Sometimes you have one of those perfect moments of pure bliss, where everything goes perfectly and you get to fulfill dreams that have lasted decades. Last weekend was one of those weekends. Check out this picture:
"Losers don't win, Mr Bond".. to which 007 replies, "Ah, but even perennial winners might lose." No, this blog will not be about Nokia (I know the results are coming out, but we'll deal with that later). This will be a picture essay about the ultimate weekend. And yes, those are the pit-babes marching to their positions, at Shanghai Grand Prix this weekend. And yes, your Bond, James Bond was not somewhere among the masses in the stands, he was yes, here at the pit lane with that magical pass.
So where did I sit? Check out my view this weekend:
That is one of the super-VIP hospitality suites at the racetrack. Yes, right in front of the Ferrari pit wall! That can only mean one thing. I was being a guest at the Formula One Club of not just any ole team, but the winningest team in the history of grand prix racing. The legendary Ferrari yes. Check out their winning chassis over the years:
I have been a formula one fan since age 12 when I first assembled a model kit of a Lotus John Player Special grand prix car. I thought that car was so cool, with its black-and-silver coloring and driven by wild Brazilian, Emerson Fittipaldi. I would follow the series through the newspaper results, because way back then, the Finnish TV broadcasters didn't transmit the races. On some lucky Sunday, we might see a short highlight from a few of the more glamorous races like Monaco.
As an adult, I've had a few fantastic James Bond moments indeed, relating to F1. In 2001, I was at the Montreal Grand Prix, as guest of HSBC (and speaking at a conference). They sponsored the mid-field team Jaguar. And we had the luxurious F1 VIP treatment but it was still, only the sponsor of only a mid-field team. But we did get to hear team advisor Sir Jackie Stewart talk to us about the season so far. Jackie Stewart was a 3 time F1 champion in his racing years. And we got to also hear from Eddie Irvine (a previous Ferrari pilot). The HSBC VIP seating was at the first two corners, so it was a great place to view the start of the race and see some of the action down the main straight. For me it was also truly special to get to see reigning two-time World Champion, Mika Hakkinen race (he finished 4th). The race was won by Ralf Schumacher. And there was a promising young driver Kimi Raikkonen who finished also in the points, at 5th. This was unfortunately just before cameraphones, so I have no nice pix to show. Thank you so much to Jaguar Racing and HSBC for the fantastic memories.
If I consider my best memories in F1, before this weekend, that ranked as 3rd in my life. Second on the list is the truly amazing private tour of the Renault F1 Factory in 2005. That was arranged by my very dear friend Voytek Siewierski here in the pic with Bond, right outside the F1 factory gates in Enstone England. Voytek was the head of NTT DoCoMo's European operations at the time, based out of London. Voytek and I went back years prior to that, from his time at NTT DoCoMo's headquarters in Japan.
That was not a group tour, it was just Voytek and me, guided by one Renault marketing exec, the lovely Dai (I am sorry I don't have her surname). She took us everywhere in the factory. Now, this was on the week leading to Silverstone GP, so the factory was in full swing, all working late hours. We saw designers working on car parts, then the various machining tools making parts or modifying them. We saw the ovens that cook the carbon fibre - with new parts going in that were going to be used that weekend. We were even given a tour of the wind tunnel, something the normal Renault VIP tours never included - and at the wind tunnel I saw what I thought was the most supremely awesome technology, 3D printing. Renault used 3D printing particularly to make parts rapidly for the model in the wind tunnel, and compare the performance of the newer car with the modified part or parts, compared to the previous edition without those parts. And then these 3D printers were also used to make some parts going into the car.
