I’d like to say I am writing this post without the intention to show off how awesome my weekend was and just recount a few events, but I would be lying. The Formula One surpassed itself as an absolutely awesome event, and cemented Malaysia as my favourite place we’ve been too so far. It was simply one of the best weekends ever.
This is not going to be a short post. I’ve had to split into days to make it easier to follow.
Friday – Practice Sessions and University Friends
We woke up wide-eyed and bushy tailed eager to get to the Sepang Circuit. We decided to buy bus passes that would take us right to the circuit, but we didn’t know how busy they would be, so decided to get the first bus of the day. When we arrived at the circuit, we waited round to collect our tickets taking photos of everything and with everything. As we were entering the circuit itself, we ran into two friends from University (what are the chances?!); all of us stayed together and took advantage of the free seating on Friday to check out the seats on the start finish line opposite the pit lane.
When we arrived, programme in hand, free practice had started. We sat cameras out trying to get pictures of all the cars. It turned into a game, timing the 200mph cars to be perfectly in shot was not as easy as I had hoped it would be. We had a great shot of the cars coming over the finish line, and we could see straight into the Mercedes and Red Bull garages. The program helped us identify the drivers helmets, so by the end of free practice one, we could tell most of the drivers as they went by.
We had our first money panic on day one. After buying our programme, and finding out that the cash machine wasn’t working, we weren’t left with a lot of cash. The last bus departed the circuit at 7:30pm, but we were hoping to get onto the pitlane walk, hich would definitely run over. The cash left over was cutting it fine to get a taxi to the airport should we miss it. We ended up buying a meal and sharing it to save money on food, and making the water we had stretch, which in the excessive heat of Malaysia was not easy.
After second practice, we had finally got to see Lewis race, and had exhausted all the photo opportunities we could without being on the racetrack of pit lane wall. As we left, we saw the queue for the pit lane walk was already growing over 2 hours before tickets qere due to be handed out, so we joined the back, pretty sure we were it the first 1500 (they would only allow that many in). Even though the sun was beating down, we knew it would be worth it.
Thankfully, we were easy in the top 1500, and after some annoyances with the queueing system, we were on the pit lane. It was incredible to be so close to the cars, the views into the garages were insane. A few of the garages sent out people to talk to the crowds; Manor Marussia and Ferrari sent out the head of their team, Lotus sent out Jolyon Palmer (their test driver) and a few garages including Red Bull sent out members of their mechanical teams. We wandered along for a while, along with the sky pit team and Bruno Senna, and made it back just in time to catch the last bus home. We met Ben and Susie on there too, a couple from England who were fun to waste the bus journey back with.
It was a long first day full of awesome events, money dramas, and unexpected reunions.
Saturday – Downpours, New Friends, and Qualifying
Thankfully qualifying was late afternoon on our second F1 day which meant a lie in. Well, sort of, it meant getting up at 7:30 rather than 6:30am. We finally sorted our money issues once we could change the baht we had left from Thailand. A later morning start allowed us to eat breakfast in our hostel, and buy food and drink to take into the circuit that we could hope they wouldn’t take off us on the way in.
Qualifying wasn’t until the later afternoon, so when we arrived at our gate and entered our hillstand we were the only ones there. That didn’t change for hours. We sat under our newly purchased umbrella to shield us from the sun. Even though I was wearing factor 50+ suncream and sat under the umbrella for most of the day, I still burnt! It did mean that we got to choose where we sat, and had a great view for the qualifying, but also all the support events.
The support races and qualifying sessions were pretty good. They were Malaysian and International circuit events, more like rally driving than formula 1. The cars were completely different, and loud, but we were pleased we had arrived early enough to fully appreciate the events we could see. From where we were sitting, we managed to see a large portion of the back end of the track which featured a lot of overtaking manoeuvres and the odd spin out in the support races!
Practice, and Qualifying turned into another game of can you get the car in the frame when the photo is taken. I got quite a lot better at it, probably because the cars were travelling slower in our section of the track. The view allowed us to get multi-car shots, and we were able to make sure we had a picture of every car that went out.
When it finally got towards F1 qualifying, the rain clouds began to build and the empty hillstand now had around 6 sets of people. I was surprised how empty all of the stands seemed to be. One new person to arrive was what appeared to be either a very dedicated Red Bull fan, or a member of their pit crew. We wondered over to talk to him anyway as he was wearing a headset, and as much as we could tell who was who going round, we had no idea of their times.
