Are you Alonso, tonight?

Train in Vein 

Unlike the previous day we managed to wake up with out hassle. We thought getting the 8.15am train and arriving for about 9am (like the day before) would be fine. Had breakfast, packed our lunch and got the metro with no problems. Got to the Garbidaldi, had about 15minutes to spare, all good, walked to the ticket machine, searched for the next train to Biassono Lesmo, next train was a few hours away. Ah…hmm…
Turns out, like most other places in the world, there was a reduced timetable on a Sunday. I didn’t think to check the night before… dam! Searched for Monza and there was a train leaving soon. Picked it and got the train. Didn’t know how we were going to get to the circuit when we arrived there. Didn’t fancy a walk and I assumed, like Friday, the traffic would be mental.
Outside Monza station there were shuttle buses leaving, so we jumped on one and moved quite slow through the traffic. Thankfully, around the park, the police closed the road to general traffic and the bus cruised towards circuit. The bus dropped us off in the middle of park. We had no idea where we where, we just followed the crowd and walked towards the circuit.
We soon found the road that we had walked down on the Thursday and walked along the footpath. It was a traffic jam, with everyone important enough to be allowed to drive in. I looked into the cars and mini buses to see if there was anyone interesting. Nope – but I gave some lads in Lotus gear (I assume they were mechanics) a big thumbs up. They seemed bemused.
Race day seemed a little busier and marshalling was a bit tighter. This meant we somehow got sent towards the entrance which let us into the GP Village area, but when we got into the grounds we knew where we were going and immediately turned right and took the path which led us under the circuit. We had to pass the obstacle of a load of “hangers on” waiting outside the paddock entrance and Paddock Club entrance, but once we manoeuvred them we went about our plan of finding a decent spot.
The plan was simple; I would go straight to the same place on the bleachers at the entrance of the Parabolica, whilst Leona walked along the inside of Parabolica to look for somewhere better, if available.
It was a bit busier than the day before, and wasn’t there too long until I got a text from Leona, saying she had found a decent viewing spot, only problem was that we would have to stand.. No problem.

She found a spot right at the first apex of the Parbolica, beside one of the stands, a few metres from the track. It was a cracking view!

Race Relations 

Caught the end of the GP3 race. Listened to the podium interview. Can’t remember much.

Retired GP3 Car

Next up was the GP2 race. A Lotus livery car locked up in front of us and got beached in the gravel (reading up on it, turns out it was Guiterrez). You could smell the smoke from the tyres for quite a while afterwards. Cant remember much detail of the race (it was six months ago now!) but it was very entertaining.

Lock Up
Hang up

Then the Porsche Supercup race. It was also very good! I also remember a wee bit of it, I think. The championship was on the line and the potential winner changed a few times. One of the contenders was knocked of the road. I think. Sounds familiar though.

Eddie?

Waited for a bit for the drivers parade. Sadly this was the only real downfall of Monza. They were stuck on the back of a truck and chatted to each other, with some interviews on the big screen. Bah! Barcelona managed to find some classic cars, you’d think there’d be some decent convertibles knocking about Italy.

Parade

There was a bit of a wait for the F1 race. Leona had a nap. A marshall brushed the track.. with an actual broom.

Usual stuff started happening. Safety car did a few laps. Cars started coming out to do instillation laps. The usual. Yada yada. Formation Lap and then the race was about to start.

As it wouldn’t be another minute until the cars came to where we were, the whole crowd was glued to the big screen. We could hear the engines behind us. The lights went red and… some idiot blocks my view, a woman behind me shouted at him and he moved… then the race started! Massa had a great start and goes into second. There was a huge cheer. Massa then makes a move on Hamilton for the lead and the cheer gets louder. He is then wheel to wheel with Hamilton into the corner and the cheers become a unanimous gasp! Massa didn’t overtake him and there was a big “awh”.

A minute and a bit later the cars come round, and a few seconds later they were gone.

