Paddock Life – Shanghai edition

Monday, April 19, 2010


By Jonathan Noble Monday, April 19th 2010, 11:45 GMT

AUTOSPORT brings you its regular column of life inside the paddock. This week: Shanghai

 It’s not very often that events outside of the Formula 1 world take a precedent over what is taking place on the track or in the paddock, but there is little doubt that China 2010 will be remembered purely for the volcano.

Chinese GP paddockWhile a normal F1 paddock talks about fluctuating car form, prospects for the race, driver market gossip or the latest technical innovation, the only topic of conversation in Shanghai last weekend was about how people were getting home.

Once it became clear that the ash cloud that had caused a bit of a minor inconvenience in the build-up to the weekend was not going away, and that flights booked to get people home weren’t going to happen, the F1 paddock set about worrying more about its travels than the racing. The grand prix itself was almost an inconvenience for people trying to sort their travel plans!

For some, the prospect of a fortnight wait for the next available plane home was not too much of a bother – even if the Chinese authorities made life fairly difficult for those needing to extend visas by demanding they sacrifice their passports for a few days.

It was a Catch 22. Hand the passport in for a longer visa and risk your scheduled flight home actually being on and you not being able to get on it; or don’t hand it in and risk the wrath the authorities and a potential ban from being let back in the country. Genius!

 With the flights back to Europe all grounded, and the extent of the problem clear, it was left to the ever ingenious members of the F1 paddock to try and work out how best to get home.

At the time of writing, your correspondent’s plan is to go to Athens, train/coach to Patras, get a ferry across to Italy and then head up to Paris or Calais depending where there is less chaos. The prospect of returning to British port on the back of Ark Royal does sound quite intriguing though…

While others tried to book themselves onto the Trans-Siberian Railway from Beijing to Moscow, there were numerous plans being hatched over the weekend by journalists and team members – the best of which will certainly come out by the time F1 resumes in Spain in three weeks.

The F1 teams started putting on charter planes to get their personnel back to Europe once the ash cloud lifts. Lotus boss Tony Fernandes commandeered one of his AirAsia planes to be on standby ready to get to Stansted as soon as a window opened in the clouds, while McLaren was looking at getting its crew into Spain as early as Wednesday this week.

Some journalists felt the gamble of waiting in Asia for flights to get back on was too much, so started concocting ingenious routes home. AUTOSPORT’s Mark Hughes and MOTORSPORT NEWS’s Simon Arron went east from the Far East – around to New York, where they planned to get a plane to Porto in Portugal before driving up to Santander for the ferry home.

The best story though is from long-time AUTOSPORT friend Luis Vasconcelos, who wanted to get back home to Portugal as quickly as possible. His plan to Shanghai-Kuala Lumpur for an overnight stop; Kuala Lumpur to Bahrain, Bahrain to Cairo for an overnight stop, Cairo to Casablanca and then Casablanca to Porto.

It may sound long winded, but it has put him on pole position to be one of the first men back home from an unforgettable Chinese Grand Prix.

 For an incredibly complicated technical sport, F1 does sometimes like keeping things simple – especially when it comes to naming things.

It often means that once something is christened then its name sticks – which is why we all know what ‘shark fin’ engine covers, ‘zero keel’ noses, and ‘F-Ducts’ are.

That latter device, the concept pioneered by McLaren to help stall the rear wing through a driver closing off a vent in the cockpit, has been the subject of intense debate in the paddock about where it had got its name from for several race.

Sauber f-ductAUTOSPORT first revealed that the ‘F-Duct’ was the name that the design had been given internally by engineers during its development – although no explanation of why it got that moniker ever surfaced.

There were suggestions that it could have been the sixth-iteration of the design (with the A-Duct, B-Duct, C-Duct, D-Duct and E-Duct having been consigned to the rubbish skip), and someone even reckoned it could have been because the ‘F’ was where Vodafone stickers should be.

The matter got even more complicated over the weekend when it was claimed the whole wing idea was called the RW80 – a far less catchy name but one that had been used in an email sent out by McLaren’s engineering director Paddy Lowe.

AUTOSPORT thought it was time to go and check out with a senior figure at the team exactly what the truth was behind the ‘F-Duct’ and what it was called actually at Woking.

It was explained that McLaren policy is for whenever a new innovation is being designed and developed, it is given a totally random name so the opposition don’t have a clue about its existence, or what it could be – even if they overhear conversations in the paddock.

That was why the famous J-Damper that McLaren pioneered got its name – not because the J stood for something but just because that is the random name for the inerter that the team decided to settle on.

And so it was for the F-Duct. It means nothing other than that was the name the team came up with.

The RW80 information that swirled around over the weekend was simply the configuration name of the rear wing being used at the first four races – so ‘Rear Wing’ 80. For Barcelona, a track with higher downforce, it will be RW90.

Red Bull Racing may well still call it the F-ing Duct though!

 Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone always has a watching eye over all that happens in the sport, but the Chinese took things a bit too literally when they made some statues of him and race-winning drivers to be shown off at the Shanghai track.

Bernie Ecclestone statue, with Dieter RenckenThe organisers created a chess set display – with the pieces crowned by the heads of former winners of the Chinese Grand Prix. Standing there with them is a certain Mr. Ecclestone – no doubt as The King.

However, whoever created the statues got their proportions slightly out – although not quite to the scale of Stonehenge in Spinal Tap.

For while the racing drivers were all mounted to be quite short, it is Ecclestone who appears to have been given a bit of a height boost – as he towers over the on-track gladiators.

AUTOSPORT writer Dieter Rencken popped down on race morning to capture himself with the larger than life Ecclestone…

All Rights Reserved. Autosport. 2010


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