He revealed he was a member of the bodywork and panels team, and was sent out to monitor the impending storm, which was most definitely going to hit at some point. He was letting us know who went out, and eventually some of the places in Q3, it was a shame his radio was only Red Bull and not the whole pit lane. On our way out, he was nice enough to gave us free Red Bull, which after he water dilemma we had faced was much appreciated, even bedraggled we looked happy (they wouldn’t allow water into the hillstand, but didn’t sell it inside, so I complained and got free water from security!)
On the way back, we were soaked and unable to find seats on the bus. Instead of standing throughout the traffic affected bus journey back, we decided to sit in the luggage racks. not only did we sit in them rather than stand, we managed to hang our wet jackets from the rail in front of us so they could dry a bit before we got home. To pass the time, we played Jade’s charades app and ended up entertaining the bus.
Sunday – Driving Pals, Red Bull Reunion, and some GP race
Sunday morning meant an early start. A very early start. We opted to buy snacks and take more drinks now as we knew security would more than likely let us bring it in. We also opted to pack a spare set of clothes. Not only were we doing the race day, but we were also doing the Petronas Towers after the race, and so we didn’t want to turn up to the tour in wet clothes. We made it in plenty of time to get the first bus of the day which meant we made it in time to join the driver’s signing queue.
The queue grew quickly, and so entertainment started for the crowds. We were told that the signing would be split into two sessions, and that the queue had to keep moving even if the driver you wanted wasn’t there yet. Some people were a little upset that they might miss out ont heir driver, but Jade and I didn’t mind too much as long as we got a few signatures.
That was until we heard how unfair the sessions were. session 1 would see all the early queuers shift through, and so logically it would make sense to reward them with either a larger number of teams, or some of the drivers that were in high demand. This wasn’t the case, they had just put the Force India and the Manor Marussia drivers in the first session, and everyone else in the second. Many people left the queue in the hope that they could get into the second session when they rejoined at the back, but Jade and I decided that we had queued, and someone was better than no one.
When Sergio Perez came out, the queue refused to move, and after a while, he left in a mood and the organisers said you could come through if the Force India or Manor Marussia drivers were the ones you wanted. People from outside the queue realised they could get something signed so went through, but otherwise the queue didn’t move too much. By this point we had successfully moved to the front 50 people just in case our favourite drivers did come out.
Once they left, the big news came in and we were waiting up whether or not we should go. Nico Rosberg arrived, shortly followed by Valterri Bottas and Felipe Massa who were accompanied by Lewis Hamilton. At this point, I was eager to go, but Jade wanted to hold back a little longer in the hope that the Lotus team would come out (her brother’s favourite driver is Grosjean). Soon after the Mercedes and Williams drivers were out, the Toro Rosso drivers arrived, and then Pastor Maldonado of Lotus, and two Red Bull drivers, and then Grosjean. There were 5 teams, and some of the biggest drivers up there, so we knew this was when we had to make our way up there, programmes in hand.
I was ahead of Jade, and when I was waiting for Grosjean, the first driver, Jenson Button sat down in front of me I ended up being the first person to have something signed by him. Great Timing. It was nerve racking trying to in the driver’s individual pages, especially as they weren’t sitting in a great order, and the security was trying to moved you on quickly. When I hit Toro Rosso, I had the pages wrong, and Carlos Sainz ended up helping me find his page and telling the security they had to wait for me and not move me on, which was nice of him. I also initially missed Massa thanks to security, but Bottas realised and passed my programme back sop that I didn’t miss out!
Lewis Hamilton has always been someone I thought or as arrogant, and so when he was quiet and nice I was pleasantly surprised. The driver I wanted most was Rosberg. I was worried when jade asked us to hold back that I would miss out on him, but as he was last on the line, I ended up having more time with him that anyone else. I spoke to him briefly, and received a handshake and a wink! As much as it was disappointing that photos and selfies were banned, getting to meet so many drivers was awesome. Even though I don’t like Vettel or Ferrari, it was a tiny bit annoying that we didn’t have the race winners signature, but it is an unbelievable souvenir!
No matter what then happened, it was the best day or the tour, and meant that those programmes were going to be in our sight for the rest of the day. We waited in the carnival area, bought a drink so we didn’t waste our reserves and suncreamed up. We wandered slowly to the shuttle bus stop and happily walked up the hill to our gate. Even on race day, the stand was nearly empty. We sat down and enjoyed the pre-F1 races and took advantage of the drivers parade and formation lap to get some pictures of more cars together.
The race was pretty good, and from where we were we saw a lot of overtaking manoeuvres, but couldn’t really tell what was going on in relation to how long was left and where people were, especially once pit stops and lapping came into play. Around half way, the Red Bull guy returned, and kept us up to speed with the race, which was a huge help. We left as the race finished and just made it onto the bus that would get us to the towers in time for our tour.
It was an awesome weekend, and it made Malaysia, and our time in Asia.