I've completely lost track of time these days - I gave up looking at a calendar about eight races ago, and the events of my life are now marked solely against the nearest race to them, and the ensuing workload. For example, some friends got married in Germany during Canada, my sister got married in Scotland just after Silverstone, and another friend is getting married in Switzerland between Hungary and Belgium (all of which has gone some way to convince me that this year was nominated the International Year of the Wedding and I missed the press release). I mention this because I've just found out that it's August - someone mentioned it to me, and it was only afterwards that I noticed the great lack of cars on the road around my apartment. Europe is on holiday from itself, a concept which has all of the inhabitants of the landmass up and migrate sideways at once, and it had simply slipped my notice until I was told. Which went some way to explaining the monstrous traffic jams all around Germany when we drove there.
We were caught in the mass parking exodus of the autobahn because we drove to Germany rather than fly. I hadn't driven to a race for a long time, so it didn't seem such a bad idea at all until we had been staring at a highly moustached Bavarian in the car next to us for a few hours. It did, however, give me a chance to get away from planes, which lately have seemed to be the personal handiwork of one of the higher ranked minions of Beelzebub.
While heading towards Barcelona I was bumped awake to feel myself being lurched backwards by momentum; I looked forward and could see the pilots door flapping wildly open to expose pure panic and the ground rushing headlong to meet us, as everyone screamed silently. I woke up sweating, wondering if I actually had screamed and people were too polite to mention it.
Flying over the English Channel towards Silverstone I snapped awake as the plane took a rolling lurch to the left and I saw the sea rising to wave hello before I really came around. Somewhere over India, on the way back from Malaysia via Thailand, the plane dropped a hundred or so metres and air masks slapped me awake before I awoke. I need to sleep less on planes.
Coming in to land in New York on the way back from Indianapolis the plane drifted softly in as the water surrounding La Guardia airport was replaced by tarmac, which we were a mere ten metres above before the engines fired to maximum and we headed about as straight a line up as I would think possible. The pilot had us in a rotation of the city to catch our breath before telling us that we almost landed on another plane. I kept waiting to wake before I realised I hadn't slept.
I once asked a friend of mine, who used to travel for work more than me but now seems a comparative lightweight, if all the flying bothered him at all - my girlfriend of the time was the worst flyer known to man, or at least this one - he thought about it a bit and said it never used to, but the more he flies the closer he is to being a statistic on an air crash website. I'm starting to see his point, and it wasn't a reassuring one.
Perhaps it's just the unremittingness of the season - Germany was the last in a long line of arrivals and departures, and getting through it meant not going anywhere for two weekends. I wasn't alone in wanting to be alone.
"What are you getting up to for the next couple of weeks, John?"
"I'm planning on not planning for a bit, waking up and not getting up. You?"
"I'm locking myself in my bedroom to stare at the wall for a bit."
Of course we were doing nothing of the sort - I was going to be writing, he was going to be factorying - but it was the thought of not traveling out of your own postal code that appealed more than anything. It was obvious everywhere in the paddock - no one wanted to be there so the barest minimum of effort that was required was spent - people who were thanked for performing a task replied "it was the least I could do" and actually meant it.
Everyone wanted the weekend to vapourise. Time turned to syrup, and we all waded through it. The thought of not thinking for seventeen days seemed an unimaginable luxury, a reward of which we were unworthy.
Germany was the 25th race I had been to as a journalist, and it's probably remarkable how much of a cog in a wheel I now felt - everyone has their job to do, and mostly we all try to do it without disruption to the other cogs as they did theirs. But, as ever, there were herds of new people in the paddock gumming up the works. They're easy to see - they are staring everywhere at once, their heads swiveling like a top, omni directional and slow in a world that favours straight lines and immediacy.
And they always get in the way of the mechanics pushing tyres around on their trolleys - these are not men to annoy.
Everyone goes through it, everyone forgets what it's like once they're on the other side. Two years ago when I walked into the paddock for the first time I was bamboozled, my eyes held in by my sunglasses and little else, and I spent most of the time trying to will myself into the size of a paper cup. I didn't have media access that weekend, which meant I couldn't sit in the media centre away from the sun, so I generally stood shading between the team trucks and reading a book until I was either politely moved along (less politely if it was a man trolleying tyres) or Bira found me.
