This is an account of my weekend at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza. The following post does not contain race analysis or stats, but sleeping under the stars, ice cream, public transportation, avoided fence jumping and eventual rats.
The alarm clock went off with a loud, chiming pulse at 5am on Saturday, 3rd September. “What the hell is it now?” I asked myself in a dazed delirium, but then my very next thought was: “I’ve got a plane to catch, I’m going to the Italian Grand Prix”. As I was slowly getting out of bed, I took a moment to think about the next time I would see another bed - the very same bed, in fact - 64 hours later. Yeah, that was my so-called ‘plan’. Go there and see what happens.
In late 2014 I did a toss-up whether to spend money on going to the Monte Carlo Rally, the Monaco Grand Prix or the Italian Grand Prix. The Monte Carlo Rally won that contest, but little did I know then that I would be lucky enough to go to Monaco for the F1 race as well to party with some of the finest sports people, royalties and celebrities while sipping some exquisite champagne with gold sprinkles in it.
Having both Monaco-based events ticked off in the same year and with the news arriving that the Italian Grand Prix would potentially be leaving Monza behind, it was a no-brainer decision to spend weeks on checking up on cheap flight tickets to Milan to see the - potentially - last ever Grand Prix at the legendary circuit. Although my interest in F1 in general has been declining for quite a while, it was still an event not to be missed, just in case.
So me being the cheap guy I usually am, I waited for the right time until plane tickets were the cheapest and I planned nothing else to bump up my budget: no ticket to the race, no reservation of accommodation - not even couchsurfing -, just go there and spend the nights at the magical Lake Como.
I woke up again to the loud argument of - apparently - James Brown, a Kung Fu master from a ‘70s Hong Kong movie and a vision of Father Ted. For a moment I didn’t even know where I was or what I was doing, but the noises behind made me terrified briefly. I was sitting on the bus heading to Budapest and it took quite a few villages to pass through for me to realise that the back row was occupied by a group of hearing-impaired people and they were having a jolly conversation among themselves. It was a three-hour ride, plus the struggle through town to get to the airport. It was only the second time I was about to fly - following the trip to Nice and back the year before -, so I carefully chose the seat next to a window - close enough to the wing - to be able to see the terrain and the clouds below and to observe what the wing flaps were doing. Of course when I finally found my seat, it was a two-in-one combination, having able to sit next to two windows as well. That is to say, in-between them. “Motherf***er” I thought when I saw it, because I reserved the very same seat for the way back as well for simplicity’s sake and it would be the same 737. So much about staring out of the window.
Touching down in Bergamo, my very first experience was the sun beaming down. It was just like July back at home as the asphalt was reflecting all the heat back. “I’d better be going to the lake ASAP”. So I got on the bus to the town centre, then on the train to Lecco and by quarter past four I was looking at the Alps, somewhere in the direction of George Clooney’s mansion. “This is it” I thought “I’m never going to leave this place.”
I spent the rest of the day feeding ducks, walking up and down the coast, watching the sun slowly ducking behind the mountains - still eating the buns I had brought with myself. When it got dark enough, it was time for me to find a place to sleep. I chose a set of concrete steps on the bank of the lake where there was enough shadow to conceal me from the public eye. I put on my cardigan, my sweatpants á la Gábor Király and wrapped myself in a blanket.
Just after 3am I woke up to some drunk guy screaming and throwing stones - not sure if they were meant to be aimed in my direction -, but I waited out till he left and moved on to some better place. Near the steps there was a park surrounded by hedges and there was a section missing of it. It revealed a terrace right on the bank of the lake with a 180-degree view of the water and the mountains. Since it was dark, I used the opportunity to clean myself up using wet-wipes and some anti-bacterial liquid. So there was I, completely butt-naked at beautiful Lake Como, tarting myself up as a cat does as I was in no mood to test the temperature of the water at that hour. I managed to sleep until 5.30 and I stayed there waiting for the sun to rise and shed light on the mountains. It wasn’t about to do so due to some clouds in the way, so I just enjoyed the lack of people and traffic and the blow of the wind in the morning hours until my train was due to leave.
