From the air Malaysia looks like the largest palm plantation in the world. From the track to the airport to the outskirts of the city there is nothing to see but freeway and row after endless row of palm trees for as far as the eye can see. On the ground the environment changes as you close in on the city, becoming darker and greener as the jungle seems to take over with large buildings interspersed sparsely among the greenery, like the few remaining teeth in an old man's head. The heart of the capital, Kuala Lumpur, is amazingly modern; only the constant herds of Malays on noisy, buzzing motor scooters, holding enormous political flags in one hand and patting on the cars with their other, differentiates the city from so many others around the world.
And towering over everything in Kuala Lumpur are the Petronas Towers, looming high and lit in the twilight like two giant stretched onion domes covered with Christmas tree lights. Wherever you go in the city you can see them, the pole star leading the way. Everything in KL seems to be marked in location against them.
"It's not like it was when I came here seven years ago. It's too modern, too western. It's just not shitty enough," Will announced as we arrived at our hotel. Will has an uncanny resemblance to Toyota's test driver Ryan Briscoe, which is going to confuse some people if the latter ever gets a race seat. Fit, young and enthusiastic, Will is the kind of Englishman that I just seem to get along with, always willing to push me on to more whenever I feel the desire waning and start thinking about an early night.
Not that I had much chance of that in KL. My friends Craig and Suze were staying at the same hotel as Will and I. They were on their annual holiday, and they meant to make the most of it even if it killed me. "I might not be back in the hotel until nine each night," I warned them in advance.
"No problem," said Craig, rolling another of his endless stream of roll up cigarettes, "we'll just drink at the hotel bar until you get back, eh."
Craig, a round, non-maple leaf wearing Canadian, is always pragmatic about his drinking, and is easily adaptable to what life throws at him, working out the best course of refreshment with the aid of his PDA and his vast knowledge of drinking establishments worldwide. Suze has lived with Craig for long enough to know to defer to his knowledge on the subject; her job is to rein him in when he gets over enthusiastic. Apart they may struggle, but together they are a guarantee of a good night.
On our first night Craig's research pointed us towards Jalan Telawi - a chaotic, over-packed street full of bars where the locals go in search of fun. We found out why in the first bar, which was full to overflowing with young Malays dancing around the low tables covered in glasses and ashtrays. Craig disappeared for a moment before leading a waitress back bearing drinks.
"You can't wear that hat in here," she pointed to the flat hat holding my hair down as she yelled into my ear over the sounds pumped into existence by the bleach blonde, sunglassed DJ who looked alarmingly like Jaguar's press tsar Nav Sidhu.
"Why not?" I asked, wondering if I'd made yet another fashion faux pas.
"Because you can't," she replied over her shoulder, moving on to the next table through the mass of awkwardly wobbling group of my friends attempting to dance.
"Fine, but you're responsible for any emotional distress caused to the other patrons," I shot after her, unveiling the hideous form of my hours' old hat-hair onto an unsuspecting public. No one fainted, but we did seem to get more room around us from thereon.
The Nav, as the DJ became known, ran the room well, and everyone danced and drank solidly until his replacement came on and cleared the room. "I want to duck out now," was Will's take on the matter, and it was a popular one.
We managed to barge through the heaving crowd on the street sharply to find a cab. I love catching cabs through cities at night; there is something satisfying about watching a town glide past through the window of a car, seeing the various buildings, the giant blue roofed mosques and the arabesque structures grow and contract around us in the orangey gloom.
When my phone rang the next afternoon, I had my head in the bowl of the toilet next to the media centre, in that horrible state between hoping I don't throw up and willing myself to do so.
"Don't forget to pick up the timesheets for me." It was Bira. "Ask John for them if you can't get them. No, the other John. Blah, blah, blah, blah."
I wondered if there would be a discernible echo on the other end. I wondered if I would get through the conversation without throwing up. I concentrated on not dropping the phone.
"Are you alright?"
