Saturday, November 7, 2009

Racing to Melbourne for the Formula one - the end

We eat Malaysian, Greek, Indonesian and each night evaluate a different gelato shop. We walk down the thin back streets to a bakery to buy the last of today's bread at discount prices for tomorrow's lunch.
At the track a bottle of Gatorade is $4.20 on Thursday afternoon, $4.80 on Friday morning and $5 by Friday afternoon. Saturday my fellow race watcher stops buying Gatorade.
Saturday is qualifying day. We watch qualifying from Brockie's Hill on the back of the circuit and it has a big screen opposite so we can see the timings. The hill is almost empty when we arrive, but once qualifying starts I have to strain on my toes to see the cars through the crowd. Behind us the fairground rides still run with squeals from passengers enjoying no queues.
Ralf Schumacher's Toyota breaks something and on the big screen I can see it crawling slowly back to the pits. When he passes in front of us he is still going fast, it just looks slow compared to a Formula One car at full speed. Kimi Raikkonen secures pole position.
On race day turn nine, our chosen viewing spot, is already neatly laid out as a grandstand of deckchairs and we congregate behind the last row. The race is still five and half hours away and we spend the time subtly fighting to keep our piece of dusty turf.
The crowd is much more cosmopolitan. We meet Daniel from France. He has travelled the world going to Grand Prix. Daniel has a stand ticket but is in the general admission area because he can take better photographs without the double safety fences in front of the stands. Behind us arrives a group of Poles supporting Robert Kubica. Beside us are some Scots.
The tension and excitement builds until finally we hear Formula one engines starting and then the cars appear on their way to the grid and then again for their formation lap.
It is fantastic. First I see the race start on the big screen and then they come into view as small dark shapes that grow rapidly and then they are braking for the corner. A Spyker pushes a Super Aguri car roughly, momentarily off track and then they are gone, the roar of the engines trailing behind. After that the race goes by surprisingly fast. It seems it has barely begun and they are on the last lap. A mere one hour, forty-five minutes later it is over. Kimi Raikkonen's lead in his Ferrari went unchallenged but Lewis Hamilton, in his first ever Grand Prix, takes third.
The crowd pours onto the circuit. I wade ankle deep across the fluorescent pink stones in the corner and then my feet are sticking to the rumble strip as if it is covered in sugar. I find the marbles so often mentioned in the television commentary. They are black, thumbnail size scraps of sticky, tyre rubber. I can squeeze them in my fingers. There are millions of them lying on the tarmac.
We begin walking around the track to the front straight. Again I realise how fast the cars are. It is a long walk. Sporadically there are loud horns as tow trucks carry damaged cars back to the pits.
Workers are already moving across the spectator mounds picking up rubbish. A fan is climbing a fence post to get a sponsor's sign to take home. A large forklift and crane are beginning to dismantle the safety fence.
On the starting grid thousands of photographs are being taken of friends sitting in grid slots or standing on the finish line. The fence alongside the pits is also a wall of people holding cameras aloft. On the other side crews are packing up their gear. The team stands on the pit wall are already down.
We walk the last piece of the track that in a few days will return to being Aughtie Drive. As we walk out the gates, there is a line of trucks with crates on their trailers sporting team names. Everything is off to Malaysia.
I climb aboard a crammed, happy tram for home. I decide my favourite day was Saturday. I saw the Formula One cars twice on track and qualifying was very exciting. It also had the tension of waiting for the climax of Sunday's race. Oh and the toilets at the track are as clean at end of the four days, as they were at the beginning.
In the evening we walk to the famous Italiano stretch of Melbourne, Lygon Street. Seating flows out from the restaurants onto the footpaths. The tables are filled with people sporting team colours and sun reddened faces. A race replay is flickering at the back of a restaurant and commentary is competing with a neighbouring restaurant's music. A waiter squeezes between the stream of pedestrians to deliver a platter piled high with crabs, mussels and a lobster. The Ferrari flags are flying in the gentle breeze. The camaraderie of a shared passion lives long after the gates close.

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5 Favourite Sights Seen

  • 1996 Watching tropical lightning turn night to day, outside a little wooden church in a small village in Sabah.
  • 2004 Flying down the Rainbow Valley at 8000ft in a cessna on a clear blue day.
  • 2003 Seeing and hearing Michael Schmacher rolling out of the pit garage in his Ferrari in Hungary.
  • 2009 Chancing upon 100 or more dolphins just off the Kaikoura Coast swimming around, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults and generally having fun.
  • 2006 Finding a pool at the bottom of a waterfall in the bush at Kaikoura that was full of playing baby seals.