An exhilarating hour spent in the pit lane during the first practice session. Strangely unfamiliar for me as it’s three years since I was last down there, having had to yield my pit lane pass to Steve Rider back in 2006. I used to live in the pits, back in the day, knew every nook and cranny, had eyes in the back of my head for cars coming in, going out, mechanics rushing. It takes me 20 minutes to get used to the rush and the energy.
I quickly get used to it again. The energy is always astonishing. You can feel the drivers who are on it, Massa is very aggressive straight away, Raikkonen looks committed.
The Red Bull mechanics were under pressure. Vettel stopped out on the track early on and they were unscrewing the floor of Webber’s car as I left the pit lane.
But what really caught my eye was three commanding presences in the pit garages.
At McLaren, Ron Dennis dressed in black, standing on his own in the middle of the garage. The mechanics move around him, respectfully, leaving a wide space around him. He looks very serious, has his aggressive face on. No longer the team principal maybe, no longer central to activities on the pit wall, but still a huge presence in the garage.
Next door at Ferrari an equally serious looking Michael Schumacher. An adversary of Dennis for many years, now a fringe player in a way, as a consultant to Ferrari, but they’ve built his part up a bit this weekend. With the switch to slick tyres and other new rules his eye and judgement are valued. He’s taking the role seriously, moving across the garage to inspect Raikkonen’s rear tyres when the car comes in from a run. He studies, them, runs his finger across the ruts and blisters. A young Bridgestone engineer, prodding his temperature guage into the tyre finds a stony faced seven time world champion grilling him about the tyre. Schumacher, like Dennis, is a competitor. No longer directly competing, maybe, but still engaged, committed.
Down the other end of the pit lane is the Brawn garage. The decoration is sparse, no frills, the cars sponsorless for the moment. If you didn’t know better you’d think you were looking at the Minardi of today. But these guys are the team to beat this season. And the reason is Ross Brawn, Schumacher’s old ally from Ferrari. His name is above the door, he’s more engaged than he’s ever been and he’s been smarter than everyone else in preparing for this year. Or is that craftier? Actually it’s both. Brawn cuts a massive figure on the pit wall, a radio on each hip, his face impassive.
Some work on the footwell of Button’s car is taking longer than expected, Brawn comes off the pit wall to inspect the work. The mechanics are aware of his presence, but not intimidated by it. Unlike his old colleague Schumacher and his rival Dennis, Brawn is competing directly, he’s at the heart of what is happening.
Three huge characters, authors of much of the sport’s recent history, competing in their different ways on day one of a new Formula 1 season