"Not really; I've got my head in a toilet bowl, and I'm about to puke."
"Okay. Don't forget the timesheets." Click.
I'd been okay at first. I was chasing down some interviews, talking to the PR people and feeling fine sitting inside their office in the paddock; it was as cold as a meat locker in there, which was a glorious change from the humidity just outside, and I was making the most of it. The humidity in Sepang, as you leave the air conditioned rooms, hits you like a large wet sponge taped to a boxer's fist. Maybe not a heavy weight boxer, but certainly a light middle weight who's been around the ring a few times and knows what he is doing with his fists.
I had to walk in and out a lot as I looked for people, and every time I was back inside the office was a blessed relief. It was the last trip outside to talk to Takuma Sato that did it; he was seemingly enjoying the heat, and after spending thirty minutes inside I was too, until my stomach told me it wasn't thrilled about anything at all, and I had to concentrate on not vomiting on a Grand Prix driver.
Agnes, the FIA's press delegate, noticed me at the entrance to the media centre.
"You look dreadful."
"I feel dreadful."
"Go to the doctor."
"I don't know any doctors in Malaysia."
"Go to any of the teams - they've all got doctors."
I stumbled back out into the heat and straight into the toilets. My phone rang, and I half listened. And then I stumbled downstairs and into the paddock.
"You look dreadful." I looked up and saw John One approaching me hesitantly. "Are you alright?"
"Wait here - I'll get the doctor. Sit down before you fall over." I sat in the shade outside his team's office, and eventually a worried looking Italian walked towards me, asked a couple of questions and held my wrist before disappearing again for a few minutes and coming back holding a glass of liquid.
"Drink this. It will taste horrible." He was right.
"Now drink this. It will taste worse." It did.
"Now sit here for ten minutes, and try to keep it all down." I did as I was told, and when he returned I was remarkably better. The problem was switching from hot to cold according to the doctor; it meant that I was unable to digest my lunch completely, with grim results. I have no idea what type of magic drugs he gave me, but after another ten minutes I felt amazingly good. I can tell you that the health of the various drivers is in good hands.
If Kuala Lumpur has cleaned up since Will's first visit, Chinatown still reeks. As soon as we got out of the cab, narrowly avoiding putting a foot into an open, stinking drain full of sewage and garbage, I wondered - given my earlier physical state - if it was a good idea to go there for dinner.
"This hasn't changed, I see." Will had a strange half smile on his face, the look of a man who found what he expected, but wasn't sure it was what he wanted.
"No, it'll be great. Trust me."
We walked under the familiar red gate, the same red gate that you can see at every Chinatown around the world, and into a maze of stalls selling copies of every product you could ever think of and then some, engulfed in a constant call of "mister, mister; buy, buy" and a seaweed of hands trying to pull us into one stall after another. The only way to get through was to put your hands in your pockets and walk with your shoulders pushed forward, and we made as close as we could to a beeline through the market towards the food court Will insisted was in the middle of the melee.
It becomes easy to tune out a group of people calling after you, but everyone recognises their own name. "Ciao, David." I looked up and saw Silvia, Williams's press officer, out of uniform. Silvia makes everything alright; in the paddock just the sight of her makes you feel that everything is achievable, everything is okay. Seeing Silvia makes me feel safe, as though my Mum had turned up and made everything alright just by being there.
"It's closed up there" Silvia said, her Sophia Loren smile on high, waving somewhere towards another gaggle of stands full of fake Grand Prix clothes. I suspect that everyone who has had the privilege of meeting her is a little in love with her. "It's okay - we're just here to eat," I beamed back.
It was remarkable to see anyone from the teams in town, as most of them were staying at hotels near the airport, near the track. It makes sense from their perspective; it helps stay on schedule, it minimises travel time to and from the track. But I don't understand why anyone would want to travel to the other side of the world just to stay at the airport. It's efficient, but if I have to travel this far I want to see something of the country, even if it's only the food court in Chinatown.