I can’t remember lap for lap what happened. We continued to watch the big screen, and watch the track as the pack passed us. We would collectively cheer when Alonso overtook Schumacher, or gasped when Vergne had a spin and went temporally airborne. Alonso was having a blinder but was getting stuck behind Vettel. We watched on the big screen as Alsono attempted a pass and held our breaths as he was forced onto the grass. Collectively sighed relief as he made it onto a track and rang out some “boos” for Vettel’s trick. We cheered when he finally made it passed and cheered again when Vettel got his penalty!

Felipe Baby!

We were pretty up to date with what was going on. Then we could hear a roar of cheering from further down the back straight. I had no idea what was going on as nothing was on the screen, but it then cut to Button slowing down and pulling of the track (he was ahead of Massa at this point). Despite Button being cheered out, he received applause as, in order to get back to the pits, he had to walk passed the stands. People were cramming forward to get a photo, but I had the advantage of being tall and got a snap as he dejectedly walked passed.

Button

Perez was beginning to make up positions, so we watched as he passed Massa right in front of us. He then took Alsono and started to try and catch Hamilton.

There was a big cheer as Vettel retired from the race and gasps, followed by applause when Webber had a big spin and continued driving straight away.

It was now the final few laps and looked like a definite Hamilton win, we decided to make our way to the gates in the middle of the Parabolica for the traditional Monza track invasion. Turns out some people already had this idea.

At the gate

Invasion

We couldn’t see much of what was going in the race but hear the cars going passed very fast then very slow, so we knew the race was finished. When the crowd sensed all the cars had gone passed and we started to chant “open! open!”. The marshals then opened the gates, it got a bit dodgy for a second. with alot of people going through a gate, but we made it on the track and started to run towards the podium.

RUN!!!

As I was running I glanced behind me and Leona was a fair bit away, I considered waiting, for like a second, but decided to keep running.. she’d be fine.. probably.

I made it just in time as the drivers were coming up and they played the anthem. Thankfully it wasn’t an Ferrari win, because I think, if it was, I would blubber like a school girl with a bruised knee when they played the Italian anthem.

From where I was standing Alonso was the only driver I could see, and he was looking around him waving to the crowd. He appeared to be looking at my general direction so I gave him a thumbs up, and he gave a thumbs up back!! Awesome!

They started handing out the trophies and Alonso obviously got the biggest cheer! Then the champagne spraying happened and the place went mental! It seemed to get more crowded and everyone was chanting “A-lon-so! A-lon-so!” over and over! Champagne was sprayed into the crowd, ticker tape was dispersed and Alonso chucked his cap out.

Leona’s view

This continued for the podium interviews, with Niki Lauda, then a little bit of obligatory boo-ing for Hamilton. He said something about Italy having great fans which got a cheer, and back to chanting for Alonso.

It was bloody insane, yet absolutely brilliant. Those podium interviews are silly on TV but are made for things like this. It was a lot better than in Barcelona, when we got to see the press conference from the grandstand on a big screen.. and in silence!

The crowd started to disperse and as I had abandoned Leona earlier I texted her something like “I’m under the podium” and as I waited I had some of my carton of wine… yum!

A few minutes later Leona turned up. I was expecting a “you abandoned me you ball bag!” or something similar, but no. Suprisingly she was in good spirits despite being in the middle a mini crush underneath the podium, being soaked with champagne and having pieces of gold ticker tape stuck onto her. There was a camera man infront of her and she reckons she got on TV, sadly didn’t spot her when watching it back.
We decided to stick around for a bit, to see what, and who, we could see, and even try and get ourselves on TV (and for bonus points make fun of Eddie Jordan on TV, preferably by starting a chant).

So we waited, stuck our heads over the wall, but none of the BBC folks appeared. Met another Irish guy who wanted to give grief to EJ because “he’s a massive lick!”, which is a phrase I hadn’t heard in years!

