Paddock Diary: 2023 Spanish Grand Prix

2023 Spanish Grand Prix

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The Spanish Grand Prix was not as blisteringly hot as last year and served up a better race – though things did not go entirely smoothly behind the scenes.


After spending a few days in Nice to recharge my batteries after a manic Monaco Grand Prix, I was pleasantly surprised by the short trip across to Spain on Wednesday morning with no travel trouble. Stepping off the plane to blue skies, I collected my hire car and drove the 35 minutes to the hotel in Mataró which is around 20 minutes from the circuit.

Last year scorching heat made for an uncomfortable Spanish Grand Prix, especially for the fans, which wasn’t helped by poor traffic management. Yet I was encouraged by the first morning drive in, despite struggling to find any official signs on the roads to tell us where media, or indeed anyone, were supposed to go.

The paddock was relatively quiet as we walked in ready for a chat with Valtteri Bottas in Alfa Romeo’s surprisingly warm hospitality unit. “The aircon is broken,” Bottas remarked before the first media session of the weekend began. Even the most glamorous sport in the world isn’t immune to mundane problems.

Thursday passed in the usual blur of media calls including plenty of chatter around the changes to the last sector. But the final session of the day stood out.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2023Haas team principal Guenther Steiner greeted us as politely as always and the conversation quickly turned to Nico Hulkenberg’s penalty in Monaco. Steiner explained why he could not understand his driver’s a penalty, and called on the FIA to improve the standard of stewarding in the sport.

He later got himself in hot water with the stewards for some of comments he made. I felt his comments were meant with respect, and he was more interested in fixing a problem in the sport, rather than pointing the finger at the stewards or the FIA.

One positive of the day was Spain had upped their catering from last year’s offering of bowls of crisps and peanuts to lunch bags next to the media centre: The vegetarian option was fake chicken pieces with rocket and a handful of stale corn tacos.

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Esteban Ocon, Alpine, Circuit de Catalunya, 2023

Encouraged once again by the ease of the traffic on a beautiful Catalunya morning, we had a relatively chilled journey into the track. Fans wearing Aston Martin and Ferrari gear milled around to cheer on Spain’s two drivers, Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz Jnr.

Practice went much as expected, and before we knew it was time for the press conference. I sat down in front of the four team principals in a small room next to the media centre.

When the press conference was done I bumped into Mike Krack and was reminded of my Monaco promise to wear a pair of Aston Martin socks over the Barcelona race weekend. “Come now! I remembered them, they’re on my desk!” It turned out Mike needed to go to the TV pen so I assured him I would come and grab the socks at a later time that suited Aston.

As second practice got underway my phone pinged. The head of communications had texted me “delivery for CC” with a picture of some green socks. I laughed, and made my way down to Aston to retrieve them…


Following the positive experience with the traffic arrangements the day before, we left the track around 10am and trusted the sat-nav to get us to the media car park.

Around seven minutes away from the track we encountered a bit of traffic, which didn’t concern us as we were so close to the track, and we lined up waiting for the queue to move. Some three hours later, following various arguments with stewards who had blocked the way in for us, we finally parked up.

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Lance Stroll, Aston Martin, Circuit de Catalunya, 2023By now the skies had darkened, illuminated periodically by flashes of forked lightning. Furious with the unnecessary hold up I rushed into the media centre with a colleague to start getting on with work as final practice began.

From what I could see on social media we were not the only ones to have been caught out by traffic management problems, and many fans were still stuck in long queues. After over 30 years of hosting the race this is not acceptable, and the promoters have a lot of work to do when the contract comes up for renewal in a few years’ time.

Trying to cheer myself up, I headed down to Aston Martin to showcase my new outfit. Green socks and a white shirt dress was certainly a look, but a bet was a bet and I was holding up my end of the agreement. “Very good,” Krack laughed as he spotted my feet, adding he expected to see the same tomorrow as he headed to the engineering room to talk to the team ahead of qualifying.

The team didn’t appear to benefit much from my support: Both drivers went off and Alonso took his worst starting position of the year at home. But Sainz brought smiles for local fans, claiming a spot on the front run alongside inevitable pole-winner Max Verstappen.


Stung by Saturday’s experience we headed in far too early, six hours before the race to be exact, I was excited to see Jo Ramirez, Ayrton Senna’s engineer from his McLaren days, heading in to the track too. Sporting a fetching shirt with cars on it, he wandered past fans who appeared not to clock who he was.

I spent the morning doing some work before heading on to the grid for race day. As I was walking towards the walkway to the pit lane I saw Andreas Seidl, the former McLaren boss and now CEO at Sauber, laying the groundwork for the arrival of Audi in 2026. Whistling as he always is he waved as he walked past, briefly exchanging a hello.

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Walking on to the extremely busy grid I saw Toto Wolff and stopped to say hello. We briefly chatted about the bizarre incident which occured between Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, who tangled on the pit straight not far from where we were standing.

An unfortunate incident, Wolff explained as I nodded in agreement. We turned our attention to the weather. “Do you want rain?” I asked. “I don’t care!” came the reply as big smile spread across his face. Clearly he had some confidence in the race day performance of their overhauled W14 but we were interrupted by the pre-race national anthem performance so we said our goodbyes.

With no retirements I got to watch the entire race from the press room before speaking to the drivers at the media pen. Lando Norris was particularly disheartened after starting third on the grid but ruining his race in a turn two clash with Hamilton, and offered a few words to even explain his disappointment.

Charles Leclerc rivalled him for most downcast driver of the day, having gone out in Q1 yesterday and laboured all afternoon to come away with no points. He leant on the fence separating him from us and though his body language was open it seemed very much like a “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry” weekend for the Ferrari driver.

Disappointingly, we didn’t get to hear from a couple of team principals who cancelled their media availability at the last minute. With less going on than expected at the end of the day, and as the vegetarian option in the media centre appeared to be a bowl of rocket leaves and little else, I headed out to find some dinner.

Red Bull, Circuit de Catalunya, 2023

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2023 Spanish Grand Prix

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Author information

Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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4 comments on “Paddock Diary: 2023 Spanish Grand Prix”

  1. isthatglock21
    6th June 2023, 14:58

    Same old traffic issues every year it seems. But how do drivers/senior team members get in on time? I doubt they’re spending hours in traffic or arriving at 7am surely? A closed lane for VIPs? Is there some special backroad few miles out or closed lane? I know Silverstone is helicopter central. Got to be something as doubt even celebrities would bother with such events if there wasn’t.

  2. Card-carrying Americaners might not know that “rocket” is “arugula” and/or “roquette” … a salad green. FWIW.

    1. You missed the reference to “crisps”, which are what you good folk to the west of the Atlantic call “chips”, which on the eastern side of the Atlantic means the things you good folk call french fries.
      I hope our non-Anglophone friends are still following.

  3. And still no pictures of the socks! Thanks for the insight.

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