As I’ve already blogged, I’m on my way to be Singapore for the F1 Grand Prix courtesy of Hilton HHonors. Its a long haul trip: Plane, Train and Automobile, so I’ve started up a road trip blog, that I’ll keep adding to…
LATEST UPDATE: Arrival and Thursday at the track
National Express Experience
I live conveniently close to Luton Airport, so when I need to get to Heathrow the coach service is a quick and cheap means to get there. I used National Express which was around £20 for a single trip. Having been dropped off at Luton, I just had time to pop into to Starbucks in the terminal for a takeout Venti skinny cappuccino and cinnamon swirl for the journey. Then, bang on time, the coach arrives, suitcase stowed away and we were off.
I’ve not done this transfer for a few years, so I was surprised that seat belts are now compulsory on the coach and nor was I expecting a safety briefing from the driver, ‘airline style’. Having used airport coach transfers all over the world, I’m used to having a TV on the coach running adverts. As expected there was a TV mounted above the windscreen on the coach, but no adverts, it was linked to camera facing out the front of the bus. So rather than look out of the huge windscreen, we were able to watch where we were going on TV, I’m not quite sure I understand that?
Still the coach arrived into Heathrow on time and I could get checked in for the flight.
Singapore Airlines Experience
Checking in at the airport is a far simpler process nowadays, simply turn up with your passport\baggage and soon you’re checked in to your preferred seat. It’s at this point I met up with Vicky Lythgoe (@VickyLygoeF1) who is to be my chaperone and travel companion for the HHonors Race Reporter weekend. Whizzing through security and here was time for a quick tour around the Terminal3 shops (Ross Brawn was window shopping too) before it was time to board.
Not surprisingly my geeky side is excited to travel on the Airbus A380 for the first time. This double decker aircraft has only been in service for a few years, so I’ve been looking forward to experiencing the flight on such a large aircraft. I’ve always found flying on Jumbos far more relaxing and comfortable than with the relatively smaller wide body aircraft. So with the huge A380, I’m expecting an even comfier ride. I’m seated in economy, at the back of the plane (row62 of 63!) and on the lower deck. There’s loads of room and then there’s impressive entertainment system, even Wi-Fi is available!
It’s a clear sunny day in London with the take-off at 11.30, the take-off was bouncier than I expected given the planes size, but still smooth and nearly silent. Climbing to 11,000m and with a ground speed of 957kmh, aided by a slight tail wind we’re soon up over the North Sea into Holland and across Germany, Ukraine and Russia. Heading east we’re racing towards the sunset falling over the east of Europe. It’s a 12 hour flight and as I write we’ve covered 2817km so far and have and 8243km to go.
For all the comfort and conveniences on the plane, there’s still the same long haul flight routine. Hot towels, drink and peanuts, a hot lunch and then peace and quiet for a half dozen hours. So I’ve got down to typing up this post and some other work I’ve not managed to get covered before leaving England. Thanks to the on-board Wi-Fi I’ve even been able to post this first post
Ahead of Schedule, we landed at Singapore’s Changi airport. Just the usual process of immigration and baggage collection. I was lucky I arrived the luggage carousel just as my bag passed by on the conveyor. My Travel companion Vicky wasn’t so lucky, but still a few minutes wait was enough time to start the F1 experience. At the baggage claim was the Radio5Live commentator, James Allen and behind us were some Red Bull staff, bring last minute parts to the track as excess baggage. Most teams have their staff do this. Any McLaren staff that are travelling to events have to check with the logistics teams first to see if there is anything that needs to be taken to the track.
Out of the airport doors and we had the full effect of Singapore’s heat and humidity, even though it was barely eight in the morning, the heat was stifling. Fortunately the taxi had aircon and the trip into Singapore city centre allowed to take in the huge amount of development that the city has experienced in recent years. Skyscrapers and impressive architecture are everywhere it looks like this trip is going to be about more than just F1!
We pull in to the Conrad Centennial Singapore, just twenty minutes after leaving the airport. We’ve barely paid the driver before the staff take our luggage from the boot and open the car doors for us. Even the lady cleaning the outside of the hotel, gives us a polite greeting! More welcomes at the reception desk and we’re checked into our rooms and shortly after I’m able relax in my room up on the 11th of the hotels 31 floors.