I also got to touch a bunch of pieces from past cars. Not a mock-up of the steering wheel, that was the real thing from the previous season's car. This was the season a Spanish superstar, Fernando Alonso would win the first of two championships for Renault. He is obviously today a Ferrari driver. He passed us in the hallway and politely nodded towards the visiting guests in suits. I also saw a young Renault test driver named Heikki Kovalainen pass us in the hallway later, but I was too stunned to toss in a word or two in Finnish haha. Oh, and the pretty lady here is the lovely Dai. That ranked as my second best F1 memory. Thank you Renault F1 and NTT DoCoMo
Then we had the McLaren experience with Vodafone, who arranged their first ever global Mobile Advertising event at the McLaren Center. That was in 2008, when Kimi Raikkonen had left for Ferrari and a young promising driver named Lewis Hamilton was paired with Heikki Kovalainen. Of course McLaren being the secretive company that it is, they totally forbid any photographs, but kindly after we asked, they did allow this picture to be taken facing away from the factory towards the little pond in front of the building. We are here with Jim O'Reilly, a host from Vodafone, and yours truly.
As a 'factory visit' this had a bit left to desire, because there is a clear guest area, separated by glass from the working area. But as I personally had already seen one major team F1 factory, probably seeing some engineers and mechanics at work on some racecars would not have been so amazing anymore, to me. What was amazing, were the cars. McLaren is the second winningest F1 team of all time, and they have all of their most important past winning F1 cars on display. Seeing those cars live arranged one after another, truly brought chills down my spine. The names are of legend and most of McLaren's wins came in the time that I was old enough to understand the sport. Names like Jody Schecter, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost, Niki Lauda, David Coulthard, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Lewis Hamilton. And obviously the driver I personally consider greatest of all time, Aytron Senna. I got to touch a car driven by Ayrton. Not a mock-up, but the real thing. That alone would make it a pilgrimage to any F1 fan, but for Finns, the McLaren Centre is the Meccha for one reason. Finnish winners.
There have been four Finnish F1 drivers who have won at least one Grand Prix, and three of them are also past World Champions in F1. Keke Rosberg won his championship over at Williams in 1982. Mika Hakkinen won two championships at McLaren in 1998 and 1999. Kimi won many races also for McLaren but did not win until at Ferrari in 2007. And the fourth winner was Heikki Kovalainen, whose only win (so far) came when partnering Lewis Hamilton. I was able to touch a car that was driven by Keke Rosberg, Finland's first F1 winner. But as Keke also drove for McLaren, it is the only team that has hosted every one of our winning drivers. So no surprise, Finns have a very special love for those silver-color machines. And for me, personally, to see the cars they drove, all in one place. That was a near-religious experience.
We also heard Heikki Kovalainen speak and Martin Whitmarsh the McLaren CEO hosted us for the dinner and sat at Table 1 with the most VIP'pish of VIP guests. I sat at runner-up Table 2 haha and of course Martin was a gracious host who visited with all other tables. The others at my table were all extremely senior people in the mobile advertising industry. So yes, thank you McLaren and Vodafone for an evening I will never forget.
WHAT COULD POSSIBLY TOP THAT?
So I've been to a race as a VIP guest, I've actually been in an audience hearing a current driver and past driver talk about the race during the race weekend. I have touched parts that had been used in recent cars and seen parts being manufactured that went into the current racecar. I had been sitting at some of the best seats of a Grand Prix. What could possibly top that? Well. Let me tell you. So first, yes, the only team with even more wins than McLaren is the most legendary name of racing, the prancing horse: Ferrari. Check out their drivers of the past four decades: Niki Lauda, Clay Regazzoni, Carlos Reuteman, Jody Schecter, Gilles Villeneuve, Mario Andretti, Rene Arnoux, Rubens Barrichello, Felipe Massa and 'the other guy' who is always called the best-ever, ie Michael Schumacher, who won 5 of his 7 world championships over at Ferrari, and did it in such style, they were yes, 5 championships in a row. And there were two Finnish drivers, Mika Salo and Kimi Raikkonen.
So now I'm not in a VIP room hosted by a sponsor. I am at the official 'Ferrari Formula One Club' VIP room. And where might that be? This is Ferrari. Its right dead center above one vital piece of real estate at the pit lane, of course. Above the F1 garage! Check out this picture to see, directly above the garage, you see those floor-to-ceiling windows and the people there. Thats where I was sitting - and often standing - cheering the race.
