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 with his musings and observations.
Getting to the circuit this morning was a repeat of yesterday, except they were obviously expecting more people. A train was laid on just for F1 fans to get to the circuit; the carriage I was in was mostly empty. Turned out there were more people in the other carriages as a couple of coach loads of fans got off the train and were ferried to the circuit. BBC F1 website reported the race organisers were only expecting a third of the seats to be filled on race day.
The shuttle bus delivered me to grandstand F, which was a great help as it would have taken a very long time to walk there on foot, especially in this heat and humidity – it’s a big complex.
A few of us got off at what we thought was the right gate, but then turned out to be a back way in. A very nice lady opened the gate for us once we showed our tickets and we were in. No security checks at all…what a difference from elsewhere around the world.
My view of the race will be from a permanent structure with moulded plastic seats, it seems pretty nice for a giant hunk of concrete. Previously, I’ve either had a general admission ticket or a position on a bench in a temporary grandstand built of scaffolding. I’d been expecting the same here, however, this is one of the advantages of racing at a permanent race track. The only commentary we could hear sounds like a phone call to a really bad line. I hear a few grumbles but most people seem to think it’s funny, we’re here to see the cars, and working out what’s happening is secondary.
There was an Asian hawker style restaurant under the grandstand which seemed fitting. It’s the kind of thing you’d find in Chinatown in KL, a couple food stalls and plastic tables and chairs to sit and eat. It’s a shame the food isn’t more interesting, hot dogs, fried chicken and beef with cabbage. The map of the circuit in the official programme implied that there was a merchandise and food area next to the grandstand. I didn’t see any evidence of it today!
Free practice 3
Something appears to be up with the McLarens, I have no idea what. I’m just enjoying watching the cars fly by. I don’t hear anyone out brake themselves today, loved the noise that made yesterday, really seemed like the drivers were pushing the cars hard. Thinking about what a couple fans said to me yesterday about the engines sounding different, I try and listen a bit more closely. I think they might be on to something. It’s more than just a division of the three manufacturers though. The Ferraris, Saubers and the Marussias do sound different despite all having the same engine. The Marussia makes a sort of whistling noise when slowing down for a corner, kind of like a jet aircraft going past. I didn’t hear the same noise from the Ferrari with the Saubers making a much deeper growl than the Ferrari.
By 2.30pm, suspicious looking clouds appeared to be nearing the circuit as all around darkens. The wind picks up and with 45 mins until qualifying the heavens open. It rains hard for 5-10 mins. Marshall’s get out onto the track immediately with brooms and start to brush the water away. Not exactly the sophisticated technology you would expect from the premier tier of motor racing.
25 mins to go and it rains again, even heavier this time. Wind is blowing it into the grandstand. With so many empty seats people begin to retreat backwards to try and stay dry. It doesn’t work. Turn 7 is beginning to resemble a lake; the Marshall’s have given up and are hiding under a large umbrella. Thunder can be heard clearly in the distance as well as visibility dropping dramatically.
Unsurprisingly, with it still raining at 4pm qualifying is delayed. The safety car goes out for a lap swerving around a lap. As the safety car goes by it produces virtually no spray, but does have a bit of a skid into the corner. This part of the circuit must be quickly drying out.
Qualifying finally gets underway at 4.45pm. The cars are all lined up in the pits ready and as they stream past the grandstand there is clapping and cheering from the crowd which has swelled considerably since this morning. Some areas of the track are still pretty wet, lots of spray shoots up behind the cars through turns 5 and 6 which doesn’t seem to be quite so bad in turn 7 or at the hairpin.
Second session is unexpectedly red flagged after a lap. We can’t tell why until a replay is shown, the Russian rookie has collided with Alonso, breaking the Ferrari driver’s front suspension.
We watch the third session wondering why Button is on intermediate tyres while everyone else seems to be on full wets. He ends up 10th. Without commentary or seeing interviews with teams and drivers like you would on the TV, there is a black hole of information where normally you’d know what was happening. The best example of where FanVision would have been extremely useful.
Thankfully we could follow the times set on the big screen so get the important bits. Hamilton on pole.
It’s interesting to look around at the fans here. There are quite a few families with small children, which I’ve not seen before, as well as the usual couples and groups of mates. It also seems to be a fairly even split between Asian and Western fans. There are many Australians here; I’ve seen quite a few of their flags. In my grandstand there is a Finnish couple with a flag on a long pole which the guy occasionally moves from one side of the stand to the other.
Also different from usual is there is no one team dominating what fans are wearing, all the main ones are represented along with a few of the midfield teams. At Monza, in 2005, Ferrari fans were expectedly everywhere. Spain in 2006, every grandstand was a sea of blue and yellow, supporters of Alonso. In Melbourne last year there was a huge amount of fan support for Mark Webber in the crowd. Perhaps without a driver to get behind the Malaysian’s haven’t yet picked a team. I think I expected to see more support for Caterham.
It rained an hour earlier today and qualifying was delayed by nearly that long. If the same happens tomorrow and the race doesn’t start until 5pm light could be an issue as it’ll be getting dark by seven. If it rains at the same time it did on Friday we’ll be maybe seven or eight laps in before they have to red flag it. I’ve been in Kuala Lumpur for three days, on two of those it’s rained in the early evening. I’m nervous for tomorrow, I want to see a race, not sit around waiting for the rain to stop.