|Fans flying the flag
So, my dad and I being long time fans of Formula 1, we thought, while we were in Brazil, we should catch the race. It was Michael Schumacher’s last race (the first time, 2006). Why not. We had done every grand prix in Adelaide and even a couple in Melbourne. Sao Paolo seemed like the next logical step.
I’m going to have a whine about it. That’s right, a first-world whine.
Our adventure started at the hotel. We were unsure of where we were going and how long it would take to get to the track (despite rather extensive research!) because there was no circuit information available in English. So when I spied a fellow milling about the hotel foyer with a Ferrari cap and knapsack I quietly idled by a pot plant and waited. When a taxi arrived for him, I swooped. Before this poor fellow could get in the front and shut the door, my father and I were halfway in the backseat on each side and I’m smiling winningly and pointing to my F1 entry pass. Dad and I shut the doors, pulled on our seatbelts, smiled again and waited. The totally frazzled fellow at the front spoke Portuguese to the driver and away we went. We never actually confirmed we were going to the same place but it worked out well.
|Beyond the cyclone fencing and metal poles,
there is a Ferrari. I promise.
Street circuit vs race track
We quickly realised the difference between street circuits (Adelaide, Melbourne, Monaco, Singapore) and a dedicated race meet at a purpose built circuit. It was hard to describe what was there. It’s easier to describe what was not there – no lattes, strawberries and ice-cream, no fashion parades, live bands, parachutes or stunt bikes. There was the race. There were very bad hot dogs sprinkled surprisingly with potato chips and there was overly frothy beer. You had to buy a ticket at one stall and then collect your food at another, which was fine if you spoke Portuguese (surprisingly, actually, how quickly you learn the words for ‘beer’ and ‘sandwich’.). There was a single stand selling Ferrari gear and a couple selling Renault. That’s all. Unfortunately, there was also so much cyclone fencing between any vantage point and the track that I almost went blind.
Brazil = party atmosphere: wrong
Sure, we watched the cars zoom down the Senna S curve. Sure, the qualifying was exciting, Massa got pole and went on to win. Yeah, yeah it was Schumacher’s last race (started 10th, dropped to last, and then finished 4th). This is not a racing report. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve followed F1 since I was 12 and I’ve diligently watched every race live ever since (well, let’s say 90%). I can tell you what the DRS system and KERS is all about. But I was in Brazil! At an F1 motor race! And I was cold and bored and hungry! Where was the excitement? The glamour? That’s right – dad and I were disappointed. We were downright grumpy and narky with disappointment. We had to buy umbrellas and coats! Where was the glorious Brazilian sunshine? Where was my actual seat for crying out load? All I had was a wooden slat!
Abrupt start / abrupt finish
Whilst my father and I wandered into the circuit on the first day chattering and excited like kids at a birthday party, we soon became bored and disconsolate. There were very few support races, very few English / Italian speakers in the stands to chat with, very little will to sit on our wooden slat for too much longer. I suggested we wander around outside a little and see what the neighbourhood was like (the circuit sits snugly within an ordinary suburb). But upon trying to leave we were pounced upon by an aggressive female security guard who kept saying ‘No, no!’ and shaking her head sternly. Um?? Eventually she managed to indicate that if we left, we would not be allowed to re-enter the circuit until tomorrow. We didn’t want to miss the actual reason we were there – F1 Friday Free Practice – so, we slunk back to our seats, feeling a little like prisoners. A feeling that was reinforced by the cyclone fencing.
After the race, when my new circuit friend Jackie, possibly Schumacher’s biggest fan (after all, she flew in from Newcastle, UK, for only three days), stopped sobbing hysterically, we sighed, hugged and prepared to listen to the drivers at the after race press conference. But even that was thwarted! A line of reckless- and edgy-looking policemen started at one end of our grandstand and systematically swept everyone out before the champagne cork popped. For goodness sake – what about this legendary atmosphere? Where’s the sense in turning out 80 000 people all at once? Taxi! Taxi!!!????? Another fellow we’d met at the track (an English-speaking Brazilian from Fortaleza) herded us away and encouraged us not to provoke the policemen. ‘You never know’ he said.
There was a happy ending of course. We caught a bus into town with the other 80 000 folks and then asked a taxi driver to take us to a good Italian restaurant. We were deposited at Lellis and ordered various mountainous platters of pasta to share. We were like a good joke. An Australian, an Englishman, an Italian and a Brazilian walked into a restaurant….
And after all, the point for me was not that I was witnessing Schumacher’s last race, or that I was watching the F1 in Sao Paolo, Brazil. It was the fact that I was sharing it was my dad (see Sao Paolo, Brazil via the 1950s) – something pretty special to me, despite my first-world whining.