14th May 2013
We’ve all been there: shooting the breeze, chewing the fat, speaking small talk, filling-in time.
19 times this year, one and a half hours before the five red lights go out, our nomex-clad heroes will do just that.
It’s Drivers’ Parade time and everyone’s on show.
Prior to a lap of some crowd-pleasing but often nonchalant hand waving, the 22 racers are corralled together in a conveniently empty pit garage ready for the short walk to their transport (either individual classic cars or an articulated truck trailer – or, at Shanghai, a double-decker bus).
This pre-parade period is just about the most revealing 10 minutes of a grand prix weekend.
First to arrive it’s the new guys: Dutchman Giedo Van der Garde, English pretty boy Max Chilton, the ever-so-quiet Charles Pic and child-like Esteban Gutierrez make for an uncomfortable quartet.
They’re not alone for long; here come the Nicos. Rosberg and Hulkenberg form a German alliance, quickly joined by oh-so-aware-of-himself Adrian Sutil. Standing together these three Aryan-like young men look for all the world as if they came from the same racing driver production line. Behind mirrored shades, they seem happy in their trio.
Standing close is the brooding and cool Jean-Éric Vergne. If this dude put as much effort into his driving as he does his look, superstardom would surely follow.
‘Jev’ as he’s known in the trade, often chats with fellow Frenchman Romain Grosjean. Of course when I say ‘chats with’, I mean ‘shares a polite word or three between pensive poses for the shot-hungry photographers looking on’.
Vergne’s Toro Rosso team-mate, Australian lad Daniel Ricciardo, is a contrast in the extreme. Bouncing up and down like a labrador puppy, he’ll chat with anyone.
Mark Webber, Jenson Button and Felipe Massa – the Brazilian matey with ‘Checo’ Perez – are always popular, polite and friendly. Welcome companions for all and always in demand.
Laughing, joking, sharing stories of road car purchases and dalliances with female friends, these men could be enacting a scene from many a (privileged) school playground anywhere worldwide.
Obviously not everyone is happy in this convivial collective. Paul di Resta, Valterri Bottas and Pastor Maldonado rarely look happy to be here.
For those uneasy, unconfident souls, a metaphorical baby’s blanket is provided by their ever-present drinks bottle, long transparent straw curled up to their mouths they suck hard on energy-inducing liquid.
Kimi Raikkonen – cap pulled hard down and television-sized shades in place – chats quietly with anyone he deems worthy.
Just like any schoolyard there is a main man, the coolest cat in class, the guy everyone wants to seen with.
In walks Fernando.
Purposeful in his gait, ever so confident in his skin, Alonso is the man. Where’s he going to go? Who’s going to get the honour of his attention?
Jules Bianchi is the lucky guy.
Some nervous glances are darted in the Spaniard’s direction and he selectively bestows a greeting to a select few. The hapless Sutil’s open palm is brushed aside as, stretching out their hands, the Nicos are happy and relieved to receive Fernando’s goodwill.
Sutil looks as crestfallen and uncomfortable as I’ve ever seen anyone, anywhere.
The 10 minutes are up, the announcer is ready and off they go, shuffling away to their various rides.
Where’s our champion?
Here he comes, bouncing along, always smiling, looking like he should be arriving on a kid’s stunt scooter; Sebastian Vettel is ready to go.
But hang on – aren’t we missing someone?
Lewis, wannabe rap star Lewis. Free from McLaren’s restraints for 2013, our homeboy from Hertfordshire is more often than not the last to arrive.
Earphones playing banging tunes, ill-fitting and way too long jeans slipping off his waist, bright white basketball boot tongues flapping on his feet, diamond ear studs glinting in the sunlight, Hamilton scuffs his way – sucking on a straw, of course – to the grid.
And that’s it. They’re gone.
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