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Behind the Scenes With the Sahara Force India F1 Team
I showed my passport to the security guard and he let me in, which in itself got me high. After heading down the runway into the interior of the circuit, I walked along a corridor lined with grand hospitality residences.
Two impressive branded cargo trucks flanked me and before I knew it I was entering the Force India garage. As a beginner in the paddock, it was complete sensory overload.
The first thing I saw to my right were engineers looking at a myriad of technical data and telemetry screens. Continuing on was a line of Skullcandy branded headphones with the name underneath. To add to the excitement, I was handed a spare pair. I put them on my ears and I was fat.
Both Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez were on their way to 1st free practice when I entered the viewing area. I looked up to see the lap times on the screens and by this point I was a little dizzy from all the buzz but I tried to remain as calm as possible. I’ll admit that the sheer number of selfies I was sneakily trying to take was getting a little ridiculous. The hustle and bustle was exhilarating. Engineers were rushing from one end of the garage to the other, loading carts with tires, and the action I could hear in my headphones between the drivers and the pit wall was something else.
The garage was beautiful, every corner was shining. From the Hype Energy drinks fridge in the viewing area, to the glossy white shelves that house various laptops and tech equipment, display cabinets for riders’ helmets when they’re not on the track. There was no aspect of this room that wasn’t impressive and enough to inspire any aspiring F1 driver, engineer, mechanic, etc.
Watching the action on TV, I’ve always assumed that the team must be manic, stressed and panicked on a race weekend. I was totally wrong, the professional composure was impressive and really showed the fluid sense of perfection in Formula 1. Everyone knew what they were doing and everyone did their job to the best of their abilities.
Watching the action from behind the garage was a strange vantage point that I had never been privy to before. There’s no Sky Sports F1 coverage or BBC Sport Coverage, just old fashioned lap times on the screens – that’s all you really need for practice. I got all the information through my headphones, which I’m not used to when watching F1 coverage, and I can assure you it didn’t make it any less exciting. If anything, I was more on my toes than usual. Without being able to see exactly where the cars were on the track, it made my focus on the drivers’ feedback even more intense and interesting as the team directed them.
Free practice was over and both drivers brought their cars back to the garage. Engines really are works of art, years and years of hard work had gone into making these cars what they are today and there they were shining in front of me. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably watched countless Motorsport documentaries, with the likes of Senna and Rush a staple in your household. If that’s true, you’ve probably seen endless clips of various drivers unbuckling their seat belts, standing up, getting out of their cars, and taking off their helmets and balaclavas. It’s always a classic and somewhat emotional scene, and right in front of me were two Formula 1 drivers going through the motions. Something that put a lump in my throat.
After the action was over, I decided to go check out the Force India Hospitality caravan. Every table, stool, glass base, etc. was perfect, the colors were completely on brand and it just screamed luxury.
Unable to contain my curiosity, I walked outside in the scorching heat to explore the paddock. I walked past the faces I see every other weekend, I knew them so well and it felt like they should know me! I knew my way around the paddock after watching the TV show over the years. I knew the place so well, yet this was the first time I had ever been there; such an unusual feeling, I guess it would be like going to explore the set of one of your favorite movies that was rewatched.
I headed up the stairs and the likes of Mario Arrivabene, Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa and many others walked past me. Complete F1 legends and celebrities who are just at their jobs to do their jobs.
You know that butterfly feeling you get before you have to go to a job interview, or meet an old friend you haven’t seen in years, or go on stage and give a presentation or present an award. I had this feeling locked in my stomach for about 4 hours, I just couldn’t get it off. My hands were shaking as I tried to be steady while taking the picture, but I still tried to blend in.
Sahara Force India is a great Formula 1 team, generous. I was so lucky to get this opportunity to share this experience with as many people as possible. I now have so many wonderfully embarrassing memories from that experience, including awkwardly stumbling out of toilet stalls, almost walking straight into Fernando Alonso when I heard “oh my god, I’m actually standing in a paddock!!!” A phone call to my mum to find Bernie Ecclestone was behind me and hours of debating what to wear (I didn’t think it was appropriate to turn up in all my fan gear!).
One thing is certain, this world is impressive. This is a world that will always be a part of me.
Have you ever been in a Formula 1 paddock? Send your stories to email@example.com.
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