I never knew Finns were so chatty until I came to Monza. Of course, it might be because they were drunk.
Although that didn't make much difference when I travelled to Helsinki all those years ago, when I would sit at the bar writing into my notebook as all around me there would be tables of Finnish men sitting in silence with a bottle of vodka swapping back and forth between them. Local girls would come over and ask me what I'm writing, so starved of conversation that they chose me as their chat target. Which was silly, as I'm not known for chatting.
"So, you must be a Mercedes man," the first drunk Finn, a combination of white hair, tattoos, Ferrari shirt and booze breath, said as he collared me in the store next to our paddock, to where I had retreated while I waited for Pauline and Leandra to return from their track walk, begun just before I arrived at the circuit. No I said, hoping that would bring the conversation to an early finish.
"Oh!" beamed the other one, darker and more tattooed but similarly attired in Ferrari gear and alcoholic fumes, "You are for Ferrari!" Not so much I gasped as I involuntarily stepped backwards, looking for clear air. "Then," the first one stuttered, "what?" GP2 I stated, an answer that stumped my inquisitors. "You are British?" he queried, as though that would be the magical answer to clear everything up. Australian I posited, looking for the exit with increasing fear. "Ahh!" the second one blurted, slapping his thigh with his elaborately painted arm as though he'd solved the conundrum of the Higgs Boson particle before looking at me expectantly, as though it was my turn on the giddily leaning conversational roundabout.
I thought for a minute before retorting and you are ... Dutch? "HAAHAAHAAHAA!!" the pair howled, tears streaming down their faces as their volume increased. "YOU ARE TOO FUNNY!! No, we are Finnish! FOR KIMI!! Do you want to go for a drink now?" Thanks, I replied, but I have to get back to work. "YOU WORK HERE?!?!" they blurted, but I was already out the door and headed back to the safety of the paddock.
Once safely ensconsed behind the gates I went for a walk to see who was around, and Gustav Malja was playing football with his mechanics in the open space next to the Rapax truck: he looked up and came over to shake hands, saying hi as he approached. Nice work last week I suggested. Thanks he replied, and we both went back to our own respective worlds without outstaying each other's welcome.
In the morning everyone was getting ready for free practice, with a few of the drivers watching the F1 session in hospitality while they waited. Arthur Pic was there with his trainer Emilien Colombain, whose right leg was elaborately strapped up to deal with an extensively torn thigh muscle. I think: to be honest, I was struggling to listen after he explained the damage, from which frankly grisly details I shall spare you.
Suffice to say, he's going to be out of action for the rest of the year. Which is a bit of a problem when you're a personal trainer. But your job is, well, to keep him fit? The scowl on Arthur's face suggested the thought wasn't lost on him, but Emilien put on a brave front, suggesting there was plenty he could do, even in his current debilitated state, despite the workload the pair famously put in (as previously detailed here). Okay, let me know if you need someone to kick a ball with him for you...
Free practice came and went, and when I saw Gustav eating his lunch I asked him how his session had gone. He put down his knife and fork, thought for a minute before noting messy, and returning to his meal. And with 3 VSC periods it's hard to argue with his summation, as marvelously brief as it was.
The main problem for new drivers to Monza is slipstreaming. A circuit this fast and flowing demands that you get a good tow for much of the lap to ensure your laptime is as good as it can be, but that's easier said than done: get too close and you're compromised at the chicanes and Ascari, but not close enough and you don't get the benefit of the tow.
One person who didn't seem to worry about it was Artem Markelov, but then again there seems to be very little he does worry about. Arriving in the paddock yesterday his team were practicing pitstops, and he sat in the car in a pair of shorts and little else, doing stop after stop with the same serene, impenetrable half smile on his face as he rolled back and forth time and again, the same smile he had on his face when his car stopped halfway through the practice session at the entry to Parabolica, and that he had on his face in the press conference after he had brought home his best qualifying performance for third.
Maybe he needed to pull up short in practice more often, I suggested, given the great qualifying session he'd had. To his credit he laughed, and said "yeah, maybe we will do the same for the next race, just do 9 laps and stop, then go quicker in qualifying!"
It was clearly better than Gustav's session: the Swede was just over a second off the pace, but given the closeness of the field in Monza he finished the session in P18. I asked him how he'd gone when I saw him at dinner, not having read the timesheets all the way down, and he looked up, considered for a moment, then simply stated shit.
It got a little better for him not long after, albeit at the expense of Antonio Giovinazzi and Nabil Jeffri, who saw his best qualifying result removed as the pair were excluded from the session for having inadequate tyre pressures. I wrote up the news story explaining what had happened and then walked outside to see a number of people crowding around the notice board to see what had happened, including Gustav.
Two spots better now, I noted, and the Swede smiled. Anything can happen in a race he replied, before picking up his bag and heading out of the circuit for the night, and as I watched him walk away I thought I'm not happy about this development: he's getting as chatty as a Finn.
So from now on I'll just talk to Jimmy Eriksson: at least I know I won't have to get tied up in a long, rambling chat like I do with his countryman now.