"Are you problematic in your brain? Oh, hi guys." Will and I had caught up with Craig and Suze mid conversation in the Red Zone, a section of town full of outdoor bars and clubs marked off for the annual invasion of foreigners the race brings into town. There were an astonishing number of people roaming the streets, and the bars were selective about letting people in; we were initially turned away until the doorman saw the paddock pass around Will's neck. We usually leave our passes in the hotel, as it feels dorky to leave it around your neck, but we'd both forgotten to take them off. The doorman asked what team we were with.
"We're journalists, actually," Will admitted sheepishly, knowing our lowly position on the food chain. "Cool. You guys better come in then," he said, and waved us by.
The Nav was obviously following us, as he'd turned up to play the same set as the last time we saw him. It was very efficient, very Formula One. We ended up in a room full of Malaysians going politely crazy, and the atmosphere was astounding. Even Kylie Minogue remixes sounded good.
We went to the Petronas Towers the day after the race, wanting to see the view. The viewing platform is closed on Mondays, and a paddock pass won't get you in there no matter how hard you try. We went shopping instead, swimming through the humidity. It was the Encyclopedia Britannica of humidity, the reference point for anyone wondering about the subject.
"I'm bored with this shop." Will doesn't like shopping; Will would be happy if he never had to go shopping ever again, except to look at cheap DVDs. Craig loves to go shopping, and he thinks I should buy every expensive electronic gadget known to man. Craig forgets that I don't earn much money anymore, forgets that I'm not working in the real world with him anymore.
Craig makes me wish I earned real money again. Will reminds me of why I do this instead. They're both my friends, but I'm never going shopping with either of them again if I can avoid it.
We went out and had the worst laksa ever known to man, and left it behind to the disgust of those watching. We went somewhere else and had the best laksa I've ever had. Will ate a whole chili, pulled a face, grabbed a lime and squeezed it into his mouth, and pulled a worse face. The rest of us laughed and ordered more drinks before Suze pulled us in off the street to get our feet massaged. We didn't talk about Formula One at all.
It was the morning after, back at the hotel, when I first suspected it had all gone horribly wrong. I put my bags into the back of the car Craig had ordered to take us out to the airport - Will had already returned back to England - and I looked at my schedule once more, just to be sure. It was the arrival time of 2:10 PM that made me wonder.
Time zones are strange - you can spend all those hours on a plane and arrive ten minutes after you left. It didn't seem right.
"I might have made a big mistake," I sighed once we were on the highway.
"I was wondering about that actually," Craig replied, watching the palm trees glide past, "I knew there was a flight early in the morning, and I didn't know there were two flights a day." I sat and sweated despite the air-conditioning.
"My flight was at 2:00 AM, not PM," I stated dully as soon as we arrived at the airport. "Bira's going to kill me."
"All our flights are fully booked for the rest of the month," the girl at the airline stated, looking at me tightly from behind her computer. "Do you have anywhere to stay here?" "Um. No." Craig was standing in the corner deep in conversation on his mobile, and I felt as though I was washing away. I felt like clicking my heels together; all I wanted to do was go home.
"Excuse me miss, can you tell me if there are any flights from Bangkok to anywhere in Europe?" Craig asked, from nowhere.
"Yes." Tap tap. "They are booked solid too."
"Thank you," he said, leaning back into his phone, another of his brilliant toys.
"You're on a flight from Bangkok to Paris; at least it's in Europe," he finally stated, pointedly not looking at the woman behind the desk. "I spoke to their head office. We'd better get you a flight down there, eh?" I was out the door and up the corridor before Suze picked up her bag.
The local cheap airline was booked for the afternoon, so I bought a full fair ticket on the national airline. The flight sucked, but at least I was moving. I had some catching up to do, and all I wanted to do was sleep, but unfortunately the sneezing woman next to me decided I'd rather talk to her. Asian flu would really top this stupidity off nicely, I thought as we taxied past the golf course that led directly along the runway in Bangkok.
