You wake up early, too early, out of kilter with the timetable and time itself, which lays folded over your head as you stumble around looking for where you left your phone, just to stop the squall of the alarm. Shower and dress, pack your bag and you wait in ambush for the day to edge back towards you. Today is the day, you think to yourself, unless it’s not. That’s how championships work.
Downstairs for coffee and whatever they have that’s breakfast shaped, Alexa waving and walking over when she arrives, already thinking of the day ahead: you can see the wheels turning behind her eyes. You don’t think of this consciously, of course, but all season you have worked towards this day, unaware, and you know you just have to get through.
You pass the pool as you leave, another day in which you don’t swim to match every other hotel around the globe, down the back stairs and out into the already radiating street, and across and over to the circuit. Around the bus of track workers and past the milling queues at the metal detectors, one for men one for women, and the familiar beep beep the signal here that you are welcome, that you can re-enter this world, rather than the usual sign to stop, to retreat.
Upstairs you say the usual hellos to people you don’t know but who all do something to keep the circus circulating, even if only while it’s here, and a smile to match the hello in the FIA office for the guardians of the coffee machine, the men who control access to the track’s lifeblood, before you head into your office to fire up the laptop, check the messages, and prepare for the onslaught to come.
You know you’ll be fine - you’ve done this many, many times - but there is always that nervous flutter in your stomach, that nervousness betrayed in an involuntary flutter of your fingers, of an almost imperceptible catch in your voice and in those of the others here today, all of you sharing this load together. There’s so much that needs to be done, to be pre-prepared, to be ready for the one shot you have when it happens and you have to get it done, on time, live.
The paddock is completely empty, the teams huddling in their pits and synchronising their focus, dreaming themselves into another position, a better one, for the race to come, with the families of the drivers standing at the back of the pits, willing themselves small so they’re not in the way but secretly delighted to be right here, a mute witness, and the baking sun pushing any other stragglers into whatever shade can be found.
Soon, already, the call goes up and you’re collecting your machinery and heading for the door, the teams rattling past your window as they drag their own equipment towards the pitlane three corners away. It feels like we’ve only been here for 30 minutes, you say to no response as that steel factory heat blasts you from all sides as you walk slightly too fast across the aqua and white stripes to do what you do when you come to a place like this.
Despite the heat you delight slightly in the illicit thrill of walking on an almost live race track, a feeling which becomes more visceral as you hear the distant howl of 26 engines firing up and moving: they’ll be here soon, you stifle a smile as you pick up the pace, anytime now. You’ll make it in time, you know from experience, but those people behind better move: on cue the marshals yell at them, and they squeak as they break into a run.
A turn of direction and you’re entering the pitlane, a fresh blast of heat from another side just as the shade hoves into view, the blessed relief of the relative coolness before the noise arrives. Sometimes the pitlane can be friendly ahead of the war, but not here, not today, not with so much at stake: everyone has their faces set as they lean into their jobs, looking nowhere but the focus of their attention until the cars are fired up and gone.
The grid walk is usually the best part of the job, the relative calm before the metaphoric storm, but the heat and the atmosphere pushes you back sooner than usual, with the premise of one small preparation left undone the excuse to return you to the pitwall, to your seat for the next hour, for a dram of quiet to finish the task before everyone else returns and it all happens.
The stall of the three towards the back, and the resultant additional formation lap. The frantic waving of Sam Bird as the lights wink out, the stutter blurt of Alexander Rossi and the silk smooth rush of Fabio Leimer and Jolyon Palmer as they glide by, the remainder to follow on best terms. The calculations in Fabio’s head, the go easy, don’t risk of his first two corners and the return of the glide afterwards. The crash, the he’s lifting that wing off his helmet, the fingernails in the arm, the safety car to follow.
The lay mathematics in a pitlane of high priests as we try to work out strategies in live time using nothing but our heads and experience, while the engineers push their heads closer to their laptops, smiling or frowning before catching themselves and returning their faces to default in case of cameras nearby.
And in the end, the release.
You return the way you came, Carlin single-filing behind you all the way back, formulating this nonsense into human form in your head before your fingers put it down for you, and you head out for the quotes, the next part. You find Jolyon as F1 fires up, forcing you both into Carlin’s storage box to escape the noise.
Alexander next, on his own apart from his phone chirruping away to itself, and you point out that you need somewhere quieter, however remote that seems. Where? he asks, not unreasonably, and you wheel around before suggesting the toilet, his face responding with a mixture of bewilderment and surprise before meekly following you into the tiny room, acceptance the better course in the course of just getting it done.
Then Marcus, upstairs in the cafe with his engineer, the pair surrounded by broad grins and bonhomie earned in a fat-from-the-fire performance they’d just done, an I’ll show you style drive by the Swede at the end of a tough season of expectation demolition.
And finally Fabio, our champion, in a t-shirt made at the time in hope, now earned, of the performance that came, speaking endlessly to some German journalist who wanted more time with him than he should ever have expected. Fabio, ever charming, gave it to him, the not-yet-in-F1-ness of the Swiss driver who may have his free time cut to the bone next year, if his new dreams run to fruition.
You return to write, ever write, to try to shoehorn life into an easier narrative, a four-four beat to smother the free jazz angularness of the day, in the time between now and the soon to come GP3 storm, more of the same with a new fresh flavour, and the help with that load you will pay back.
It never ends, this motor racing business, you think to yourself as you weigh up a final few metaphors for their heft before reverting to cliche. Still, you rapidly realise, it beats working.