Formula 1 crapped up most public transportation in the area. The trains wouldn’t stop at the Biassono-Lesmo station, the one that is closest to the track (literally, just a few steps away). So the train headed straight into Monza from Lecco and in an improvised moment I thought “F**k it, let’s just walk”. Now, the Autodromo is in Monza Park and it only takes up a relatively small section of the real estate. This means, the public area is always open (meaning in opening hours). My plan was to get in there and get as close to the track as humanly possible without a ticket. While wandering within the park, I could already hear cars racing around, so I just followed the noise. I cut through a golf club and to my greatest disbelief, I saw the Porsche Pirelli cars racing behind the trees. I got as close as I could and I was just three fences away from the actual track, just after Lesmo 2 corner. I just had to get around the golf club to get two fences away.
The irony is, opposite this public path there was a grandstand where the paying customers were sitting and more or less saw the same thing as we on the other side of the road did. I would have never imagined it would be that easy to get that close to the action without a ticker, legally. By the time I got there, the drivers’ parade truck was pulling in with Kimi and Felipe being the apparent fan favourites for the weekend.
By the way, if anyone wore an F1-themed shirt, it was a Ferrari one. It was only at the train station later when I saw some Mercedes and Red Bull ones, but they were - of course- not worn by Italians.
This was the fourth time I would be listening to these turbo engines through the three years and there had been a lot of change in the sound. In 2014, I concluded that the Renaults were the loudest and best sounding of the bunch with the Mercedes being a neutral sounding power unit and the Ferrari a nasal one.
The arrival of Honda changed everything in 2015, it was the most distinct sounding ICE of all with its raspy grunt. You could tell a Honda apart from miles away with your eyes closed.
Now, it was a whole new ballgame. Funnily enough, the Renault and the 2015 Ferrari power units were relatively quiet and flat sounding. So whenever a Red Bull, a Toro Rosso, a Haas or a Renault whizzed by, they almost went below the radar, unnoticed. Now, when a Mercedes or a Ferrari came, it was hard not to notice and on relative terms, they were loud for once. Best part, though? The Hondas. You couldn’t hear the sound of the ICE as they were approaching, only the sound of the turbo and with that black car leaping into frame, it was like Darth Vader marching through the field with his trademark breathing. Upon leaving, they had a Renault-esque, suppressed and compressed sound, but it was still unique.
The race itself from that vantage point didn’t bring too much excitement other that a few cars trying to pass at the end of that short straight and that Sauber’s blow-up right in front of me in the first few laps with the track marshals frantically trying to collect the debris on track when traffic was temporarily gone. Funnily enough, after about one hour, the crowd on my side got sparse, many people left well before the end. As the German anthem was playing over the speakers, I gathered myself and started my 90-minute journey back to the train station - with some people taking Porsche Pirelli Supercup tyres with them.
Back in Lecco, it was all about ice-cream. Hell, I hadn’t had that fine ice-cream in my life. Eating ice-cream, sitting by the lake, watching the swans, it was one of the most uncomfortable, yet my best travel I have ever had. I went back to the same place to sleep, although this time I had some visitors. Once I woke up with a guy standing over me, lighting up a cigarette. He couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t speak Italian, so we waved goodbye and off he went. There were some people trying to get romantic at the place I was residing at (there were some used condoms thrown away in the bushes) and some rats or rat-like animals were running around, rattling the branches. One moment I had a dream of fireworks shooting out of my penis, only to realise it wasn’t a dream. I fully opened my eyes to see and hear fireworks shooting up in the sky on the other side of the lake, making it look like as if they were launching from between my legs.
The drill was the same. Got up at 5.30, waited for the sunrise, took the train to Bergame, then the bus to the airport, the plane to Budapest, cutting through the city via bus, underground and then the train home. After exactly 64 hours, I was again in close encounter of a bed - my own bed specifically. I washed off all the grit I couldn’t get rid off with wet wipes during those two nights and kept wondering what my next destination should be:
the Belgian Grand Prix