It was only on the drive back from a friend's wedding in Zurich the weekend after the race that the previous weekend became clearer to me. A race weekend is a hectic thing, a little bubble of intense movement and energy, and more often than not you don't have time to reflect on anything beyond your next interview, your next task - being proactive is a good thing, but the pace of the bustle in the Formula One paddock means you react to events and run with them, leaving the processing for a later date. Every time I walk into the paddock I get a mental lift as the gates roll around behind me - no matter what mood I've been in before that, as soon as I am back inside the clouds roll away and sun shines bright and strong in my head. It even worked last year when I'd had my bag stolen going to Budapest - as soon as I got inside I couldn't help but smile at my own misfortune. If Bernie could find a way to bottle this feeling he'd be even richer than he already is.
Hungary is a race of change - the drivers are scrabbling for a seat for next year before the music stops, the team members are weighing up the cost of their time away and working out if they can keep running for another year, and the team bosses are finalising details of the next deals with the sponsors. The freelance journalists are still clambering around for work of course, but that's a given at any race.
Bira wasn't in Hungary - she'd gone to Israel in search of milk, or at least I think that's what she said - so I had to troop around to find a few features to write by myself. In a way it's good to have that time to myself - sometimes it's good to just walk around and have a dig without distraction - but it also meant that I didn't have anyone there to laugh with about some of the more ridiculous rumours that pop up as a matter of course.
But with the extra time I got to do some of the things I always mean to do but never seem to get around to. I spent some time down in the Formula 3000 paddock catching up with the people I know there, talking to the guys who sit just outside the palace gates and consequently seem to have a better overall view on the games being played inside; and I sat for a session on turn two, just watching the drivers run through, picking out the lines, the braking and the acceleration points and the attitude of the cars while I made a poor attempt at photographing them with my digital camera.
Later in the day I went up to say hello to Bjorn, who was deep in conversation with his father in Swedish. Normally when I turn up they change into English for me, but they kept going for a while before his father finally turned towards me and said, "sorry about talking in Swedish just now."
"Yeah, we were just talking about something we didn't want you to hear!" Bjorn laughed before picking up my camera and looking through my photos. "So the rear wing of this car - is it me or Mark?" As he said this, another of a long stream of driver managers walked into the team principal's office, a process that was being repeated in three other team motorhomes all weekend.
"Did you get much of a holiday?" I asked John when he had a rare moment to himself - his team had made some big changes over the break, and the gaggle of journalists had made him more popular than usual.
"Oh, that's right - I didn't see you last week. About as much as you had, I suspect."
"My condolences. Have you found out where the Red Bull party is yet?"
"No, but I won't be going - we're flying straight back to the factory after the race. We've got a bit of work on at the moment - you may have noticed."
"And here was me thinking it was your new aftershave."
I got Will on the case - when it comes to finding out about parties there are none better. I knew I was in safe hands, relatively.
I told some of these stories to my friends in Zurich, these people that I haven't seen for a few years because I am always on the road, always somewhere that they aren't. "But what is it like?" they asked, "What have you been up to? I haven't heard from you in ages." I get this a lot, I write for a living, and emails consequently become a bit sparse.
Most of my friends travel a lot for work - there is a new class that has arisen over the last decade or so of people who spend good portions of their lives on the road, and while it broadens their horizons it makes it hard to be together very often. At the wedding there were friends from Australia, the US, Britain, Germany, Italy and Singapore as well as the locals, but none of them seem to know where they are from after a while.
"I wouldn't know where to go if I had to go home," said one. "I live in Zurich, but I have to go somewhere else most weeks. I have an English passport and an Irish passport, my father splits his time between Ireland and Spain, my sister is married to a Frenchman but lives in Australia, my brother commutes between London and New York, and my mother is in England at the moment."
"What do you do for a holiday?"
"It's tough. I had two weeks off recently, and thought I'd spend some time with my friends here - the first weekend I rang around and no one was in town because I hadn't told them I'd be here, and by the middle of the week I was climbing the walls. I called work just to see what was going on, and they had a problem in Houston - I told them to book a flight and I'll deal with it. I want to stay home and be in one place for a while, but I don't really know how."
My solution is to go on the road with some of my friends - there's a certain comfort in numbers. Will has found a website that professes to have all of the best bars in the world therein, and while it doesn't always work out there are times when it lives up to its claims. We collect strays, absorb them into our gang and play off each other's strengths - Will takes the lead in finding somewhere to go, quizzing the locals in great depth for the various merits of the places he has found to distill them to a few core choices, I deal with the locals from thereon, the cabbies and the doormen and the crazies scrabbling for change or cigarettes, and Ali follows the group to make sure we keep it all together.
Along with anyone else who wants to come along for the ride, we become a strong unit. Often we'll ask people from the teams if they want to come out for a night, but more often than not they can't do it - they've got to be up early, they've got work outside of the track, they're worried about the concept of telling tales out of school to a group of journalists. Quite a few of them want to come out, but they don't for whatever reason, and then when they hear about our adventures the night before they'll look a bit downcast at missing out.
