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Paddock Life

Behind the scenes at Albert Park
The Formula 1 paddock returned to life in Melbourne after its shorter than usual break. And as Jonathan Noble reports from behinds the scenes in Oz, there was no paucity of mischief, banter and, you guessed it... running

  By Jonathan Noble

It was good to be back. After what seemed like a ridiculously short time since the Formula 1 paddock waved its goodbyes in Brazil last year, the greetings and handshakes returned with enthusiasm as the circus rolled in to Melbourne last weekend.

The Albert Park circuit is the perfect venue to start the season – even a downpour on Friday that left many soaked through did little to dampen enthusiasm for what remains one of the most popular events on the calendar.

And Jenson Button probably could not have believed his luck when his girlfriend Jessica Michibata turned to him, as they checked into their hotel ahead of the race, and told him that they'd stayed in exactly the same room the previous two times he had won. He'd hoped it was a good omen – and it certainly proved to be!

The first race of the season also marked the first of F1's now regular 'Group Runs' for charity, with UBS again digging into its pockets for the Make-A-Wish Foundation for every lap that paddock members complete in 2012.

Despite arriving in Melbourne as a double world champion, Sebastian Vettel remains very much feet-on-the-ground, with a tremendous sense of humour that's not been dimmed by his years in the sport.

As part of the build-up to the Australian Grand Prix, Vettel appeared at a Red Bull barbecue on St Kilda beach, where he was on top form as he discussed the winter gone, his prospects for the season and other aspects of his life.

But what raised the biggest laugh was when he revealed one of the downsides of his success: he is running out of space at home for all his trophies.

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull

"I haven't yet found a proper place – I am working on that," he said. "The shelf I'm just installing might be a bit small. When I'd first thought about where I'd put the shelf I didn't have that many trophies, but it's a very nice problem to have. I don't want to complain…"

Vettel added that most of his trophies were on the floor at the side of his living room, but there was a special place for his 2011 world championship award.

"It's on the kitchen table at the moment," he said.

When asked if it was sat next to the Corn Flakes, Vettel responded quickly: "No. The Corn Flakes are in the cupboard. I am German – it has to be precise. You cannot mix the Corn Flakes with the world championship trophy…"

F1 and music are often closely linked, and no team would ever expect its mechanics to be getting its garage in shape, or in pack-down mode, if there were not some house tunes blasting out from the stereo system.

In recent years concerts over grand prix weekends have been a huge success, with the F1 Rocks event in Melbourne witnessing Lenny Kravitz playing to sell-out crowds at the city's Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

But ignoring the big-name stars for a while, it was Lotus who came up trumps with one of the first must-have items for paddock members in 2012.

Lotus is now popular for its music selections
Lotus is now popular for its music selections © LAT

Since Lotus first got involved as a sponsor of the then Renault team last year, the squad has labelled all its press releases with music titles. Last weekend's Australia release was called 'Crosstown Traffic'.

The team has kept up its music theme by producing its own soundtrack for 2012, with a few lucky people getting their hands on the CD.

"Through the years of Toleman, Benetton, Renault, Lotus Renault GP and now Lotus F1 Team, the philosophy at Enstone has always been to stand out from the crowd," reads the CD insert.

"The principles of any good musician are the same. The fabric of each song; the beats, harmonies and lyrics need to evoke emotions unlike anything that has been heard before."

So if you are a fan of Kimi Raikkonen, Romain Grosjean or Lotus – but not lucky enough to get yours hands on the CD – here are the tracks, so you can create the playlist yourself.

1) Neon Trees, Animal
2) The Temper Trap, Sweet Disposition
3) The Strokes, Under Cover of Darkness
4) Kings of Leon, Use Somebody
5) Linkin Park, Shadow of the Day
6) Phoenix, Lisztomania
7) The Killers, Read my Mind
8) The Cardigans, My Favourite Game
9) Franz Ferdinand, Take Me Out
10) Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Zephyr Song
11) Air Traffic, Just Abuse Me
12) Arctic Monkeys, Mardy Bum
13) Snow Patrol, It's Beginning to Get to Me
14) Manic Street Preachers, Australia
15) Hot Chelle Rae, Tonight Tonight
16) Death Cab for Cutie, You are a Tourist
17) Muse, Feeling Good

While fans and media had all got used to the look of the new cars after the three pre-season tests, the first race still provides us with the first glimpse of something equally important: team uniforms.

There were a few subtle tweaks up and down the pitlane, with McLaren in particular moving away from the black of last year to a whiter look.