Sadly I didn’t get to make my BBC TV début (I mean BBC F1, my da spotted me at a comedy gig on BBC NI once), though I quite possibly ended up on Sky Sports… F1… HD…

When hanging out around under the podium Damon Hill and Jake Simon Lazenby came out with a camera guy. By this point we were surrounded by a load of English people (including the burk from Thursday with the megaphone!). I tried to start the crowd in “You’re just a shit Jake Humphrey” at Lazenby, but the crowd didn’t join in. They just cheered while Lazenby gave a fist and mouthing “come on”. Trying to whip up a bit of noise so there would be a nice backdrop for their conversation.

I noticed them looking down to the pits and I look to my left, and there was Johnny Herbert looking up. So Hill and Lazenby were on the podium chatting to Herbert a few metres below them, just for the sake of it. Eugh, that’s such a Sky thing to do…

I can’t remember at what point the crowd started chanting “B-B-C!” but it happened – the megaphone guy started it..

They wrapped up their conversation and the Lazenby pointed the camera our direction. The crowd started cheering and waved their flegs and I waved my tricolour. The camera man was right above me so it is quite likely I ended up on TV. Someone from work said they remember watching that bit on TV but didn’t see me. I’ve yet to source a video of it.

Hello Damon!

The Sky people then left the podium. I presume they went to talk to Johnny Herbert some more, but face to face…

They started a samba train.

I walked up and down the pit straight a few times to see if I could see. The guy with the megaphone spotted Rob Smedley and shouted “Oi” Rob! Over here!”. Smedley was looking over the pit wall, not amused and disappeared before I could  get a snap.

The megaphone idiot then gave abuse to someone looking down from the Paddock Club balcony.

FYI – It wasn’t nice.

Walked back down to the Red Bull garage. Spotted Mark Webber’s physio (I remember seeing him on TV holding Webber’s pit board), I thought he was called Rocky but it was Roger Cleary (I got my RBR back room staff confused, Rocky being Vettel’s engineer…). I shouted Rocky but tried to make it look like it wasn’t me.. he didn’t seem to notice but he handed out some cans of Red Bull left over from the pit wall.

Pole Position.

Took a few more photos and hung around some more but the pit straight was full of  people, cars and lorries so at 5 o’clock we started getting chucked out (1hr40min after the race – the time flew!).

Sad to see you go

Hung around the GP Village area and Leona promised to buy me a T-shirt or something (as this was an extension of my birthday and because the hat wouldn’t fit my giant head!), but everything was too dear (€60 for a tee?!) or tacky looking (were would I wear it, bar another grand prix). So I decided not to get anything, preferring to spend the money on dinner.

Went to get a tasty (and cold) beverage. While Leona went to buy them, I had a sit down. Shared a table with some Finnish lads in Kimi gear (and with Keke moustaches). Chatted to them for a bit and they were quite hammered, but in good spirits and stated singing “Kimi-me, Kimi-you… ah-ha!”, and when Leona arrived back with drinks started crooning “Are you Alonso… tonight?!”.

We started to head back towards the bus when I had a depressing realisation. I wasn’t going to Monza the next day. This made me a bit sad. I’d always wanted to go there, and now I’ve been, I may never be back*. However, this was offset with the massive smile I had on my face from the afternoons activities. We got crammed into a bus and as we travelled back to the train station I reminisced to myself on all the fun I had that afternoon.

We got back to a crammed train station, then walked onto the crammed platform and got onto a crammed train. Chatted to some English guys who had to catch a plane that evening! I’m glad we didn’t, I just wanted dinner and sleep!

We later met the English lads who were staying in the same hostel as us. Somehow, they were only getting back to Milan. Turns out they decided to walk the circuit (missing the stewards chucking out) and by the time they got back to the pit straight it was practicably deserted (bar people packing up) and dark! They then said how they decided to hang out in the back of a Force India truck. Apparently they were there ages and nobody noticed them.

Conclusions?

That was the end of Grand Prix weekend #2. Last time I had made a list of things I would do differently.

  • Try and not do it on the cheap. Though I still insist the grandstand seats were a bargin! I mean food and hotel wise.
  • Bring a radio.. or something!
  • Avoid a commute! Maybe go camping on site. Or at least stay in a hotel close to the circuit. Also, It is probably cheaper than going to a music festival like Oxegen.
  • Both Silverstone and Spa were an option I considered, but I was dubious because of the rain. Barcelona has reminded me that I am not good with warm weather
  • Silverstone and Spa are also options as I could drive there (via ferry) and bring a tent!
  • The dream is still Monza!
  • I will bring my own beer. And a big cooler box.

