to Old Montreal and found a nice little Polish bar/restaurant with a decent house red.  I love pierogies, so I had to order some from an authentic Polish place.  They were good, of course, but only boiled…I’m not sure if that is the usual Polish cooking method, but I much prefer them fried (who doesn’t?).  We stayed until the bar was empty, all the other chairs were put up, and the waitress and bartender were just standing at the bar looking at us.  I don’t think it was that late, but Saturday was to be an early morning again.

For the third free practice session, on Saturday morning, I walked down to the pit exit/first turn/Senna S area.  This is where the media shuttles dropped us off, outside the paddock, but still fenced off from the regular spectator areas.  I wasn’t quite as close to the track here, but I could see the cars for a longer time at lower speeds, plus there was a big video screen directly above me, so I could keep track of the session.

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Grandstands at the Senna S and my view of free practice.

On the way down, I passed a bunch of large tents behind the VIP sections on the start-finish straight.  Track employees were wheeling in full garbage cans and when they opened the tents, you could see they were completely packed with trash.  I guess it has to go somewhere.  And at least it’s hidden—in the grandstands, you just drop all you garbage through the gaps between the rows and it piles up down below over the course of the weekend.

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Paddock sanitation engineers.

I didn’t see anything spectacular during the practice session, but it was nice to see the cars in-person for a while and to see the big grandstands at the Senna S filling up before qualifying.

I did not have any interviews planned for Saturday, but I had seen Sauber P.R. chief Hanspeter Brack wandering around the media centre several times.  I had sent him an email, asking if Simona de Silvestro would be available for an interview and he said to find him and we’d sort something up.  I introduced myself on Saturday and we went back and forth a few times (which included me losing him when he said to wait at the front of the media centre and we’d go find de Silvestro) before an interview was finally arranged for Sunday morning.

Next came qualifying, which I watched from the media centre.  I went to the post-qualifying press conference, where Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg looked pretty friendly with each other, and then set off to attend as many of the drivers’ open media sessions as I could.

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Mercedes hospitality area.

These were all held in the teams’ hospitality areas and are like a press conference.  The only problem is many of them overlapped.  I did make it to Kimi Raikkonen’s and some of Felipe Massa’s.  I also got to sit with Esteban Gutierrez and one other writer, in contrast to Raikkonen’s, which was packed.  McLaren held one session that included Jenson Button, Kevin Magnussen and racing director Eric Bouiller.

Someone asked Bouiller what it was like to work with Ron Dennis and he responded, “I don’t think it’s as bad as what you are thinking,” which got some laughs.

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Ron Dennis in the McLaren hospitality area.

The McLaren session (like the Raikkonen one) was held inside the main hospitality structure, and the McLaren P.R. team had turned off the air conditioners so that everyone could hear the questions and answers better.  After five minutes in the packed space, though, it started to get very hot and eventually Button asked them to turn the a/c back on.

Finally, I also attended Daniel Ricciardo’s session, with about eight other writers.  He was in a good mood, despite a disappointing qualifying performance.  That I happened to make it to Ricciardo’s media session would prove quite fortuitous the following day.

On Saturday night, we hit Crescent Street and had a very good time.  There were a couple F1 cars around, including Ms. de Silvestro’s and one that may or may not have been driven by Canada’s own Jacques Villeneuve (it had Olivier Panis’s name on the other side). The party seemed bigger than it has been the last couple years.

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De Silvestro’s Sauber and Villeneuve/Panis’s BAR.

After walking around and drinking some wine (from plastic cups, ’cause we’re classy like that), we found a nice brew pub (beside Hurley’s, our normal haunt) and watched the end of the Stanley Cup Final game, which went to two or three overtimes (details were blurry by the end). Finally, we headed back to St. Laurent for a nightcap at a grungy bar that we like.

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Me and Zac and a cover band on Crescent Street.

Luckily, I did not have to be up as early on Sunday morning.

Part Three, coming soon.

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