Ever wondered what it’s like to sit in a Formula 1 car? I’m now lucky enough to tell you.
It’s low, so your eyes just peep over the wheel. It’s bare and hard and uncomfortable, with exposed carbon and cold metal everywhere. Your bum is about two centimetres off the floor and your legs slope up to the pedals, while the wheel is about where your elbows are in a normal road car.
It’s even more uncomfortable when 20 blokes are poised in front of you, in full pit-stop formation, air-guns pointed at the exact spot where each wheel must stop.
And it’s my job to stop it. I’ve only been here a few hours and team manager Graham Watson has kindly – courageously – agreed to put me in the car for pit-stop practice. I’ll be under manpower rather than Cosworth power, as three of the lads will shove me along the pit lane.
I wiggle down into the car and give the thumbs up. There’s a short approach, but the boys push fast. We hit a magnificent 7mph, which feels like 20 as I’m zapped into the man-scrum like a patient delivered to a trauma room.
Each wheel must stop directly in front of the man who’ll remove it. If I’m an inch off he’ll have to shuffle along on his knees, the jack man will have to reposition and seconds will be lost. There’s no refuelling this season so it’s all about rapid tyre changes, and a few seconds of shuffling due to driver idiocy can almost double the time of the stop.
I hit the brakes – no messing around, just stamp the pedal with your left foot – and somehow stop in the right place. Beginner’s luck, that one.
The jacks hoist the car just an inch into the air and I’m shaken inside as it waggles from side to side under the force of four pneumatic air guns and eight blokes heaving wheels off and on again. I’m told to grip the wheel and hold it straight, then slammed back to the tarmac, cracking my hip against the hard carbon seat.
Job done, I step out of the car and straight into a puddle, which is irritating as I’m only wearing socks for improved pedal feel. As I’m patted on the back, the lads point to the rig above the garage, where my trainers dangle in the breeze. Standard initiation procedure, apparently…
But whatever, I can live with chilly feet. I only did a few runs but for a moment there, I was Jarno, Heikki, Jenson, Lewis – any of them – in the most intense moment of any sport on earth. Just add about 50mph, the risk of flattening your own men, frantic traffic and 800bhp, and you’ll be somewhere close to the real thing.
Next job: tyres. Friday is free practice day and it’s chucking it down here in Germany. So the wets and intermediates are being prepped, and I’ll help adjust pressures and set the blanket warmers so the rubber is toasty before the cars head out. If you’ve got any questions for the team, fire away in the box below and I’ll try my best to get answers.
Right now, I’m off to find my shoes.