I'd been looking forward to Silverstone for a while, because I was getting a bit tired of driving to the Grands Prix - it started off as an adventure, a fun way to get to and from the race as well as see a bit of the continent, but in reality it meant a lot of hours staring at a freeway, which is somewhat limited as a mode of entertainment. If Barcelona was this late in the season, I might have bagged it rather than hit the road again.
But Silverstone meant a flight, and as no driving was required of me I was raring to go. So of course, it was inevitable that a car would hit me after getting out of the cab at the station.
(Note for my Mum only: it wasn't actually that bad, and I'm perfectly fine - you can stop worrying now)
Me being me, I was looking in the direction the traffic comes from to make sure it was safe to cross the road. Being that I was in Italy, obviously someone was driving the wrong way in a one-way street. It's probably my own fault for not taking illegal driving into consideration, now that I think about it.
I was so shocked I forgot momentarily how to swear in Italian. The woman driving was so shocked she forgot to blame me for her error. La redattrice was so shocked she actually ran towards me. None of these things happen in more normal circumstances in Italy.
But being slightly late, I picked up my bags and limped off towards the coach, followed by the constant refrain of "are you alright?" Of course I wasn't, but being Australian I couldn't let on - we have that Australian Male Stoic front to maintain at all times. The things I do for my country frankly amaze even me sometimes.
Thankfully when we got to la redattrice's friend's house she decided to show me the swans in the pond beyond the back garden and promptly tripped on the small fence to keep them out, falling flat on her face with a dull thud. I asked if she was all right, and when she said yes, I fell about laughing. Which was kinder than her friend, who didn't even ask first.
(Editor's note: Dad I'm alright, honest, you don't have to call!)
Bruises aside, it was nice to be back in England.
I used to live in London a few years ago, and there's something comforting about a country that has such constant bad weather that ten days without rain is officially declared a drought; where the weather dictates that your social life will revolve almost entirely around your home, the pub and the local Indian restaurant. Living in England is like living in a cocoon, and there's something very pleasant about that.
We got to Silverstone without much bother (other than a bit of traffic on the M1, which I think even Bernie would have trouble blaming on the circuit), although, being England, they decided to have different signs at the circuit than every other race for some reason, which was a little confusing.
The security guard in the media centre made it very clear he thought it was somewhat dubious that all these foreigners had to kiss each other when they met by scowling constantly. When two Italian men kissed each other hello it was clearly too much - his jaw dropped a little and he walked off, looking for a better stretch of wall to guard, one with no foreigners nearby. As I was smirking at this, a fellow journalist grabbed me and said "come on - you're in the international team," before hauling me back out into the rain.
The 'international team' I was press ganged into was for the Honda lawnmower challenge, an event put on near the circuit by the BAR engine supplier to give the journalists a bit of fun (and something to write about), but the English weather being what it was, there wasn't a lot of fun to be had. The concept was to have teams of three or four journalists have a relay race on ride-on lawnmowers around a course littered with trellis and garden gnomes, have some lunch, and then another relay riding on those big four wheeled motorbikes.
Fortunately we arrived too late, so instead we ate a wonderful lunch undercover while watching various overly competitive English journalists becoming increasingly annoyed with themselves and their teams, all the time getting soaked by the heavy rain. It worked for me.
By the time I returned to the paddock the rain had eased to the normal English drizzle, so I collected la redattrice and we went back out for our usual stroll along the paddock - thereafter known as 'pascolo', or grazing, as the Italian hostess at Toyota described it.
On the way back to the media centre we saw FIA president Max Mosley, standing with one of the British journalists. La redattrice ignored the fact that it was probably a private conversation and walked straight towards Mosley. Astonishingly, Mosley recognized her at once and turned his attention to her. After a brief chat - interrupted only by Michael Schumacher, who came over to say hello - the president took his leave, but not before he turned around to la redattrice for the last time and said: "I like your stuff, I read it a lot." She simply floated off into the clouds, smiling.
Of course, she was floating for most of the weekend. Unlike me, la redattrice insisted she actually hurt herself in her mishap the day before, giving her sufficient reason to moan all weekend and visit the circuit's medical centre for a supply of painkillers. This is probably why, as we were leaving the circuit and I noted that there were two motor scooters for Rubens Barrichello in the cluster by the entrance, she commented: "Well, one is for him and the other for a box of tissues."
I'm pretty sure she wouldn't have said that without the painkillers, anyway.
A lot of the British journalists stay at their parents' house for the Silverstone race (other than Bob Constandouros, who sleeps in the van that he takes to all the European races - it sounds like a fun thing to do, and I wondered whether he has the drivers who do the same thing around for a barbeque at night). We were invited by Will Gray to stay with his parents, and I was glad he did as they were a thoroughly lovely couple. Although it became rapidly clear where he gets his drinking habits from - any unguarded glass seemed to be refilled as if by magic while his dad giggled, and one nightcap followed another. And another.
Which probably explains why la redattrice was asleep when the fire alarm went off in the media centre.
I sat there, bemused, as Mike Doodson rushed towards the fire escape, the first out by a long shot, as she sat blinking behind her sunglasses next to me repeating a mantra of "what?" before we were instructed to leave. Those same sunglasses had prompted one team press officer to comment, earlier in the day, that "in the paddock, sunglasses on a cloudy day can only mean one thing…"
Meanwhile, we caught up with Doodson, who was mumbling "this circuit is committing suicide" as the local fire brigade stormed into the paddock. I made a comment to the effect that the alarm was probably tripped by a journalist who had nothing to write about and was now reading all our computers, and the other journalists around me laughed slightly uneasily. Having annoyed successfully, I headed off for a well-deserved early lunch at Michelin.
