Paddock postcard from Barcelona 04 May 2003
As ever, the Formula One paddock has been heaving all weekend as visiting celebrities mingle with team personnel.
On Friday Team Sauber Petronas sponsor Credit Suisse invited Swiss tri-athlete Brigitte McMahon, winner of gold at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, to try the cockpit of a Sauber Petronas C22 for size. During the course of the weekend Barcelona footballers Marc Overmaars, Frank De Boer and Patrick Kluivert all made appearances, to the excitement of all the paddock's numerous football aficionados.
Fresh from his emotional victory in the Afrikaans 500 Moto GP race at Welcom last weekend, Telefonica Pons Honda rider Sete Gibernau came along to see how his four-wheeled counterparts do business. Gibernau's team-mate, Japanese rider Daijiro Kato, died on Easter Day as a result of injuries sustained in an accident in the 500cc opener at Suzuka, and in a piece of outstandingly moving and honourable sportsmanship the Spaniard dedicated his dramatic victory over world champion Valentino Rossi to his fallen colleague.
Olympic rower James Cracknell is also here, together with girlfriend Beverly Turner, the ITV television presenter.
Past racing drivers galore have been cruising around. Niki Lauda remains a fixture on the scene, as does Sir Jackie Stewart, whose brother Jimmy, a former driver, and lifelong friend John Lindsay, accompanied him. Thierry Boutsen, Gabriele Tarquini, Luis Perez Sala and Adrian Campos are also here, as is F3 aspirant Laurent Delahaye, who once fought for the world karting championship with the likes of Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso.
Ralph Firman Senior is also in the paddock. The proprietor of Van Diemen racing cars is witnessing his son racing in Formula One for the first time, and brought him good fortune as he outqualified team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella for the first time.
The main talking point of the weekend naturally surrounds the Jaguar team, where the future of Antonio Pizzonia remains under scrutiny. Team managers indicated prior to the meeting that the Brazilian would certainly be in the car this weekend but would not commit themselves beyond that. Yesterday McLaren chief Ron Dennis said that he had indicated in a written proposal to the Jaguar management his non-negotiable terms for releasing third driver Alexander Wurz to replace Pizzonia, including a financial settlement that Jaguar is said not to be keen to pay.
At present the temperature is 21 degrees C and is still sidling up towards its expected high of 23, which means that the race is going to be very hard on tyres, just as Michael Schumacher has been predicting all weekend.
"We can expect a very tough race," Ferrari sporting director Jean Todt said this morning, "especially as far as the tyres are concerned."
The left front takes the most punishment, followed by the left rear, and several teams are expected to opt for three-stop strategies for the 65 lap race.