Peerapong understood my desire to get home perfectly. As the airline's representative he'd seen any number of ex-pats who suddenly had to get home for a family emergency, and he understood that a soon to be father could make a silly mistake when all he wanted to do was get home for the birth of his first child. He was moved by my passion; by my restraint in knowing that it wasn't his fault but that he was doing all he could to get me there, but my welling eyes. I'd like to thank the Academy for this award.
"I can't give you your ticket here, but they should have everything cleared up by check in. You've got seven hours - I hope you're not too uncomfortable in the meantime." I wasn't uncomfortable at all; I was in the airport's Irish bar, downing beers and typing furiously in a vain attempt to beat my deadline in the time remaining. In between brief text messages flew back and forth to the office to explain the unexplainable.
"I'm sorry sir," the check-in woman told me, "we've got a reservation for you, but we don't know if we have to give you a surcharge or not."
"I just need to get home" I exhaled, "my wife, you see…"
"Yes sir, I know, but we can't put you on this flight."
"But you have a reservation for me; if I'm not on the flight you'll have an empty seat."
"I'm sorry sir."
"Ssst" she hissed, holding up her hand to me, "I know."
I felt lost, completely broken. I had somehow ended up in a country I wasn't even supposed to be in, with nowhere to stay, and no way home. I had no other option than to push. There was another flight in less than two hours. I hovered at the desk. I looked expectantly every time she got onto the phone. I asked, politely, acknowledging my guilt. I looked wracked, distraught. I gave her no option but to feel pity for me, to allow me to get onboard.
I got a text message from Bira; she booked me a room at a five star hotel in town, and a flight back a day later. "I can get on the flight now," I messaged her back. "Can I please take it? I just want to come home."
"So come home," she replied.
I had ten minutes; I had no Bahts, a 500 Baht fee to find for the customs sharks, metal detectors and five hundred metres to traverse. I made it.
The flight left the ground, and I watched it fall away from me yet again. It had been a hard month, a heart breaking month, an exhausting month, and all I could do was sit there and let the memory of it wash over me. My bed was calling me and I was craving her, but against the habit of a lifetime I cheated on her and slept in the seat instead. I knew she'd understand; that she'd wait for me, keeping the world away for a while before it started all over again.
Formula One is not conducive to personal relationships.
All these people, they live half lives. The nature of the obsession is that they have to give themselves over to it, spend as much time as they can, thinking and building and dreaming, and it doesn't leave much time for anything else. They travel all over the world, go racing every two weeks in pursuit of something, this nebulous thing that none of them could put into words, even if they were asked.
It's not just about speed. It's not just about competition. It's not just about winning. It's about doing, and measuring. They compete against each other; they compete against themselves. Sometimes there's not much difference between the two.
I'm one of these people too. I arrived in Sydney, my home town from a life lived long ago, and I was thinking about getting down to Melbourne, getting to the track and doing what I do, and trying to do it better than before. But prior to that I was staying with my friends Alex and Belinda, a small calm centre before the squall of Formula One, despite the exuberant presence of their daughter Olivia and her efforts to acclimatise me to the coming noise.
I had been living away from Australia for a long time; I had been based in London and New York before moving to Milan to take the job of writer for Atlas F1, and I had been back to Australia only twice in seven years - once when my mother fell into a coma and was close to death, now restored and living down the coast with my father, and once for my previous girlfriend Elisa's memorial service after she died in the World Trade Center attack later in the year.
Neither visit was for a good reason, and I had wanted to come back to Australia to enjoy myself for once, but it wasn't shaping up this way. I was coming back to work, and time was at a premium as it always is when Formula One is involved. I told my friends that I was returning, that I was flying from the other side of the world, but most of them had trouble coming across town, making the final few steps.
Everything I owned arrived in Milan two days before I left for Australia, boxes of paintings and books and music a year late from New York. Everything arrived except my photos, the carrier bag of memories from the last ten years. I rang the freight company, but they had nothing else to bring.
