It’s the waiting that does for you.
You wake up a couple of hours later than usual, but you feel tired, discombobulated, because you went to bed later so everything is just … a little off, like the ghost of a tune in your head that you just can’t name. You get up and dress, and you’re down for breakfast quicker than usual, disappointed that you didn’t manage to waste more time, that the clock will be longer than you wanted when you arrive at the track.
The hotel isn’t any help: it’s such a short walk to the paddock no matter how much you dawdle, and what is normally an advantage works against you when the timetable is as delayed as today. You walk in and say your hellos, you open the laptop and read your emails, but the piece of paper on the wall can’t be denied.
It says 18.40: Feature Race. It feels like a lifetime away.
You go downstairs to see who’s here, and the teams are just arriving too: they don’t need to be here this early either, but they come in just the same, because coming to the track is just what you do. You take a coffee at one of the teams, you swap small talk, they say I know, it’s crazy that we’re here so early, and you swap embarrassed smiles in acknowledgment of each other’s nameless, illogical need to be here.
More emails and correspondence, more things to fill the time, while the teams reconstruct their cars after dismantling them last night after they were returned from parc ferme, when they dropped the floor, pull apart the gearbox, made sure there were no surprises before closing up and going back to the hotel. They reverse it all this morning, no rush, clean as you go, take your time and stretch out the tasks, tinker until it’s time to screw it all back together, tighten by hand and make sure.
As the pitlane fills with GP3 cars and equipment their senior paddock mates look on with envy (they’re the lucky ones, not having to wait around all day, like us), and the race gives everyone left behind something to do, to fill the time, to stop them tinkering and re-tweaking strategies, to stop thinking and just absorb for a while.
The heat of the day is making its intentions clear. Everyone ignores it and stares at the screens, slinks into the shrinking shadows, waits out the clock.
The GP3 teams return, the drivers as well: quotes from the top three shows Dino to be happy to finish on a high but still conscious of correcting his grammar, Dean seems simultaneously delighted and furious, as though the win couldn’t make up for the disappointment of finding this car just too late in the season to push to the end, while Marvin smiles his face-wide smile, passing around the podium bottle of rose water to his family and team, declaring it’s really nice, it tastes like Sprite!
The GP2 teams go back to hurry up and wait, to lunching in groups upstairs in the catering area, to pitstop practice and strategising, to filling in the time somehow: it’s better when there’s no gaps really, one of the engineers acknowledges ruefully, otherwise we’re just second guessing ourselves all the time. It’s better not to have the time to think too much.
Eventually the drivers arrive, slinking in when they think no one is watching or counting the hours they sleep, every driver’s favourite (in)activity. There’s no point sleeping to lunchtime, another engineer notes, it doesn’t do any good. But there’s no point in them being here, in the dust: we keep them in the hotel, in the air conditioning, to swim, to use the gym, to not be round here.
And in the pitlane the golf carts standing guard in front of the pits, the fallen wall of tyres spread all around, the cars still up on the trestles in the back of the pits. As the lights come up and the sun starts the long, mazey wash to dusk everyone is standing around, talking, killing time: the young local guys are photographing each other doing handstands, Johnny Cecotto and his wife are leaning against each other, not moving, Conor Daly is sitting by himself in a golf cart, thumb and finger horns waggling to say hello, Jon Lancaster is leaning against the catch fence with his family, Evans wrestling with the mechanics and laughing, ART and DAMS are around their computers as usual, while old faces you’ve known for years wave hello, still here, chatting until an engine fires up, stating there’s the noise, I guess we’re starting and heading back into one pit or another.
F1 qualifying comes next, a distraction for which they’ve no longer got time as the teams build up to their time under lights. It doesn’t matter how much time you have, you always end up against it, whether it’s 3 hours or 12, don’t you? Piling the tyres on to the carts, the pace picking up, you can feel the atmosphere building as everyone goes about their jobs. No one is watching F1, just ten metres away: at least it’s not loud anymore, so we don’t need to wear ear protectors.
Everyone ready to go, the teams are either waiting by their golf carts or standing next to the cars with starters: the signal comes and they flick the switch, the cars roar awake and the drivers nonchalantly flip their visors and roll into the pitlane, a cruise around the circuit to the pits as the remainder of the teams run for the bus to meet them there.
It’s night time now, the strange green wash of the lights bleeding out blues to black as the teams descend on the cars for last minute tweaks, fingers busy to ignore the ticking clock before they’re rolling again, down the pitlane and into the tunnel as the teams run to meet them on the grid and more standing, waiting.
You chat without hearing what’s being said and then the cars are here, the colour without the noise as they roll through the throng, and everyone is doing lengths, checking tyres and being seen, the clock almost audible in our heads as we wait for the siren that tells us it’s time to go, to leave the track to the drivers, to let them breathe.
Sitting on the pitwall everything is done, and it’s when the nerves start to come, the fidgeting hands, the jumping feet, the inability to sit still. It’s now you think as all eyes are on the monitors, showing the cars, the helmets and visors, the lights going on, on, on, and off.
The waiting is over.