Wow. What a cool place. Note the scale. Above the UBS signs, yes, those rooms. That is where Bond was seated for the race. And while we are at it, check out the scale and look at the picture top left corner - the roof. We, the VIP members, also had access to the roof. I'll be getting back to that in a moment. But lets talk views. What do you think of THIS view from where I was sitting?
You literally CANNOT get closer to the action than the seats we had. Thats 2 time champion Fernando Alonso there in his blue helmet in the car. And who is there next to us? Immediately to the left of us is....
This is from earlier pit action from qualifying and the guy in the silver arrow is Jenson Button, a world champion. In the same pit, of course his teammate Lewis Hamilton, another World Champion. And in the next box over to the left, two-time and currently reigning champion Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull. Wanna see Seb pass us on the pit lane? Check this out:
Thats Seb. When we count the Grand Prix victories scored by Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa at Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button at McLaren, and Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber at Red Bull, there are a combined 97 race victories and six total World Championships in the garage directly below me, and the two immediately to the left of me. Oh, did I forget to tell you who is at our right?
Yes, thats Michael, the red-helmeted Red Baron, Schumacher that's who. The winningest F1 driver of all time is also the driver with most championships. So in the garage to our right, we have 91 race wins and 7 championships and I am not done yet. Partnering Schumi is the young Nico Rosberg, a fiercely fast German driver who just happens to be the son of Finnish Keke Rosberg yes the past World Champion. And you know what, while Nico had not won a race yet, he had for the past two years outperformed the grand master Michael Schumacher. So a win was almost in the air for Nico, if only Mercedes could give them a good enough car. And what is after Mercedes, the next garage over to our right? Check out this pretty car:
Thats the new reincarnation of the gold-and-black car I fell in love with as a teenager, the Lotus! And piloting it, the last of our six World Champs, that is Kimi, who adds another 18 race wins to the total immediately to the right of my seat. The rest of the pit lane shares how many champions? None. Shares how many wins among the remaining 12 drivers? Exactly.. one (Heikki) several garages further down. I have THE best seat not just in this race, but of all time, as this is the first season ever, that there were six past world champions contesting the same race. And they are all arrayed here and I am sitting at the exact middle of those five garages. But wait.. Wait
Then there is the roof! Yes, the VIP guests are allowed to come here to the roof and watch the action. And it is literally so noisy, that I had to use my phone just to type messages and show them. This man here to my right is one of my hosts, Kirill Zelensksi, who works for Kaspersky Lab. So what is life like in the fast lane? The VIP treatment gets better. You have the 'backstage' haha. We see what happens in 'the paddock'. (see the calm area behind and on the ground-level in that picture with the sign to the Ferrari Formula 1 VIP club). So this is 'behind' the racetrack and the garages. There is this 'paddock' wide area between the garages and the area where the drivers and mechanics rest and eat and go to hide from the fans, but where they are often hunted by the press. Even with my magical VIP pass, that area is off-limits. You have to get a super-duper-special pass to get down to the Paddock. But we did get to spy on the glamorous and speedy, from very near.
And I have been rubbing sholders, figuratively and literally, with the people of F1. I passed Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton at one point in a passageway, that I could have touched them. I saw tons of drivers and famous race engineers such as Ross Brawn. And here in the picture, we have people coming from a meeting. The guy with the silver hair to the top left is Mr Formula One, the F1 Supremo himself, Bernie Ecclestone.
So did I get to see the pits? Sure. Let me take you for a walk. Here is the pitlane during the pit walk, when us VIP tourists are allowed into a narrow section of the pit lane, with each garage protected by those ropes. There can be no doubt this is the Shanghai circuit haha, not with that iconic architecture. But let me turn around and show you where I stand. This is the exact point how near the race track itself I got to, about an hour before the qualifying and the race started:
So what does one see on such pit walks? The engineers are hard at work. This is for example Sky News and former F1 driver now TV newsman Martin Brundle preparing for his report from the pit lane.
