This trackside report is brought to you by TheJudge13 guest writer Steve Davis
Editor’s note: TJ13 asked Steve to give an account of the experience this weekend in Malaysia from the perspective of a fan at the event. Steve will report each day of his musings and observations.
Arriving in Kuala Lumpur airport yesterday afternoon there was no obvious sign that the race was happening this weekend. However, with the circuit right next to the airport you can see it as you drive into the city and the motorway is lined with banners advertising the event. For some reason, the (now cancelled) after show concert headlined by Calvin Harris is given just as much coverage as the race itself here. Understandably this tragedy has affected Malaysia deeply. Over the past week there have been repeated radio appeals to pray for those aboard the missing aircraft.
As far as I’m aware these were the only events planned in the city for the race weekend. I have been told by a couple of tourists I’ve talked to that shops have been running sales for weeks based around the coming Grand Prix but the locals I’ve met don’t seem that bothered either way.
I’ve been to a couple races in the past where their host cities have gone to great lengths to embrace Formula 1. Montreal and Austin are good examples where they close whole city blocks throughout the event with give-always, music and games going on which add to the atmosphere and fan experience. Melbourne also put on a good show with the whole circuit feeling like a festival.
At hostels and the KL Sentral train station there were numerous packages available to get to the circuit. I went for what seemed the quickest. Express train to the airport in 40mins followed by a 15min drive by shuttle bus to the circuit. Arriving at the station at 8.45am I’m pretty sure I won’t make it before first practice starts at 10am. Should’ve got up earlier…
About 100 people poured out of the train once it arrived at the airport. We were met by a happy smiling bloke shouting “F1 package!” He then proceeded to run away like a crazy person, waving a couple of banners over his head. We laughed and followed. He led us to a bus and we were on our way to the circuit. A further shuttle takes you to the welcome area between the two straights.
Thankfully I already had my ticket printed from an email a few days ago so I could head straight in. I would’ve preferred a proper ticket as a souvenir but it seemed to be a bit of a hassle working out how to pick the tickets up, several people I met inside had had issues. Security was tight but the Malaysians really are very friendly.
Like with most Grand Prix, all the grandstands are open to everyone with a ticket on the Friday so I headed towards the pit straight. There are maybe a few dozen people around, most with big cameras, taking the opportunity to get some good pictures without the crowds getting in the way. My grandstand, F, is on the other side of the circuit between turns six and seven. Routes over there were not obviously mapped out.
I found even less people over at the back straight even though more of the circuit is visible as well as a big screen to help keep you updated.
For the end of the first practice I go to the tower on the hairpin where I am greeted by more people snapping away with their cameras. I can see my grandstand opposite, now lying completely empty… One negative aspect of this location is the lack of screen to help the fan understand what is happening.
The Great Noise Debate
I went to my first Grand Prix in 2005, I loved the sound of the engines as soon as I heard them. You could feel the power as the cars shot by. One car going past was loud, very loud. A group of cars going by would make your ears bleed. It’s been the same at every race I’ve been to since. Ear plugs are a must unless you plan on learning sign language or never want to hear your favourite song again.
This year it’s different. Not bad, just different. I’m sure we’ll all get used to the new sound pretty quickly. It’s just a bit quieter and that power you feel when they rush by seems to be missing. Trundling down the pits the cars sound odd, like they’re about to stall. I’m sure someone who knows about turbos and V6 engines can explain that, I don’t have a clue. Racing past on the straights the new cars sounded similar to previous years, just a bit quieter. A couple of people I met thought each team sounded different, they said the McLaren was the best sounding car. I couldn’t tell.
Watching them from the tower on the hairpin was fun. Lots of squealing brakes from drivers trying to slow down, especially from both Williams as well as the glorious smell of burning rubber from one of the Ferraris (I think it was Alonso). Lots of people getting out of shape coming into the corner too, it was great to see.
I have my pick of thousands of empty seats to wait for the Malaysia Super Series practice to start so I chose one in the tower looking down the pit straight, although it was too far away to see what’s going on though. I read through the official programme, it’s got a simple illustration on a glossy cover rather than the usual photo containing the basic driver and team profiles making it a nice souvenir to have.
Hearing the Super Series cars just confirms that this year’s F1 cars are quieter, had to get the earplugs out for the 20 min practice session. Some of the cars were incredibly loud. Saw a couple of spins but not much else to report.
Not much going on inside the circuit today, no entertainment apart from the game zone near the entrance, which seemed to attract a fair amount of people. A lot of the food stalls seemed closed, I guess because there are less people around today. I thought there’d be more Asian food available but it mostly seemed to be burgers, chips and sandwiches. I did see a satay stall so hopefully there’s more choice tomorrow.
Free Practice 2
I chose to go back to the tower on the hairpin to watch free practice 2. It was a great place to watch it from as you could see the drivers fighting to control the cars as they slow down. There was a lot more squealing of brakes, which is a strange sound, like a dog yelping if you accidentally step on a paw. Each driver seemed to take a different line through the corner, some hug the apex, others go wide, some slow right down and seem to drift somewhere between those two extremes. I enjoyed watching it a lot. A lot more people are around this afternoon with even more fans with large cameras trying to squeeze into the right spot to get that perfect picture.
I couldn’t really follow the times without a screen or being able to hear the commentary but once the session finished I did get that Rosberg had set the fastest time. As giant screens go, Malaysia has to be one of the worst Grand Prix I’ve been to, there just aren’t enough spread around to keep us fans informed about what’s going on. I heard a number of people joking about it so at least they didn’t seem to mind too much. It’s a small thing really and doesn’t affect the atmosphere here much.
One final thing worth mentioning is that at 3.30pm when the F1 finished you could hear thunder and it started to rain heavily in Kuala Lumpur. By 4.15pm when I left the circuit it was raining there too. I don’t think it lasted that long, but if the same thing happens on Saturday and Sunday then it’ll make things very interesting. Both qualifying and the race are due to start at 4pm local time and rain has been forecast for both days. Should be fun!