F1 Winter Break
Three commanding presences
Three commanding presences
Posted By:   |  27 Mar 2009   |  3:25 am GMT  |  21 comments

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

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Nice piece James, interesting reading from this point of view. If you happen to see the BBC pit girl around could you give her some tips? She made me wince a few times there.
Red Bull really do seem to be in trouble, not only with reliability issues and lack of track time but with lack of pace too, especially on the Toro Rosso car. Anthony Davidson made an interesting comment about Seb. Bourdais complaining about lack of grip possibly because of his ALMS experience, and lack of testing in the Toro Rosso.


Awesome article - thank you for the insight, feels like I'm actually there...


James, I have been a fan of F1 since the early 70s when I marshaled at Canada's Mosport and Montreal F1 races.

I had the pleasure of your ITV race commentary the last few years piped in for TSN-TV.

I have also read the usual postings on the common sites but I must say that I since I found this blog a few weeks ago I thoroughly enjoy your thoughtful and knowledgeable insight.

Keep up the great work!

As is everyone else who can't be track side, I'm looking forward with great anticipation to plugging into the tube for Practice 2, Quali and of course the race.

Cheers -- Brian


Thanks for that insight, fantastic landscape.


Amazing description... it is gonna be epic! Thanks for keeping us updated!


Just watching NOW on Freeview Ch 302 what must be a repeat of P1.

Disappoointed that the commentary is pitched at the CBBC audience. Ah bit better now Ant Dav is speaking. It seems to be the 5 live commentary team who are speaking instead of the TV team

Also there will be prog this evening on BBC News channel (FV 80)

Hearing that the Marshals are kicking up over having to wear giant rubber gloves.


This year also annoyingly only 2 or 3 laptimes are being shown on the position list, why not show all of them? They must be able to.

Ron there obviously kicking himself, why did I give it up? And dying to dive in and take over.


No one has protested the rear wheel covers yet then


Did not know you lost the pit to the Rider - who wasted it by talking about one driver infront of one of two garages.

Can see RB walking over to the car, 2 radios, one banana and a million mental calculations...


I watched FP1 live on the BBC. So far a fantastic service from them. I spent much of my lunch break on Thursday watching classic F1 races from Australia. A brilliant idea that i hope they repeat for every race!

Great to hear Anthony Davidson commentating too on BBC Five live. A valuable insight and surprisingly good commentator.

It's great to see how the cars are handling. The BrawnGP is looking rock solid.

What I'd like to see on the FOM TV graphics is when KERS is used. They've shown us G-forces and acceleration for a few years now. I hope come race day we see that as I'd love to see what difference it makes when it's actually in action.


This is an excellent read. Proper journalism rather than a regurgitated press release. A flavour of the pitlane and a story told in every paragraph. Glad that you're still in the business.


James, you remain unbreakable, keep up the good work here 🙂


James, great article - feels like I'm there. Try re-reading the three paragraphs on Ron, MS and RB with the BBC Apprentice theme playing in your mind 🙂 The difference though is that Melbourne is the real deal!


Terrific portrait Sir, very atmospheric.

"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."

How do you think Mr. Whitmarsh responds to "The Presence" James? Inside I mean...


Splendid stuff. Thanks.

Darryl Williams

Fantastic bit of prose there, a great read, and I thank you for it. Can practically smell the rubber.


- Great piece.


Your blog is excellent James. How's the atmosphere down at Toro Rosso sans Gerhards presence?


Brawn sure has built up a great team in such a short time but will be under pressure to deliver the goods on Sunday! What a disappointment it will be if something happens to both his drivers on Sunday!


Bit more downbeat, but that's probably more because they don't have as potent a car as last year.


Apparently the data is going from the teams to FOM TV.

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