Paddock Day Formula 1 with IWC and Mercedes-AMG Petronas
including a roundtable with Hamilton and Bottas, at Paul Ricard
What is a Paddock Day Formula One experience? It is all about enjoying Formula One without suffering the chaos of those three days, when the official and the free practice test sessions and also the Grand Prix Formula 1 are taking place. When you get to experience the racing team’s hospitality on the only day, when cars are not racing along the track, you will find an almost surreal atmosphere; everything is slowed down and you don’t really get that feeling that you are soon going to witness a racing weekend. Thursday is the only day, when technicians and engineers are more busy than the drivers themselves, because Thursday is when the preparation of cars and practice test sessions officially start and it is also, when the drivers get some free time to enjoy a bit of 'freedom’ before the next day’s race and (almost) exclusively devote themselves (technical briefings excluded) to the press and the sponsors.
My experience with the Petronas AMG Mercedes team
In a time when both communication and cars are becoming extremely more complex - we are possibly witnessing the most complex cars in the modern era - even the seemingly easiest operation can count on a dedicated process to support it and organizing a day that would allow a very selected group of press representatives to meet teams and drivers also bears the same maniacal preparation as a car racing session.
Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 partners with IWC, which organized the Paddock Day for the European press and gave us the opportunity to access the box, where Lewis’s and Valtteri’s cars were being prepared and also to interview the two drivers. It was an intense Thursday that ended up with a surprise.
How the world of Formula 1 has changed in time
I have long been absent from Formula 1 racing tracks, but I have not lost sight of the evolution that this highest category of motorsports has had in recent years; an acceleration that can be witnessed even from the outside.
From a technical point of view there is no comparison with the past, because the introduction of hybrid powertrains raised the level of complexity to the max – an evidence of this change can be seen in the difficulties that many teams have encountered in trying to move from a 2.4-litre-aspirated engine to the more complex V6-turbos and in the GP2 drivers trying to getting familiar with a modern F1 steering wheel.
Fortunately, as I could also see inside the boxes, the sound of the engine at the exhaust of the recent V6 turbos has improved significantly if compared to a few years ago and, although it will be difficult to match the performance (and the rpm) of a V10 or a V12, we are no longer hearing that sound that was more similar to the sound of "centrifuge" than to that of an engine, that characterized the first hybrid turbos released.
In the box I got to witness that special procedure called the "fire-up" that includes the starting of the car engines and a precise sequence of operations (ignition, acceleration at a fixed speed and so on) before turning the engine off altogether.
A kaleidoscope of IWC watches
At the Paul Ricard’s venue that, after a few years’ hiatus, is again hosting a Formula 1 Grand Prix, where Hamilton triumphed and took back the leadership of the championship (some of the merit also goes to the 2.1 evolution of the FW09's engine), it was as if we were walking around a small corner of the Schaffhausen museum. Collections from different times were on display inside the Hospitality venues and wrapped around the wrists of the racing team staff and the IWC personnel that took us on a discovery journey within the box to witness the team’s daily activities (including the fuel analysis process).
It wasn’t only the Big Pilot's Watch or the IWC Pilot's Watch Timezoner Chronograph that were on display, but, on the wrists of two of the team reps, there were two IWC Ingenieur Chronograph Racer timepieces; one of them sported a white dial, while the other featured a slate grey dial.
The arrangement of the chrono registers on these Ingenieur watches is a familiar one, because the 89361 calibre is the same one that equips the IWC Portugieser Yacht Club Cronograph that I wrote about just a few days ago.
When these two timepieces were originally presented to the public they were not among my favourite IWC watches, but in a context like the one I was in and next to the Mercedes-AMG Petronas uniforms, I have to say that they exuded an incredible charm and I can now fully understand and appreciate their aesthetic meaning.
What were Lewis and Valtteri wearing?
Let's start by saying that they have two extremely different personalities. Thanks to his four world titles and his class, Lewis Hamilton has become a celebrity beyond the Formula 1 world. Lewis will end one day his racing career as a Formula 1 driver (by his own admission an experience like the Le Mans 24 Hours is not in the cards). He expanded his interests well beyond the borders of the Grand Prix events and today he is the testimonial of many brands, including for example Tommy Hilfiger and Bose. In the future he will devote himself to entrepreneurial activities, where he will be able to put his creative skills to a good use.
He has a chameleon-like personality and he is constantly evolving; we met him last year at the Charity Night organized by IWC and the Laureus association - of which he is an ambassador – and, back then, he had a still different image than his current one. Vallteri Bottas is instead the prototype of the modern Finnish Formula 1 driver; he is pragmatic, of few words and fast. He was able to carve out his own space within the most successful team of the moment next to a driver like Hamilton; a difficult undertaking that the driver is carrying out quite well and that will soon lead him towards his re-confirmation.
The two drivers opted for two different timepieces; Lewis wore an IWC Big Pilot's Watch Annual Calendar Edition Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in rose gold, while Valtteri an IWC Pilot's Watch Chronograph Top Gun in ceramic. The two drivers also differ from each other, when it comes to their childhood heroes; Ayrton for Lewis and Mika Hakkinen for Valtteri. It is no coincidence then that the Ingenieur timepieces were not on the drivers' wrists, considering that the latest collection is a tribute to the world of classic car racing, to Goodwood and to the Jaeger counters, rather than to digital displays and sequential gearboxes.
What is left of the Paddock Day
To be able to fully appreciate it, you must be passionate about engines, actually you need to be a die-hard fan, because what you experience there is not like the Grand Prix weekend that is adrenaline-filled by definition, but rather something else; it is the counterpart of what you cannot see during the racing weekend, when you are forbidden from accessing the boxes of a team unless you are a VIP guest (although, in that case, you still need to comply with some strict rules, so as not to hinder the job of the team).
Besides having experienced a priceless day, I also brought back home with me a small, but important gift; a pair of gloves belonging to Lewis Hamilton and sporting his autograph. I might be used to often seeing watches and I'm hardly bored by them - I spent an hour of my time in the company of the Timezoner – but could you ever imagine what the Paddock Day could represent in the mind of an engineer who also used to work in the automotive industry?
(Photo credit: Horbiter®'s proprietary photo-shooting)
Gaetano C @Horbiter®