It was a very quiet news weekend in the paddock, and it's remarkable how much this disturbs most of the journalists there. They always try and weasel something out of you when they bump into you outside, but the best indication of how much of a problem this can be was when one journalist came up to me and asked straight out, "have you got anything this weekend?" I told him I didn't, but he persisted. "I'm not asking you to tell me the story - I just want to know if you've got anything at all?" I said no, I hadn't heard anything at all, and the look of relief on his face was obvious to all before he went back to try and find out anything to write about.
And it's weekends like that where rumours start and take up like a bushfire, rushing through all the journalists keen to write anything at all to justify their existence for the weekend. Back in Barcelona a rumour started up that Ralph Firman was going to be replaced shortly because someone saw his father speaking with Eddie Jordan, both with serious looks on their faces. When someone told me that it was all I could do not to laugh out loud there and then.
Silverstone was so boring that we didn't even have a rumour that bad.
A little while ago I was talking with one of the Dutch journalists and we thought it would be a great idea to start another website and publish nothing but made up reports to see how far they would be quoted. The problem is there are far too many sites doing that already.
So instead of digging for rumours I spent most of the weekend in the media centre, transcribing a very long interview - an essential but extremely boring task. It's a strange process, spending all that time listening to someone else's voice (and, more disturbingly, my own), and it can start to get to you after a while. By the end of an afternoon transcribing I find myself not listening to what people are saying to me, but rather how you spell the words they say.
Luckily BAR put on another of their open evenings, the theme this time being an English pub. Strangely the clouds had lifted and moved on, leaving us with one of those glorious but infrequent afternoons that you only get in England, where the sun shines brightly but not too strongly and gets all the locals rushing outside in shorts to say "oh, this is lovely, isn't it?" for half an hour before reconsidering and remarking "phew - is it hot enough for you?"
We stood at one the tables outside as all the trucks and motorhomes gleamed in the sunlight. Someone from BAR brought out some fish and chips and a pint of ale for me, and I was tucking in heartily when a photographer came over and asked if he could take some photos of me eating. Completely baffled I agreed, and then spent the rest of the evening wondering where they were going to end up. Will's Dad thought it would be best if we had a few drinks to consider the matter when we got back to his house, and realising it would be churlish to argue, I didn't.
Walking to the paddock from the press car park the next morning Will and I were surprised at the number of people taking our photos, as neither of us considered ourselves famous in any way. We could only assume that there were a lot of Atlas F1 readers at the track, although none of them came over to say hello - in fact they seemed slightly annoyed after taking the photo. We simply shrugged and walked through the paddock entrance, with the long line of Foster's grid girls behind us following through.
At the entrance to the paddock there were two large plant boxes which we called 'the fan chicane', as they seemed to be there simply to slow any approach by fans, so they could be picked off by security. It seemed a long way from Will's Dad's stories of sneaking into the paddock a few years ago, when there were no motorhomes to speak of and the whole area was basically marked off with a rope and the fans could see through to the pits.
"It was not like that in my day," Will's Dad said the night before, topping up everyone's glasses when he thought we weren't looking. "Back then you could sneak in and walk around the paddock, have a nose about in the pits, and take as many photos as you wanted." And he did - I spent a fun hour or so pouring over his photos of the drivers of my youth. "Today I struggled to get into the Formula 3000 and support paddock!" he continued, although he did manage to sneak in eventually later in the weekend - years of experience have not gone to waste, although the Formula One paddock remains locked up as tight as a drum.
It seems a shame that the paddock has become such a private domain for the wealthy few (and myself). I understand the rationale behind it, but it often feels nothing more than a corporate entertainment area (which it is) or an outdoor boat show without the boats, or the people.
Still, there's always something to amuse. After being denied a Playstation because of la redattrice's journalistic ethics, it was fun to see her fuming at the British press, who were all given a new limited edition Ferrari model of the latest Vodafone camera mobile phone - cellphones are her weakness, and she sat there fighting with her own demons all day, interspersed by looks of pure evil towards anyone who actually used their new phones anywhere near her. I'm pretty sure that if anyone had offered her one she would have snatched their hand off along with the phone.
Silverstone put on a great show, which was surprising considering all the horror stories about the place that always seem to pop up before the circus arrives. In fact the only real problem I found was that the toilets backed up and were out of order just before the race. I'd always felt that a number of journalists were fairly full of it and this confirmed, even if temporarily, that I was right.
The race came, and I saw Arnold Swartzenegger walking around on the grid, a guest of Jaguar. There was someone walking next to him in a Ferrari outfit, and I wondered aloud who the kid was - one of the technicians sniggered and said "that's Frankie Dettori, the jockey". To my credit, Arnie could make anyone look like a kid.
After the race there was the usual press conference for the top three finishers, and all anyone wanted to ask was what they thought of the track invader who had inadvertently made the race more interesting than any other this year. But the top three drivers hadn't actually seen much of him, as they'd already passed when he was jumping the fence, so as Kimi Raikkonen was answering a question, Montoya and Barrichello caught a replay of the incident on the TV monitors and sat there laughing with each other.
After I went out and collected quotes, Status Quo started playing their customary post-race gig, which clearly meant it was time to go home. We had tickets to an R.E.M. concert in Italy, so it wasn't as though there was any reason to hang about and listen to a band twenty years past their use by date when we could go home and see one only ten years past due.
So off we went and, needless to say, the M1 was backed up again. I'm blaming Bernie Ecclestone.