Ever since I jumped the pit lane fence on the Thursday of the 2005 Australian GP, I’d always thought that topping that chance to get a genuine first look at the new cars wouldn’t happen. Standing in the pit lane, as Toyota’s talented gunmen practiced rattling wheels onto what would be one of their most successful cars was a memory I cherished evermore. Add that I was the first person outside of the Ferrari team that year to touch Michael Schumacher’s steering wheel - I could have died happy then.
If I’d been told about what would happen come the first week of February 2013, however, I would have been kicking myself at the pearly gates.
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I was buzzing enough to be blessed with a chance to hang out with my dad and sister as they visited from Australia for two weeks. With my own plans rolling along nicely on my side of the racing scene, dad and I decided a few days away to enjoy the sights of Spain sounded like just the way to do something different, and so a ticket to Jerez was booked. The same Jerez that, with a stroke of luck, meant that a visit would coincide with the annual pre-season Formula One testing.
No matter how much racing you do, or how far you travel along the road of motorsport, F1 cars are always impressive. Everything from their slippery and effective aero to the monumental stopping power, is always mind blowing when seen in the flesh. What’s more, the slick and meticulous world of the teams when viewed from the outside is surprising when you set foot behind the mysterious roller doors and security blinds.
Watching the Marussia boys do their thing from within their slice of the Jerez pitlane was an honour and a privilege - and as eye opening as it comes, with the team swarming around Tom Chilton’s chariot in a way that was... well, normal.
It felt like every other race team that I’d been around, save for the reams of data, monitors, and the distinct lack of anything dirty. The camaraderie, the banter, and the organisation aren’t too far removed from any of the teams I’ve driven for. Even Chilton was accessible, and blatantly human, as he chilled out at the back of the garage.
The whole experience went far too quickly, but it rekindled that fire that reminds me every day of why I’m in motorsport, and gave me a fresh view with experienced eyes on a world that, for most, is only as close as the zoom through their televisions allows.
For my father as well, who for years was the spearhead of my own racing in Australia, it was an experience that felt as much at home as it did a dream.
With my father back home and sis still enjoying a whirlwind tour of Europe, it was soon back to the daily tasks of getting prepared for 2013’s racing. There’s still so much left to do, and the opening race is fast approaching.
With the sun of Spain still filling my mind, gleaming off the world’s fastest race cars, I go about my days with a familiar bounce in my step that used to spring me across to the TV whenever Formula One was showing. But now, my footprints were left in the F1 pits for real. Let’s see how long it takes to get there again - this time, as a driver.