Car cracking with Renault

As the year draws to a close, it's always fun to look back on the highlights. One of these was a sunny though otherwise unremarkable Thursday afternoon in Hockenheim, the third of three Formula One test sessions with Felipe Massa topping the time list, two tenths ahead of Heikki Kovalainen. I stroll through the paddock looking for someone who might be susceptible to interview. All of a sudden, my attention is attracted by a knot of people gathered in front of the Renault team pavilion.

Several mechanics are clustered round a black Audi. They are joined by Nelsinho Piquet who had already finished his test stint on Tuesday. The Brazilian looks relatively unconcerned, withdraws to a vantage point between the team trucks and observes what happens next in a detached manner.

The dilemma facing the Renault crew rapidly becomes apparent. The Audi (why, pray, an Audi?) looks OK, except that its doors are locked and windows shut. The young Renault mechanic with a bent wire clothes hanger has no time to admire the car's external aspects as he vainly attempts to work his way round a closed window. Despite the throng of willing helpers, no-one can get in, as the key is inside.

Presently, some mechanics from Ferrari and BMW wander across, proffering a mix of helpful and ribald comments. Someone starts fiddling around with the petrol flap (why exactly is a mystery) and eventually gets it open. This doesn't advance the cause, though it leaves traces in the paintwork. Someone else returns with a jemmy and attempts to force open the passenger window to gain access to the door lock. Others are discussing whether the left-hand or right-hand side window would be better for their purposes. It soon becomes clear what they are planning, as another mechanic comes across from the garage wielding a hammer.

Everyone stands back as he swings the hammer and brings it crashing down. Yet despite an almighty thud, nothing happens. The window pane resists several more blows before the Renault man gives up in despair. But he too has achieved some measure of success: there are clear marks of his endeavours on the window of the hired car. A long crowbar is now brought into action: with a degree of angular dexterity, a modicum of brute force and a bit of luck, the window edges lower. The car has been cracked and the door is rapidly opened. Applause breaks out in the Renault hospitality area.

Nelsinho Piquet has suddenly re-materialised and is ready for departure. The Renault star gets into the driver's seat, performs a tight turn, manages not to run over any of the amused spectators and roars off down the road in the Audi (yes, we're still wondering why an Audi). A short time later, the now less than immaculate hire vehicle returns to the paddock with the co-driver at the wheel to resume its accustomed parking spot. This time, though, the windows on both the driver's and passenger's side remain slightly open...
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