We did it on the cheap again! Though we saved alot by i) bringing our own drink, in a cooler bag and ii) the hostel provided a bigger free breakfast, we took alot of bread rolls, ham and cheese which did our lunches. Plus the hostel provided free bottled water so we took full advantage of that!

The commute wasn’t as bad. Monza is closer to Milan than Montmello is to Barcelona. Plus the train station right beside the circuit was handy.

I brought a radio. There was no station, or at least an English speaking one. I forgot my Kangaroo voucher too, so I didn’t get to try it on the Friday.

The camping still looks good fun, but I liked staying in Milan.

The weather wasn’t as warm as Barcelona. It was nice. Though we didn’t factor Mosquitoes and got a few bites, which annoyingly kept itching for over a week after we came home!

*At some point, I’ll definitely come back to Monza!

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Drive in Saturday

Yeah, so getting up at 6am and getting the 0715 train was definitely going to happen, until I hit the snooze button on my phone, which meant it definitely wouldn’t happen. I’d decided to sleep on for another half hour or so therefore getting the 0815 train. This also meant I could get breakfast, or line my stomach, if you will.

After a bit of belly aching we got the metro to Garbidaldi, tickets bought (with a scaredy cat return) and sat in the train with barely any time to spare. The train pulled away and I started to get excited. I quietly started to chant “Let’s goooo, Alonsoooo” but got told off by Leona.
As we were going straight to Biassono Lesmo, all we had to do was fall out of the train and we’d end up at the circuit. Granted, I wanted to be at Parabolica, which was at the opposite end of the track, but a walk is better than sitting in a sauna bus in the middle of a traffic jam!
We arrived at the circuit at around nine, just as the GP3 cars had started their qualifying session. We walked under the track at Lesmo and then walked along the inside of the track from Lesmo 2 until Ascari. Again we were shockingly close to the cars despite being a few feet higher. When we got to Ascari our path was blocked by one of those pesky grandstands, so we were forced to detour further into the infield.
Up until now, Leona was telling me to walk on and she’d catch up, which is most unusual as, due to my long legs, I’m usually told to wait. But once we got as far as the Fangio statue, she said she had ‘to use the facilities’, and told me to just head on and find a space.

 

So I walked to the bleacher, sat down, observed my surroundings, texted Leona to find me by some Finnish flags then reached into the cooler bag and had a beer. As it was just after nine am the guy sat beside me looked with a degree of disapproval. Either that or he thought I was badass!
Leona arrived soon after wearing a shiny new Vettel hat, and she also bought me a shiny new Ferrari hat. She said she didn’t realise it was a Massa hat until after she bought it (though I think Massa is cool!). She then informed me that there were loads of Finnish flags and that was why it took her longer to find me, but noted, when she was looking for me, that there were some better viewing points that weren’t as busy.
If the hat fits.. or not..
I suggested that I stay where I was and she goes to find somewhere else, i.e. if everywhere had filled up, we would still have a place. As Leona scouted for somewhere I tried on my new hat. Sadly it wouldn’t fit on my giant head. Leona texted me details of a new location, with decent view and big screen adjacent. So I went to meet her. When I found her I told her about my hat dilemma. She was annoyed that the present wouldn’t fit me but also laughed… because I apparently have an oversized head.
We were now situated at the exit of Parabolica on the top of one of the bleachers. It was a great view. I had a few more beers/cheap wine, tried to put up some flags and waited for FP3.



 

I continued to enjoy my beers, and even some wine, and got chatting to a guy from outside Milan. He was talking about how he comes every year for the practices and the qualifying, but not the race. Apparently it’s too busy or something and he prefers to watch it on TV, though he said the atmosphere is great. He was a Ferrari fan and asked who my favourite ‘pilots’ were (I love how some people say that instead of driver!)  He asked where I was from and automatically associated it with Eddie Irvine, though his first point of reference was Jaguar and not Ferrari, even though he, oh so, nearly won the title with them.
 