It felt like a decade of my life was erased, as though someone turned the pencil over and rubbed. This never happened, this person said; there is nothing to see here.
Traveling around the world constantly shrinks your own world around you; your life contracts to one piece of luggage and a carry-on bag, and if something doesn't fit then it isn't in your world. You travel light because light means ease, means simplicity, means speed.
I spent a month and a half with my girlfriend Jennifer in the off season, in London for a holiday, in New York for her world. It was nothing like enough; it was too much. We missed each other too much last year, we blamed the ocean between us, we blamed the job and the world and the fates. When we were apart we pined, when we were together we didn't know how to deal with the expansion of our worlds. When we were apart we wanted to be together; when we were together we didn't know how to be.
I went back to Milan; I went back to Formula One. I didn't know what else to do, or how to do it. Formula One doesn't let you think; Formula One makes you move. Speed precludes thought, mostly. Not thinking has an appeal. Not thinking is sexy. I can see now why the people in Formula One do it.
Melbourne was easier than Sydney, because Sydney is the Outside World and Melbourne is Formula One. None of my friends from Sydney went down to Melbourne for the race, and I was secretly happy about this because Formula One doesn't like its people dealing with outside affections. Melbourne meant I could just work, and not think. Emails could come from New York, could be full of doubts and confusions and uncertainties, and Formula One would say sure, you read them, but then you're coming back out to the paddock; you're coming back to me.
I'm a bad Australian. Overseas I call myself Australian, I proclaim all things Australian to be good and right, and yet when I'm in Australia I feel set apart. Being Australian overseas is a way of marking myself as different, and something other than those around me; in Australia I am just One of Many.
"Who would live here, with all this heat? You'd have to be nuts," I said to John One in the paddock, the sky so white as to make the sun invisible. John One is small in stature and big in personality, blonde and shaggy as an audition for second guitar in Oasis. He was standing blinking behind his sunglasses, smoking in between the constant movement his job entails, looking like Formula One personified. Everyone's job in Formula One entails constant movement, and most smoke in-between, looking to see who is around to talk to. No one is allowed to think in Formula One, and no one is allowed to be alone.
"I would, and in a second; it's glorious here," he responded. "I think there's something wrong with you for leaving, quite frankly. I think they probably kicked you out for looking like a tramp, and you're just being disparaging as revenge." I had grown a beard and long hair in the off season; I looked like Formula 3000 in comparison to John One, and he was friend enough to mock. John One is Welsh and wears it like my Australianism, like a negative into a positive in the face of soft ridicule.
"Have you seen the average Australian male? We're all scruffs."
"Which explains the low birthrate here."
There were more emails that night, more guilt and recriminations. I felt like I deserved them, as it was my decision to return to Formula One. I returned because I didn't know how to stay, but that didn't seem like much of a reason when the emails came. I finally fell asleep, and dreamt all night of being in the paddock. Tori Amos was playing God throughout. God sometimes you're just so stone cruel. Do you need a woman to look after you?
In Sydney I woke every morning at ten. In Melbourne I woke every day at six thirty. Formula One was sounding her siren, and I was repeatedly drawn to dash myself against her rocks. I stayed with a local colleague; Mark is a journalist too, and understands the draw, but I felt as useless staying with him as I do anytime I impose myself on someone's good graces. I always feel like a burden to people when I'm in their care.
No one in Formula One talks about the appeal, because they don't need to; it's not something they need to discuss when it's something they feel in their marrow. All weekend we pass each other, we say hello and shake hands or kiss, we ask each other what we've been up to while we've been apart without much caring about the reply. We know that time away doesn't matter as much as time here does.
"Who would live here, with all this heat?" I hear myself saying again. "The locals must be insane."
"I would," said Fritz, squinting for want of the sunglasses he refuses to wear. Fritz is in his mid fifties, Zimbabwean, and far too tough to wear sunglasses after this many years of harsh exposure to the sun; at this late stage to wear them would be an admission of failure, of softness. This is why he has as many wrinkles as my father, why he is a potential glimpse into my own future, why I wear sunglasses.
