Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Getting back to the team

When the race winner returns to the pits, he is always treated to a hero’s welcome. The team has often cracked open a few bottles of champagne (for drinking this time, not spraying) and will be patting each other on the back when the driver returns.
Still in his sweat- and champagne-soaked overalls, the driver shakes hands with all his mechanics and team members and gives a congratulatory speech in which he thanks everyone for their hard work. Then he rushes back to his motorhome to have a shower and change into casual clothes before a final sit down with his team to run through how the race went. This post-race debrief is important because it is the final chance the team has to discuss and analyse exactly how they won that day – so that they can do it again and again. Some of these debriefs can actually go on longer than the races themselves!
Finally, when the debrief is finished, the driver is free to do what he wants to do. If he’s flying out of the country early, he may make a dash for the airport, or he may choose to sit around with the team and join in the post-race party. There are also usually more interviews with the media and hundreds of autograph hunters waiting for him outside the motorhome because he has suddenly become the most in-demand man to meet at the track.

F1 press conferences

Although the race winner may be very tired and soaked in champagne, he is still not allowed to return to his garage and get changed because it is time to meet the world’s media. And like everything else in Formula One, this takes place to a rigid timetable.
TV interviews, first
As soon as the drivers have finished on the podium and perhaps dropped their trophies and bottles of champagne down to their team members below, they are rushed off to a special television interview room. This is the first chance the world will have to hear just what went on in the race from the drivers’ perspective – and that’s why so many people tune into this interview. This is the one interview that is always broadcast straight after the podium ceremony on every single television channel. The drivers are always asked two questions each in English about their race before the winner is handed his final moment of glory by being asked about either his championship prospects or the next race. Afterwards those drivers whose first language is not English are asked to speak a few words in their own languages, specifically for their fans back home.
Press conference, next
After the television interview has taken place, the drivers have to go to another press conference room for written media and radio. Track commentator Bob Constanduros hosts the first part of this press conference, before it opens to questions from the floor. Some drivers dread this moment, because they can be asked some difficult questions – especially if something controversial has taken place on the track.
One of the most amazing post-race press conferences was after the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, when Ferrari controversially imposed team orders in the closing stages of the race to ensure that Michael Schumacher won the event. The top three drivers had just endured being booed and jeered on the podium when they got exactly the same reception from the press!
Then more questions from more folks
Even when this press conference has finished, which can sometimes last more than half an hour, the drivers are still not free to return to their teams. In the main paddock, just outside the media centre, officials set up a special fenced-off area for the drivers. Here television crews can ask the drivers their own questions for a few minutes before the drivers can finally walk back to celebrate with their teams.

Joy on the podium

There was a time when drivers would turn up for the podium only if they wanted to, but in modern Formula One, this special post-race ceremony is organised with military precision. Of course, it has to be with several million people tuned in around the world and wanting to share the joy with the winning drivers.
The podium is usually set-up high above the pits and in front of a main grandstand, so that as many fans as possible can see the top three drivers. At most tracks, after the cars have returned to the pits, the fans are allowed to run onto the track so they too can get close to the action.
Everyone lines up
On the podium are three steps, one each for the top three finishers of the race. The middle step is the highest, and this is designed for the winner. To the right of the winner is a slightly shorter step that the second place finisher stands on. To the left of the winner is the shortest step for the third place finisher. When the ceremony is ready to kick off, the three drivers step out onto the podium followed by a representative of the winning team. Out on the podium as well will be between one and three VIPs, whose job it will be to hand out the trophies.
A few patriotic tunes are played
The first national anthem to be played is that of the winning driver, followed by the national anthem of the winning team. After this, the race winner and team representative are presented with their trophies, followed by the second and third placed driver.
Someone breaks out the bubbly
Finally comes the moment that everyone has waited for: the champagne, which gets sprayed everywhere – not a surprise with a bottle for each of the top three finishers. Usually the focus is on the race winner – who will find his rivals pouring champagne over his head, over his overalls, and down the back of his neck. It is a small price to pay for winning the race!