Anyway, my chum left after practice to find a fresh viewing point.




I continued to drink.

Probably my best attempt
In my increasing drunken state my  “lets go Alonsoooo” chant got more frequent and louder. At one point, when Leona had left me unattended for a few moments, I could be found at the top of the bleacher, taking in my surroundings, whilst saying to myself (but very loudly): “This. Is. Fucking. AWESOME!”
Continental breakfast /Liquid Lunch
Drank some more and had lunch too. Watched a bit of the Porsche’s too.


Tree Swinging

After the Porsche Supercup qualifying I went to the toilet. On the way back I helped someone out of a tree (!). Went back to the bleacher where the alcohol and midday heat took it’s toll and I dozed off for a nap.

Nap #1

I woke up in time for F1 qualifying.

 
The only issue with were I was sitting was that I had to quickly run towards the pit entry to have a look at the screen to see the standings/who go eliminated (my eyesight is shocking so I had to get closer).

 

I did this for each session and was happy enough that Alonso was near the top after the first two sessions. After the third session I read that he was 10th. I assumed that I misread it, as I had to run down and just caught it quickly. Checked Twitter (I used a lot of  roaming 3G that weekend) and it confirmed it. Booo!

#fleg
After qualifying there was a break until the first GP2 race. We used this to have a sit in the shade and as the F1 was over we would have no worries not finding another spot. We sat under some trees, behind the bleacher beside the pit entry.
As I already had a nap, Leona stated it was her turn. Fair enough. She advised that I needed to stay awake to look after our stuff and made the order, under no circumstances, not to go to asleep. Fair enough.
I was awoken by the start of the GP2 race.
I woke up again about a minute and a half later for the next lap. This happened for a few laps until I gave up trying to sleep through a motor race.
Thankfully no one robbed us or I’d have never heard the end of it.

*THE* Parc Fermé

 

We went up to the pit entry and watched the GP2 cars for a bit, but the heat, tiredness and sobering up weren’t putting us in the mood so we made headed back to the train station.

 

The train was packed and I managed to get one of those single fold down seats. Leona sat on my knee. I held a bar for support and had my third nap of the day.
The sound of cheering woke me up about half an hour later, we were near Milan and I didn’t realise I had slept. I looked around me groggy and confused. I heard an American woman say something ending with “too much to drink”. I thought she was talking to me so I said “Pardon?”.
She seemed taking aback but she said it was referring to the people cheering. Apparently they were singing to a baby earlier. Though I reckon she was talking about me too and didn’t realise I spoke English!
From what I remember I went back to the hostel to shower and coffee.Later on we went down Corso Buenos Ares an

d had dinner at a place called Cin Cin bar (I think) when I had my first pizza of the holiday. Leona had risotto. It was a really nice pizza! Also had a few beers… hair of the dog and all that…

Leona was facing the road and noted a few Infinity cars and a Force India labelled car driving passed. She wondered who could have been in them. It was probably no one interesting, but we still had a wonder.
We had an early-ish night. The plan was get the 815 train to Lesmo like we did that morning. Everything was sure to go to plan…

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? via Monza…

…or Practice!


