Best seats in the house

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So close is the battle for the Formula 1 World Championship that team orders will – like it or not – become increasingly important. It occurs to me that Ferrari might be well served by borrowing a phrase from its fuel supplier. “Thank you for using Fuel-Save,” says the forecourt cashier as you present your payment. From pits to car this is surely both sufficiently ambiguous and a clear instruction. Saving fuel is part of the game in 2010.

The last Grand Prix before the summer break was held at the Hungaroring, and as things turned out this was a good weekend to hold an invitation to spend Sunday with the Renault team. The cars occupied the fourth row of the grid, notably with Vitaly Petrov ahead of Robert Kubica for the first time.

After breakfast (proper French coffee and perfect pain au chocolat) I was offered a variety of ways to occupy my time. I tried a few laps of the Hungaroring in the simulator. Neither Robert Kubica nor Vitaly Petrov need worry. Had this been a real R30 it would now be in pieces. Would I like to grab a wheel-gun and change a wheel? Not really, but I did. None of the mechanics need be concerned. Then there was the Batak machine, apparently essential equipment for anyone who is serious about fitness and reaction training. This does not include your correspondent.

Before lunch, team manager Steve Nielsen spoke to us, updating us on qualifying and the prospects for racing at a circuit where overtaking is virtually impossible. He patiently answered our questions and then disappeared to manage the team. Two hours to go until the start. Lunch with Renault is never disappointing. Ham with a parsley and mustard sauce, pommes de terre dauphinoise, Greek, Caesar and tomato salads, and fruit tarts that you only see in French patisseries. I wondered, then, why this team would serve an average Pinot Grigio rather than something delicious from the Loire valley or Burgundy? This is to be investigated.

Half an hour before the cars went to the grid I was shown to a comfortable seat of the kind you find in business class, in front of a huge TV screen. I found myself with a glass of Moët et Chandon in my hand. That’s more like it. At this point chief race engineer Alan Permane told us about tyre choices, track temperatures and strategy. Then he disappeared to the grid to do his proper job.

You know what happened. Mixed fortunes for the black and yellow cars. Kubica was released from his pitbox in the path of Adrian Sutil’s Force India, received a stop-go penalty and retired with damaged suspension. There was groaning from the seats in front of the screen. Petrov finished fifth, his best result so far this season. Cue rousing cheers for the young Russian.

Afterwards I emerged from the Computational Aerodynamics Research Centre and breathed in the fresh air of the Oxfordshire countryside. Looking down I saw a black and yellow caterpillar (tyria jacobaeae). They think of everything, these F1 teams.

You guessed it? This was a virtual trip to Hungary. We were in fact at the Renault F1 factory in the fields surrounding the very English village of Enstone. And you too can enjoy the delights of ‘Raceday with Renault’. All you need is £175 and the team takes care of the rest. For maximum enjoyment, take your mates and book a table for 10. It’s so much more fun than inviting them all round to watch your television.

Should you be tempted, contact Gaby Mills at Renault F1 (01608 678000 or e-mail [email protected]). You may be in time for breakfast at Monza…

What I wasn’t able to divulge at the beginning is that the day starts in the team’s Heritage and Communications Centre where you may wander among the Renaults raced by René Arnoux, Alain Prost, Jean-Pierre Jabouille and Fernando Alonso. So many memories. Returning to Madame Mégane in the car park at the end of the day, she looked a little ruffled by the presence of so many of the Regie’s rather more racy stablemates.

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