Pretty cool eh? And James Bond cannot go without being noticed in this kind of glamorous crowd. Here is Finnish TV broadcaster MTV3 and their cameraman caught 007 in a sudden shot:
We can't let that happen, haha, soon the Superspy is exposed! But yes, others get here too, on the narrow strip on Pit Lane, where the mere mortals get to wander. You have to be someone really special, to be allowed into the actual garage area. And for that, really, you need not just a special pass, you have to be still individually picked up by a member of that team. Now look at this picture and see the red rope of the Ferrari garage. Which side is 007 on?
You got it! On the inside (of course, this is Bond James Bond after all). The lady here is Nicola Baffoni who took me to the actual garage on Saturday, the day of Qualifying. And what did I get to see and do. Check out this. I not only was let into the garage, these are the actual tyres that are going to be used now, in Qualifying.
I was allowed to touch the tyres to see which were warm and which were cold, so clearly the warm ones were going to be used. (Obviously only these tyre warmers, the tyre itself would be too hot to touch by hand). But yes, I had never ever ever thought I'd be in the position to touch something that will go in a few minutes into an F1 car during Qualifying. And yes, did I mention the paddock, for which you can't get in unless you have a superduper pass? This is no longer the pit lane, this IS the paddock! James Bond strikes again..
Note the two passes hanging from my neck. And yes, that is the back door going to the Ferrari garage. This weekend is so far beyond what any mere mortal could hope for but it just keeps getting better, for Bond is of course a fictional character for whom normal rules simply do not apply. For at the hospitality suite, we had visits by Ferrari racing head Strefano Domenicali, Ferrari driver Felipe Massa and yes...
That is Fernando Alonso, two-time world champion, who at this point is not only the winner of the previous GP in Malaysia, but also is the points leader for the 2012 season. Next to us is Sergey Nevstruev, the VP of Mobile Solutions at Kaspersky Lab. And before anyone tries to claim this is a fake Alonso, some kind of wax dummy or something, no it ain't. Here the wax doll walks away haha...
So there! I did literally touch shoulders with not just an F1 driver, but a 2-time World Champion, and the current F1 championship leader, on a racing weekend, about one hour before he straps himself into the car for Qualifying. And so who is this Kaspersky Lab whose people keep popping up in my pictures?
They are the guys on the Ferrari nosecone! Thats who. Just the world' best security provider for the PC and mobile. That is Kaspersky Lab founded by charismatic Russian entrepreneur Yevgeni 'Eugene' Kaspersky. So that is what my weekend has been like. Rubbing shoulders with the biggest names in F1 haha. So you wanna see some pretty racecars from my vantage point?
Alonso and Massa rolled back into the pits during Qualifying.
Lewis Hamilton in his McLaren
Sebastian Vettel in Red Bull leads Romain Grosjean in the Lotus
Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes turning into the garage
Massa exits the pits
Kobayashi, Kimi and and Button on the main straight
Hamilton from garage
Kimi pits while Massa races past on main straight
Here nice racing action from the start, its Schumi, Kimi, Kobayashi, Button and the nosecone of Hamilton
and yes, it is a circus. This is the view from the roof just before the race starts, when the cars are already parked on the grid. Here first two rows:
But I didn't stay there for the start. I moved along the roof. So here is MY VIEW to the start of the race..
Ok, I have a little bit more to this story, but gotta run now as my flight was called. So let me just say, my very very warmest thanks to Kaspersky Lab and Scuderia Ferrari for giving me the most amazing F1 experience imaginable. Thank you, Spaciba Bolshoi and Grazie Mille. This is my best F1 memory ever. I will cherish this forever. Thank you! And to see what the James Bond Lifestyle is like, consider this picture:
(thats the wonderful Nicola Baffoni with 007 again) I love my life!