One of the things about being an F1 journalist that attracted me to the job on day one was the prospect of travelling the world and seeing new places. After three seasons of paying my dues by travelling exclusively to European races, last month I packed my bags for my very first long-haul Grand Prix trip to Australia and Malaysia.
Long haul travel out of Ireland had been notoriously difficult until recent years, but I was able to take advantage of Emirates' recently-launched service from Dublin to Dubai to get me to Melbourne for round one of the championship. The majority of the F1 media corps travels exclusively on Emirates for long-haul races and it's easy to see why. Delicious food, great service and luxurious airport lounges all add up to the most relaxing and enjoyable travel experience I've ever had, while their extensive route network allowed me to book my entire trip to Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur and back to Dublin on a single ticket.
After two largely meaningless days at the track on Thursday and Friday, the stage was set for an action-packed qualifying day at Albert Park. I was especially looking forward to Saturday as it was St Patrick's Day and being the charismatic Irishman I am, I had assembled a fitting green, white and orange outfit for the day, much to the amusement of my colleagues. Irish rock band the Cranberries were playing at F1 Rocks that night, but the late qualifying meant we couldn't make it in time. 30 minutes of Lenny Kravitz set the pulse racing nevertheless!
As for the on-track action in Albert Park that weekend, it's fair to say the absence of Sebastian Vettel from the top three in qualifying was greeted with delight in the press room, with the German having last not appeared in the post-qualifying press conference having been at the 2010 Italian Grand Prix. The race itself had plenty to keep us all entertained, from the first corner right up to when the last car crossed the line. A fantastic way to begin the season.
A lusciously green Malaysia greeted me at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) after my overnight flight on Wednesday. Having failed to get a minute's sleep on the flight it was a battle to stay awake, although I was thankfully more than prepared for the oppressive and sweltering 30 degree heat. The sauna-like temperatures and humidity were a welcome relief from rain and cold back home, while my trusty factor 40 sun cream kept my status as F1's whitest man in tact!
After a day of interviews and chats in the paddock on Thursday afternoon, it was off to the Pan Pacific hotel for title sponsor Petronas' annual media quiz. Along with learning that the length of the skybridge between the world famous Petronas Twin Towers was 58.5 metres, our team – including GP Week Editor Adam Hay-Nicholls, former Speed TV pitlane reporter Will Buxton and PA Sports journalist Ian Parkes – came away with a Canon Powershot G1X camera each, valued at some €800!
I got my first proper look at the twin towers on Saturday night at a Kelis concert. While the music was left wanting, its staging right under the towers was a sight to behold, with the 375-metre towers lit up beautifully against the night sky. The trip to KL was almost worth it just to see the towers.
In typical Malaysian style, there wasn't a drop of rain at the track between Thursday afternoon and ten minutes before the start of the race on Sunday. Afterwards many of us in the media centre agreed that we had just witnessed a classic race, one that will be looked back at in years to come as Pérez's breakthrough race and also possibly Alonso's finest hour.
For the Spaniard to have come through to win in the challenging wet/dry conditions in what is arguably the seventh quickest car on the grid was a fantastic achievement. The spotlight may have been stolen by Pérez and his equally fantastic drive, but I always had the feeling that Fernando would have been able to hold off the Sauber, as he did with Maldonado a week earlier.
After spending Monday afternoon in KL city centre taking in the surroundings, I was back on Emirates' B777 for the return flight to Ireland via Dubai. Things could scarcely have gone any better on my fortnight away. Travelling half-way around the world for F1 was fantastic fun, but returning home was equally exhilarating. U2's Beautiful Day blaring on the iPod while touching down at a gloriously sun-soaked Dublin Airport was a blissful way to end a memorable adventure!