I’ve been to Singapore before, but just once briefly, when I back-packed around the world after finishing my studies. Back then I stayed in a small Hostel, not a prestigious Hotel with 482 rooms and 25 suites. If I’d seen any wildlife in the bathroom in the hostel I’d have been worried. At the Conrad Centennial Singapore, I get this little companion, may be we should call him Conrad?
Although its 8am my body clock and watch tell me its after midnight and I was up at 6am to board the plane. So with the race weekend being on European time, I try to stick to the race time and not local time. I take to bed, reminded by the note on my pillow that the Conrad has pillow menu with some 16 types of pillow to choose from. The one on my bed suits me just fine, so it’s off to sleep.
I know you’ll ask, so here is the list of all 16 pillows!
Very Firm Support
Waking up for our kick off meeting with HHonors and McLaren was strange. Its midday local time, my body says its early morning. Washed, cameras packed and now dressed in my spiffing HHonors Race Reporter polo shirt, its down to the lobby for the meeting. “Morning” I say to the waitress, good afternoon she replies. Sticking to European time is going to confuse me all weekend. Plans are made and appointments pencilled in, then it’s off to an event in downtown Singapore.
McLaren partner TAG Heuer has the opening of their largest Boutique to celebrate. So Jenson Button is guest of honour to open the store. We arrive as the speeches start and the crown of guests and fans is far larger than I ever imagined. Jenson stands in front of the 2011 MP4-26 show car, he’s given a special edition TAG Heuer Watch and he returns the favour and gives the Boutique Manager one of his Helmets.
To formally open the Boutique he’s handed scissors by one of the glamorous assistants and then Jenson is whisked upstairs for TV interviews. Clearly Drivers have to attend these events and it must be a distraction, when they’re preparing for a race, but it goes with the job. Their time is limited and so is ours as we have to head over the circuit.
Its still daylight and the first encounter with the barriers and F1 paraphernalia underline that this is a street track and not a permanent circuit. Drivers, team staff and all sorts of other people seem to be on the track. The drivers having track walks with their engineers, some journalists ‘enjoy’ running every track, while others seem to cheat by cycling.
Into the paddock and again the flyaway nature of the track is obvious, no support trucks, no motorhomes and no Brand Centre. The Brand Centre is McLaren hub for their race weekend in Europe. The lower floor is open to all in the paddock, you can come in for a drink, snack or just rest and watch the race coverage on the screens. Upstairs is more private in the Brand Centre there space for TV interviews and rooms for private meetings. But there’s no Brand Centre in Singapore, a temporary, but none the less impressive structure is provided instead. This isn’t the open house of the brand centre, there just isn’t the space. This is where the team eat and drink, there’s rooms for the drivers to rest, get dressed, have physio and work on their laptops. Around the unit the drivers, team management, mechanics and other guests can relax. Frequenting the unit during the day were Jenson’s Dad John and his girlfriend Jessie. Outside the celeb watching is just as easy, Drivers, TV presenters and other F1 celebrities mingle. Thursday is a quiet day in the paddock and there none of the pressure or urgency of the main race weekend .
By now I’ve hooked my laptop up to McLaren’s Wi-Fi and I’m getting questions tweeted in to ask the team. The McLaren Marketing people do a great job, answering or disappearing off to find the right answers. They are also busy working to find me people to talk to for feature on the blog. In short succession I meet the McLaren Logistics man, Mark Baker. He gets all the kit to each GP and his team build up and break down the garage area. Next its Oliver Weingarten the Secretary General for FOTA. Totally unscheduled and unexpected we find out about what FOTA does and what its next plans are, all interesting stuff. In fact both these chats will go onto the blog as more detailed features, so keep an eye out for updates.
Paddock life is great, seeing all the people and activity going on, makes you realise this is work for the hundreds of team and sponsor staff, as well as the media. But for me personally it’s the pit lane that I love to see. My interest always lies with the cars and technology. So I’m taken through the back of the garage and into the pit lane. No cameras allowed in the garage, but once stood on the pit apron, my cameras are out and I can take in the detail on the cars, as they sit in the garages being fettled before first practice tomorrow.
We leave the track and have a drink at the Hotel to take in the experiences of the first day. Before retiring for the night. Tomorrow we have the cars running in free practice, a meeting with Jenson’s Trainer and lunch with the Hotels General Manager