"I was with one of my guests last night and this huge bear of a man bumped into me at the bar," Fritz continued. "At home I would be worried that something was going to start, but he turned around and said sorry mate, and he meant it."
"We are all overly polite - our mothers brought us up too well."
"I'll be sure to notice the next time you are polite then. Have you got one of the free jackets they're handing out? You must get one." Fritz has an unerring ability to sniff out free things being handed out, and his nose is busy on a Formula One weekend.
We were sitting, talking together in a bar over a beach near a track on the other side of the world from where we live, and there was a Formula One car on the beach surrounded by suntanned people, looking on in awe. I was looking at Fritz, as I get to see the car snarl and scream to itself every other Sunday. Fritz was looking for more free things to claim for himself. This happens more often than you would think.
When I went back to Mark's place after being fed and watered through the good graces of a clothing company I'd never heard of before it came to Formula One, all I could think about was my love, about how it was pulling itself in every direction, how it was tearing itself apart in front of me. When I was alone I had nothing to think about except for her and my pain. Formula One doesn't allow pain in, which is another part of its appeal. I spent most of the night watching my heart bleeding onto the floor.
I finally fell into a fitful sleep, and dreamt of being in the paddock. Supersonic by Basement Jaxx was playing. Look in the mirror time to face up. Ever tried to live without the photographs and money?
In the media centre I saw all these people I know. Last year I was the enemy, the representative of all that was evil because I worked for a new media that they didn't understand. I represent a company that is strengthening as the old forms fall away, and this fear is clear in a few still. Most of them have accepted me into the fold now, although whether this is through appreciation of what we are doing or to keep their enemies closer remains unclear.
Journalists write about other lives rather than live one themselves. Sometimes this manifests itself into bitterness, sometimes into resignation, sometimes into understanding and consideration. Bira, my editor, would rather that I ignore all of the other journalists and just work. Bira understands Formula One better than most.
"Remember I asked you for cooking tips yesterday for that guest who invited himself over?" she asked when I called back to Milan to talk about work. Bira was taking the graveyard shift, which meant she was awake back in Europe when I was awake in Australia.
"Sure. How did it go?" Any food that isn't an Israeli staple seems to need my instruction for her, if not my active involvement, such that fried prawns needed an explanation about the oil, the temperature, and the length of time to cook them.
"Well, it turns out he came to warn me that I may be targeted by terrorists if I go to Bahrain."
"Hello? David? Are you still there? By the way, the shrimps were good."
I went outside to think. It wasn't a normal Grand Prix weekend, and it was getting weirder, but weirdness is normal in Formula One. I walked around not telling everyone I met anything about my confusion; about the news I'd just heard, about my broken and bleeding heart. I walked along the paddock with my stomach sliced open and my entrails dragging along the floor behind me, but nobody noticed.
Nobody notices anything in the paddock, because they don't need to. Formula One runs on competition and rumours, and that's the way everybody likes it. Better to consider Bridgestone finding an extra half second in their tyres than to deal with a person falling apart; there is less mess from the rubber on the floor than a gaping wound in someone's chest, and they have specific solvents to clean the physical mess. Solvents are lousy with emotional pain.
John Two ambled over apologetically to say hello, looking around nervously to see if his team was watching. John Two is an amiable bear of a man, hirsute but prematurely balding, who looks in every reflective surface he passes to see if he is looking at least okay but would be mortified if anyone saw him do it. He is the kind of guy who tears himself apart to do a better job for his team, and then wonders why everyone but him moves up the employment ladder. John Two is the type of person who would wonder why he is not John One, but would never bring himself to ask for fear of an embarrassing scene.
"Who would live here, with all this heat?" There's a certain comfort in repetition.
