“It’s about to get extremely loud in here, guys,” says the Lotus spokesman. “Really loud.”
It’s too late, though. Before the end of the sentence, the noise arrives. A shrieking, piercing buzz that reverberates through me as I press my thumbs harder and harder against my ears, thoughts driven from my mind, inhaling the sound. I’m in the Lotus Formula One team garage – and with ninety minutes to go before the big race, I’m coming face to eardrum with two key components of the Grand Prix: noise and speed.
Money, of course, is the third one (VIP passes cost around £35 000) but today marks my first real understanding of just how much technology and teamwork is involved. We’ve walked through a labyrinth of computer screens, cables, silver-foil pipes and a network of exposed sensors, all living within this three-storey structure that will be disassembled by the end of the day. It may go by the name of “garage” but “Starship Enterprise meets office block” seems more appropriate.
Upstairs, Lotus’s Tom Webb tells us, engineers are planning the strategy for the Valencia Grand Prix. A row of men with hunched shoulders stare at softly lit blue computer screens. “They’re looking at hydraulic pressure, temperatures… a whole range of different sensors on the cars so that they can maintain performance throughout the race.”
Today is the 500th race for Lotus, a team that returned after a prolonged absence only this year. Mechanics in crisp shirts and racing green shorts measure and check, carry clipboards and chat, interconnected through earpieces and microphones. Our presence here is as natural as Bob the Builder turning up in the White House and I almost choke with surprise when we’re left alone for five minutes while everyone else gets on with work.
Just beyond the garage, in the full heat of the burning Valencia sun, the pit lane never slows for a moment. Convoys of tyres, nose cones and front wings and, yes, the cars themselves process past, accompanied by journalists with lenses the size of marrows and gadget guys in all-in-one suits. Everything looks clean and perfect, there’s no sign of litter or smoke, no faded stickers or equipment, no scribbled notes on scraps of paper. The Valencia Grand Prix has stepped straight out of the salon.
Back in the Lotus garage, the atmosphere is focused. Formula One rules forbid teams from inspecting the cars overnight, imposing a curfew between the qualifying rounds and the main race. The clock is ticking and the deadline only minutes away.
Certain aspects remind me of my time in paediatric intensive care. The special lights, the gauges, the tyre incubators with probes in three places (inside, middle and outer) and the ratio of trained personnel to a single entity – in this case a car rather than a child.
In fact, that’s been one of the biggest surprises of this visit. The legend of Formula One focuses on the drivers, but the reality focuses on the car. It’s a team endeavour, with staff working from 6am until 10 at night, measuring, recording, adapting, planning.
Continues with Inside the Formula One Pit Lane here…
Thanks to Land of Valencia for inviting me on their groundbreaking BlogTripF1, Keith Jenkins from Velvet Escape and the Lotus Formula One team for inviting me to visit the Valencia Grand Prix Formula One Paddock.
Abigail King is a writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. Now published by Lonely Planet, the BBC, CNN, National Geographic Traveler & more, she feels most at home experimenting here: covering unusual journeys, thoughtful travel and luxury on www.insidethetravellab.com