There are signs up everywhere to keep people out of places; they are for those in on a solo visit. That first time in the paddock had me nervous about being anywhere - the areas between the trucks are where the teams store their tyres and the larger mechanics, the team offices are for those with a better class of uniform, or so I had thought. When I needed to talk to a press officer I would generally mill around the doorway looking inside anxiously, and eventually someone would ask if I needed something.
The signs work - to this day there are always people standing on the outside staring in looking for someone famous, and they always stare at those of us who do stroll in casually, as though wondering were we slot in. I sometimes wonder still, but no one needs to know that there.
The world meringued. I sloped around its edges trying to stay out of its way while I went about my work. It was a weekend for getting through rather than remembering. Little was remarkable, nothing had changed - Jenson Button laughed and clowned with his father between sessions in his home from home at BAR, no outward sign of the firestorm to come. Michael Schumacher appeared from dust in his car, spending most of his weekend out of sight and away from the hordes of his countrymen who all wanted him to win and wanted him to be with them, not realising the discrepancy.
And, as ever, the important things happened away from sight. While Button was laughing his management was plotting the next storm in our teapot. Schumacher was working, working towards another win, another plate of steel on the suit of armour that is his Championship year. But Formula One has always had one side for the public and another hidden away, the better to beat the competition, whoever they may be. Those of us who work in the paddock might find out about these things sooner than the fans, but the time span is now down to minutes. The world has been interneted.
"Can I go home yet?" Will moaned at one stage.
"You've got approximately 53 hours to go" I sighed, looking around at the other journalists looking around at the other journalists. Hockenheim doesn't even give us the advantage of looking at the track - the media centre is a building stuck away from the track in the middle of the paddock complex with the curtains drawn, denying us a view of the toilets and a large mound of dirt. "This race is the worst - I'm going for more wurst" he noted, heading for the cafe.
"Making crap jokes isn't going to get you out any earlier."
The most exciting thing that happened all weekend was that the BBC commentators announced that they were leaving Formula One, with immediate effect, for football - whether it was the boredom of Germany that drove them to it was unremarked upon. BAR threw them a party, but I don't know of anyone other than the usual English open bottle smellers who actually bothered to go.
Not to be outdone Sauber threw a party that night too, but seemed to have forgotten to invite anyone - they had tiki torches fuming into the sky and giant speakers pumping ear-achingly bad Europop in front of their team area, a large spread of food and a chef serving exactly zero people. "I've had an idea," Will yelled as we rushed past the empty room, "let's go get drunk - if I have to stay here much longer I may hurt someone, and I'm worried it will turn out to be me."
I collected Bira and we drove to the nearby town that Will was staying in, bringing a young journalist, Ali, along with us for the numbers. Tall and beanpole thin, he has the nervous laugh of someone new to a group and unsure of the humour protocol. We wandered around until we found a Mexican restaurant someone had wrongly recommended to Will, and we Englished through the ordering.
"What is everyone up to for the next few weeks?" Ali eagered into the conversation.
"I've got a new computer game that I can't work," I stated. "I'm going to continue not knowing how to play it, at length."
"I'm going to bed," Bira woozed, dreamily. "I'm going to sleep, and then I'm going to continue to."
"I'm off to Spain for a week," noted Will. "My flatmates are all going out there, and I've got a place about half an hour away from them. Hey, remember when we came here last year?"
"Er," Ali stammered, "I don't. How was it?"
"It was crap then, too. Can I go home yet?"
"23 hours to go."
I thought about some of the goings on we'd gone on with at other races - drinking until the sun came up in a small bar to the sounds of Japanese pop music and constant giggling, laughing at Bira as she swooned over French movie stars, consuming questionable curries in Kuala Lumpur and Montreal, being invited to parties with the lights of Budapest or the harbour of Monaco as an active wallpaper, the seething mass of people in an Arabic market, drunkenly karaoking with poorly voiced drivers - and none of it was Germany.
A waitress Brunhilda-ed her way over to inform us that we could no longer drink outside, and then pulled all of the chairs away to punctuate her point. We didn't have the strength to argue, so we dribbled away. "Tell me Hungary will be better" Will sighed, without rancour, as we rounded towards the car.
"Hungary will be better."
"I'm holding you to that. You will be financially liable if you fail."
"But I don't have any money."
"Best make it work then."
We drove back to the hotel. We got lost. Getting lost has lost its charm.