Other than the bits we watch on TV, have you ever wondered what drivers get up to away from the cameras over a race weekend? What’s their schedule like, what do they eat, how do they prepare, and what makes them tick?
Here, Jenson gives us the full lowdown in his diary of a race weekend. The action starts early on Friday morning, when us race fans are itching to hear the sound of the V6s screaming on track, and to get all the gossip from the first day of action.
We go behind the scenes with JB to find out what really goes on before the cameras start rolling.
On Sunday morning, I don’t think about the race as soon as I open my eyes. I have a shower, eat breakfast, and then usually watch the other categories – it’s always interesting to see the starts, Turn One, Turn Two, and get an idea of where cars could be. I’m always very relaxed. I’m not a guy that wakes up and thinks ‘what am I going to do at Turn One?’ Who knows? It’s not something you can really plan, but you can see the different scenarios from the other races you watch, which is great.
After that, I go straight into an hour-long meeting with the strategy guys and the engineers, to run through the programme in terms of the pit stop laps, and fuel and brake saving – if we need to do it on that circuit. There’s so much information that we’re fed pre-race. There are also thousands of race simulations that the engineers go through to find the optimum strategy, but the driver still has input with the engineers. We tell them what we think we should do, and the plan can always be changed if the driver has a strong feeling about a certain strategy.
Next up is the drivers’ parade. I don’t tend to talk to the same people every time – it depends who you are thrown next to on the truck! I probably speak to Daniel Ricciardo more than most, but I’ll chat to anyone – me and most of the other guys are pretty easy-going. The most important thing is saying hi to the fans, who have come out to watch us race. You definitely feed off the energy from the crowd – it’s always lovely to see a full house, like at the British Grand Prix, or the Mexican Grand Prix last year for example. That’s something that we just love as racing drivers. It’s such a special atmosphere when the crowd get behind you.
The most crucial part of the whole weekend is the preparation just before the race – it’s the time when you really have to listen the most and take everything in. This part happens both in the truck and on the grid, where we run through the whole programme and the sequence for the start. The boot is on the other foot through when you’re in the car and the conditions are changing – I’m the one driving around and I can feel what’s happening, and the team relies on me to explain everything about how the car and tyres are performing.
After the final meeting with the engineers, it’s time to get helmeted up and into the cockpit. I don’t have any pre-race rituals, but I do get into the car from the right hand side every time. But that’s just habit more than anything else!
On the grid, the feeling is definitely different to qualifying. There’s a lot more waiting around, and there’s a lot more going on with the other teams around you. You just can’t wait to get on with it – driving is the bit I love, much more than the before or after. It’s in that moment that I love driving a Formula 1 car. You can’t wait for the tyre blankets to be taken off, drive away from everything else in the world, and just focus on racing.
Then, the five lights come on. I’ve always been pretty happy with my reactions – they’ve always been good, which comes from years of driving a Formula 1 car. As a team, our starts are pretty good as well, so I’m usually confident that I can get away well and possibly make up a few places at the start.
That’s the most exciting moment: sitting on the start line, waiting for the lights to go out, thinking through all the scenarios that could happen on the first lap and trying to make the best of every situation you can. The emotions have always been the same since I started. I have more experience now, but the first lap still excites me as much as it did back in 2000. The only difference is that now I have more confidence in myself to make sure I don’t make any mistakes.
It goes without saying that my favourite part of the weekend is driving a Formula 1 car, and my least favourite is everything else! Talking to the media is probably the worst part, but only because you sometimes feel like you can’t be yourself as there’s always the possibility that what you say will be taken out of context. But it’s part and parcel of the weekend, and afterwards you can get back to the job you love! Formula 1 isn’t about just one thing – if it is then you’re doing something wrong. It’s about driving the car, working with the engineers, preparing yourself, eating the right food – it’s everything.
Finally, the bit that gives me the most satisfaction – that makes me think: ‘This is why I do this job’ – is, of course, when you’re on the podium! But as well as that, it’s when you get the best out of the car, and you know you’ve achieved the maximum possible. There aren’t many of us that have the opportunity to win grands prix on a race weekend, so the most exciting feeling and the thing that makes you happiest is when you feel you’ve done everything you can in your power to get everything out of the car, and get the best out of what you’ve been given. That’s what Formula 1 is about – only one guy can win.