Read part one, Inside a Formula One Garage, here.
We leave them to it and wander instead to the hospitality area overlooking the Med, a yacht or two waiting nearby and a helicopter whirring softly overhead. Shiny office blocks line up to the left, gleaming yet temporary compounds for the wealthiest fans in the world.
It’s so peacefully quiet. Across the track somewhere, the rock music will be blaring, the crowds finding their seats, hawkers selling baseball caps and Ferrari shirts and students dishing out free newspapers. A thousand images of the Spanish sweetheart, Alonso, will gaze up from the front page.
“A lot of people talk about the F1 bubble,” says Tom, as reporters walk past in jeans and T-shirts. “You need a pass to get in an out and there’s a level of hierarchy…”
He pauses to greet a colleague. “It’s easy to get jaded.
“You’re doing the same thing in the same sort of places with the same lot of people.”
He squints against the sun. “It’s easy to get lost in that little world.”
Our time is up and we exchange our fluorescent passes with the impossibly beautiful Air Asia women at the gate. Back in the cheap seats (at a mere 600 Euros each), we watch willowy girls in hotpants mark each car’s starting point with a national flag. They look as haughty and bored as possible, fulfilling the Grand Prix stereotypes of cash, girls and egos.
Then something interesting happens. The grid starts to come alive as mechanics in ghostbuster outfits stride onto the tarmac, assembling stacks of tyres, heaters and insulated coils of wire. Photographers race through to snatch last minute photographs, the cars themselves manoeuvre through the scrambled human activity. So many people are pitching in and working, that it takes a moment to recognize the familiar faces: Schumacher, Hamilton, Alonso, Button. Any ego is swallowed by the swarm of firefighters, stewards and others whose job I couldn’t pretend to guess, but who look incredibly busy, carry earpieces and scowl at important-looking clipboards.
Once more, it’s the car and not the driver that receives the attention, with assistants holding parasols over some parts, while mechanics nurse the temperature of the tyres right up until the final moment. The drivers have been hoisted into their seats, but those tyres are still caressed, undressed and then snuggled under blankets on the grid.
Tom’s last few words drift into my mind. “What it’s about is talent across the board. We’re all excited about the moment when a car goes sliding through a corner and looks quite cool…”
A Lotus car rolls past, decked in gold and green. “When we get our first point, we will be the happiest people in the world.”
The girls have gone and the noise builds again, that burning, tearing, deafening sound that shudders through the stands. In a lull between the revs, I think I hear a countdown from the distorted loudspeaker, somewhere in the crowd.
“Five seconds, four seconds,” but that can’t be right, it’s still so crowded.
“Three,” men fall to their knees, grappling with the tyre blankets. “Two,” oh holy shit I am about to witness the worst mass slaughter in the history of the Formula One. “One,” the noise now suffocates every space and sense in me, blinding all perception, blotting out everything except its own existence. There’s a crescendo, a climax, a searing pain in my ears…and then emptiness.
They’ve gone. It’s a magic trick, an illusion, where 24 cars disappear within a heartbeat, their caretakers flung against the fence in the final second.
I stand, stunned by the experience, while the workers sprint into action, hauling heaters, cameras and even more clipboards through a few small holes in the barricade. There’s barely a minute until the cars return from the formation lap and the Formula One Grand Prix truly begins.
The Formula One franchise likes the image of wealth, risk and life in the fast lane, yet the truth is altogether less glamorous: a lot of people doing a lot of work and, yes, making an extraordinary amount of noise.
Land of Valencia invited me to the city of Valencia and the Lotus Racing Team invited me inside the Formula One Paddock. However, I was, am and always will be, free to write about whatever I want in whichever way I want here on Inside the Travel Lab. Read my thrilling disclosure policy here.
Abigail King is a writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. Now published by Lonely Planet, the BBC, CNN, National Geographic Traveler & more, she feels most at home experimenting here: covering unusual journeys, thoughtful travel and luxury on www.insidethetravellab.com