"I would. Australians seem to have an amazing ability to breed thin girls with big breasts." His eyes flicked around behind his sunglasses to see if he was overheard. "How are you, anyway? I thought you'd be pleased to be home."
"I'm fine" I lied, thinking about New York, "although this sun is brutal for me. It's a curse being the whitest man on the planet."
"I'm sure it is - I haven't seen a single Finn in the paddock all weekend."
"They've probably hired a refrigerated truck for transport."
Formula One came and saved me again. Work here is a constant competition; the teams compete with the other teams, drivers with drivers, manufacturers with manufacturers; even the journalists compete with each other to be the first with a story. Competition gives you something better to think about than mere thoughts. It's easier to go out and find a new story than think of anything else to do, so I did that until it was time to go home.
I spent the night looking at emails and trying in vain to find the right words to unlock them. It looked like it was all over, and there was no argument to be found anywhere to piece it back together. I finally fell asleep, and dreamt all night of being in the paddock. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart by Wilco was playing. Let's forget about the tongue-tied lightning, let's undress just like cross-eyed strangers. This is not a joke, so please stop smiling; what was I thinking when I said it didn't hurt?
John One pretends that he doesn't care about things. I pretend that I don't notice that he does. This arrangement suits us both; it's very Formula One. Needless to say, it goes unsaid, like so much in the paddock.
"I have no idea at all what I'm going to write about this week," I muttered. This is a columnist's constant refrain, and thankfully most people around us just tend to ignore it and let us blather on until we're finished.
"It has been a bit boring, I guess."
"Less so for me." I thought I felt a hint of a raindrop, but I wasn't sure if it was a phantom drop or not.
"Yeah, I can see that. Maybe you can just do more of what you did last year? That seemed to work."
"Maybe, although my life has changed substantially since then. I've noticed that I hold onto things until I can write about them. Writing about things is how I let them go."
"So just let go." A full drop landed on his shoulder; ghosts of clouds were solidifying in the sky.
"I think it's all over with my girlfriend."
"That's..." John One paused, and then paused. "Shit; I have no idea what to say. How are you?"
"I'm completely devastated. And I can't tell anyone here - weakness is like carrion to vultures." The Lone Ranger ponytailed past, looked at me quizzically. The Lone Ranger is a journalist for another publication, and that's what he does - he never talks to anyone, but looks at everyone to see who they are talking to, to see if there is a story to be had, and how to get into the middle of it without anyone else noticing. The Lone Ranger likes to slip his Dictaphone in to get a story, which is fine if it's an open interview, but then objects when anyone else does it to him. The objection is silent of course; he merely shoots dirty looks towards the offender.
But John One wasn't a big enough story, and needless to say I wasn't, so he skulked on down the paddock, off the path and behind the trees. We watched him go before John One added, "keep the sunglasses on - no one will ever know."
"I think it's all over with my girlfriend."
"Mate, that's terrible." This was Fritz in the media centre, and my self imposed embargo on the truth didn't last long. "I've been there too - I lost my wife to Formula One. Did I ever tell you about breaking up with her on September 11?"
"I can trump you on that - I lost Elisa that day."
"Oh. I never knew."
"It's not exactly something you would publicise."
"It was hard for me to break up with her though." Insert requisite pause. "Well, I'd better be getting back out into the paddock."
This is why no one has a public private life in Formula One - the paddock is full of half people, people who are driven for any number of reasons, most of which they don't let people know about for fear of embarrassment, or worse. Maybe that guy pushing the tyres from the tyre area to his team is running away from a shattered heart. The girl with the headset on may be in the paddock to avoid a dysfunctional family. The guy with the clipboard and sunglasses might be hiding his introverted personality by being in the most extraverted group in the world.
All these people, Formula One people, are like carny folks, like people who ran away to the circus to avoid something they didn't want. People this driven, this keen to compete and win, all seem to have something broken at their centre. Maybe my broken heart makes me one of them at last; maybe they're all freaks like me. Every one of them has their own story; this one is mine.