I don't care about hearing gossip, but I do like stories. We found a club on Friday, one of two at the top of a shopping centre full of skateboarding youths, ordered our drinks and sat down at the edge of the dancefloor as a girl spoke to the DJ before standing up on a table on the other side of the room and started to dance. Hungarian women are very attractive, and if you sat ten of them down and asked them to come up with the most attractive woman they could imagine, then the results would have still fallen short. The local men treated her like a television showing a football match between two other countries, while the women stared and copied her moves.
"My boss is in Athens for the Olympics at the moment," Ali started in, "he's not very happy. He's been covering the 10m pistol shoot and the synchronised diving. The most amusing part of it so far has been the ancient motor scooter he has hired to get around - luckily he used to help out at his local garage when he was young."
"Are they allowed to lean towards the target in that shooting?" asked Gary, another journalist along for the ride asked. "I can't see how they could miss."
"I suspect they can't. Still, he said it was more interesting that Formula One at the moment."
"He just hasn't had Will to find the right places to go after work," I noted, downing my drink and directing everyone towards the dancefloor.
"Not that I can find out where this damn Red Bull party is - no one seems to be going at all. You wouldn't think it would be such a secret." We danced. I'll leave the resultant mess to your imaginations, but if you were to picture a scrum full of elbows and unpleasantly shaken buttocks you wouldn't be far wrong.
"Can you get up to Munich for Oktoberfest at all?" another friend asked me at the wedding. "I'll be in town for most of the month, and it would be great if you can see the new apartment. We've been hoping to see you for the last two years."
"That would be great, but it depends on what happens with the races, and whether the Chinese are actually going to let the journalists have visas - they've stopped the process at the moment."
"Isn't that their first race?"
"Yes - you'd think they wouldn't mind a bit of publicity."
The wedding was held in a grand castle on top of a steep hill just out of Zurich, and it was still open to tourists - we stood around talking, catching up on each other's lives and drinking champagne as a collection of people looked on wondering what all the noise was about. It seemed pretty normal after my day job.
Patrick, the friend who was getting married, looked almost obscenely happy, a serene sort of inner satisfaction that was finer than any of the times in the past when I've seen him chemically pleased with himself.
"Mate, I am happy," he replied to my unasked question, "maybe I should have done this years ago, but no regrets - everything we do adds up to our life. Look at you - could you have imagined living this life back when we were hitting the clubs in Sydney after work?"
"Not in a million years."
"And yet here we are. Sometimes I find myself thinking about that, and I just laugh at how things work out."
"Yeah - eight years ago I decided that I'd throw myself at the world and see if it would look after me, and I realise now that it will if you let it. It's a big world with a lot of gaps between the people - if you want to do something you can, as long as you know what it is, and you try."
"That's how I ended up in Switzerland, doing a job I only dreamed of back then, and married to this beautiful woman. And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and dance with her again."
On Sunday in the paddock I found myself talking to Peter Collins, a man with more history in Formula One than most, who is currently trying to find a drive in the big game for Tonio Liuzzi. He has lived this life for so long that he makes it look easy.
"How have you put up with all of this for so long, Peter?"
"It's easy - you just get up in the morning and do it."
"But you've had so many people against you over the years - doesn't that eventually get to you?"
"Sure, but the way I figure it is that you just keep going - eventually the bastards crumble, and the last man standing wins. Sometimes that's one of the good guys. I've been here for a long time, and I love this life - you've been around for long enough to understand why. It's like anything - if you just keep going, eventually you make it. And this kid is good, so I've got a good reason to be here."
Peter waved over to Tonio as he was strolling along the paddock, his gait that of a horse riding rooster, secure in the knowledge that no one else in the area could carry off his outfit of puffy soft hat, vintage Italian football jersey and combat trousers quite so well.
"Ciao! How you doing?" he smiled, his hand in the air for the usual high five.
"I'm pretty good actually - I'm just trying to find out where the Red Bull party is tonight."
"Why you didn't come and see me? It's here," he indicated to the invite he handed over, which showed the address. "I'll see you there, yeah?"
"Yes, I think that's a safe bet."
Immediately after the race most of the teams left, heading back to the factories to get ready for testing, to prepare for the next race, to organise PR events, to do more and more. We stayed and crossed the river for a party. There were synchronised swimmers, the ones that didn't get to go to the Olympics. There was an Austrian violin quartet that wanted to be The Corrs but was unfortunately led by a man with a flamboyant moustache and poor English skills. There was Tonio dancing like a maniac, somehow still looking stylish while he did so. There were a large number of drinks involved, until the bar ran out of everything alcoholic. Twice.
It was a night of joy, a night where those who stayed knew they had something that the others who left were missing out on. It was not unlike the wedding, I thought as I was driving back a week later; I find these types of nights often. I smiled as I thought about the last two weeks, and I pointed the car south. I knew where I was going, and I let the road take me there.