The biggest talk of the paddock was down at Williams, though, as the team refined the blue, white and red retro-branding that it had used since the start of last season.

But in a move that's reminiscent of every girl's worst nightmare – turning up at a posh party in the same dress as someone else – there were a few double-takes in the paddock when new-kids-on-the-block Sky TV opted for an almost identical uniform.

Williams crew with TV cameras (Or is it Sky staff?)
Williams crew with TV cameras (Or is it Sky staff?) © LAT

Using the same white, red and blue – albeit in a marginally different pattern – there was confusion all weekend as teams and media had to keep pausing to work out if they were looking at Williams staff or Sky team members.

There were a few jokes going around too that, with Sky bringing along 81 staff to cover the weekend (which is more than many teams need to compete in the race), the move was simply a way of Williams getting around the personnel limit of 47 team members!

"No, that's not a team member working on the car," Williams could claim. "It's just someone from Sky doing the latest television feature…"

It's not known if Sky will tweak its uniform, but one option could be to choose a nice red colour, with a big yellow badge that has a big black horse on it. Surely no one else in the paddock looks like that…

There was a time when a Formula 1 driver would not change his helmet design for the entire duration of his career. More recently, drivers change their look so frequently that it's almost become impossible to keep up.

However, in Australia everybody couldn't help but notice the bold design that Heikki Kovalainen was using – on the back of a sponsorship deal with Angry Birds creator Rovio Entertainment.

Kovalainen was an 'Angry Bird' in Australia
Kovalainen was an 'Angry Bird' in Australia © XPB

For those who have never heard of it – and there were some in the paddock – Angry Birds is an iPhone/iPad/iPod/Android game that has taken the world by storm. Its basic premise is that the player has to catapult the Angry Birds into towers and other objects to knock them down.

The success of the game has resulted in Rovio tying up deals with Finnish drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Kovalainen, and that was what led to the bright red helmet appearing in the Caterham.

Speaking to AUTOSPORT about the deal, Kovalainen said: "The idea actually came along before the end of last year and we got in contact with the people involved.

"They came up with this idea for a crash helmet design, and they obviously are quite a funky company. I have only had a positive feedback about it; I quite like it myself – and I will probably do some special designs over the year, especially in Monaco."

So does he play the game himself? "I do actually. I've completed all the levels – but I've not done it all at three-star yet!"

2012 Australian Grand Prix
The answers we're still waiting for from F1 2012
By Jonathan Noble
Behind the scenes at Albert Park
By Jonathan Noble
How Button turned Saturday's silver into Sunday's gold
By Adam Cooper
McLaren hits the big 50 in Australia
By Michele Merlino
On Melbourne form we're in for a classic season
By Tony Dodgins
We rate the drivers after the Australian Grand Prix
By Edd Straw
The complete Australian GP review
By Edd Straw, Simon Strang and Matt Beer
Five themes to watch for in the race
By Edd Straw
It's the usual suspects, but in what order?
By Mark Hughes
David Coulthard's Australian Grand Prix preview
By David Coulthard
Six of the best: AUTOSPORT answers your Australian GP questions
By Edd Straw
Setting the scene for the Australian Grand Prix
By Edd Straw
The Australian Grand Prix Preview
By Sam Tremayne
  OTHER FEATURES FROM MAR 15, 2012 - MAR 21, 2012
World Endurance Championship grid guide
What to expect from the World Endurance Championship
By Gary Watkins
Zoom In: Australian Grand Prix
By LAT Photographic
In the magazine: the phenomenon of Jenson Button
Irvine: 'I can't see anyone beating Vettel'
By Eddie Irvine
Romain Grosjean: Formula 1's Six Million Dollar Man
By Edd Straw
2012 Formula 1 season preview podcast
The true cost of a budget cap in Formula 1
By Dieter Rencken
Flying the Flag: the history of French drivers in F1
By Adam Cooper
Who is winning the fight for F1's future?
By Dieter Rencken
Bamber's Week
By Jim Bamber
Having won the prestigious Sir Williams Lyons Award for young journalists in 1991, Jonathan Noble started his career working for news agency Collings Sport.

Working across a number of sports, including motor racing, football and rugby, he was a contributor to a wide range of leading national and international publications including Reuters, the Press Association, the Daily Telegraph and The Independent.

He accepted a job at AUTOSPORT Special Projects at the start of 1999, and a year later became F1 Editor of AUTOSPORT magazine – moving across to the website at the end of 2004.
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