On Friday you can go on most of the grandstands. Though we have free reign of where to sit, and therefore find a decent viewing spot for practice, we still had to suss out the general admission areas and find somewhere decent to sit for Saturday and Sunday. The plan was: for the F1 practices watch from a grandstand, figure out which one when we got there, and then explore the general admission areas for GP2/GP3/Porsche Supercup.
As you don’t have to be there really early and find a decent spot you could have a lie in… well, sort of.  We were still up, washed, breakfast-ed and out of the hostel not long after eight. Jumped on the metro and took the two “Englsian” guys advice and travelled to the end of the red line and board the awaiting shuttle bus.
When we got to Rho Fiera, there was no awaiting bus… just some people standing at a bus stop, wearing F1 gear and looking confused. After some awkward conversation, with possible mistranslation, I ran over to the ticket office and got two tickets to Monza. Ran back to the bus stop as a bus was arriving, only to find, despite what the sign on the top said, it wasn’t for us and another one would arrive soon.
One did arrive soon and I got on, but the driver wasn’t bothered with my freshly purchased ticket. It seemed that all I needed to do was validate my metro ticket! The bus was pretty full already so I gave Leona a seat and I stood. Just after 9am the bus left the station and we headed to Monza, with an hour to the first practice session.
Very soon I realised that this wasn’t a special shuttle bus direct to the circuit but just a standard commuter bus. Soon enough, a seat was free so I took it, and just in time, because we were approaching Monza town and the bus began to get more crowded. Then the road started getting busier, but we were still moving. We came to a stop and there were about 100 people waiting for the bus. Bear in mind the bus could probably hold at most 50 sitting or standing and there were about 40 on the bus already. Still this didn’t stop people getting on until we were crammed. I had even squeezed up to let someone share my seat.
The bus was overflowing, going slowly and getting ridiculously warm and stuffy! Soon we got to into the centre of Monza town and started travelling along the road we had walked the previous day and by this point it was bumper to bumper. I had checked my phone and it was beyond 10am. I had missed the start of the session and was getting annoyed. Eventually, we had passed the worst of the traffic but were still only going at walking pace (as per the pedestrians walking beside us). Soon after I recognised an entrance to the park from Thursday and decided to cut our losses and make the rest of the journey on foot (as did most of the bus passengers).
It was probably about half ten by this point, I can’t exactly remember, but, like a bear who missed the start of the session, we walked through the park towards the noise of the cars. Eventually we ended up at the entrance at the Parabolica, walked under the banking and found a grandstand, on the outside Parabolica, to catch the last 14 minutes of practice.
Before we went in there was a Fanvision booth. I had printed out a voucher for free rental on theFriday. Leona asked me if I remembered it. Nope. Argh!!!!
From what I remember Kimi went air born and Alonso broke down… neither of these things happened near me, but I seen it on the big screen.
By this point I’d realised I’d lost a pair of ear plugs. Luckily had I a spare pair in my wallet (occasionally used for rehearsing). Just as well, as we seemed closer to the track than in Barcelona.. like right on top of it!
After our brief exposure to FP1 we started to explore. Left the grandstand (ticket scanned again. This was a consistent thing all weekend) to start exploring. I had my eye on the inside of Parabolica, so went to check it out, so after purchasing some overpriced fizzy pop, we headed towards the “Pirelli” bridge on the main straight to gain access to the inside of the track. Scanned in (!) and beside the bridge noticed some concrete seating. The GP2 cars were leaving the paddock via the back straight so we sat there and caught the start of the session.
If I thought we were close to the track at the first grandstand, we were probably close enough here to hi five a driver. Well, it’d be a stretch, and the driver would have to stretch too… and I’d probably rip my arm off, but you get the idea! Stayed there for about 10 or so minutes of the GP2 practice and then crossed the bridge and walked up towards the Parabolica. We sat at the general admission area, just before the entry to Parabolica (beside the DRS detection line… I think) and caught the end of GP2 practice. Here, unlike at other points, they had set up, what I could only describe as bleachers, usually 3-4 steps high. Not much but a bit better than lumps of concrete and could give you a decent view.
I felt this was a good place for possibly viewing the race, as there was a big screen adjacent (though part of the view blocked due to a pesky grandstand), decent view of the straight and entry to the corner.
After the GP2 session was over, we had an hour and a half to spare until FP2. We used our time wisely by checking out some more vantage points inside the Parabolica… except for one (empty) section, with bleachers, which was sectioned off, for local government people or something and (inexplicably) guarded by the polizia. N.B. it’s not like it was guarded by Storm Troopers outside a forest moon power station; the police were just sitting there, in the sun, chilling out. Plus they wouldn’t have an issue if distracted by an Ewok and therefore allowing the rebels spectators in, because it was a Friday and you could go on the good grandstands, as opposed to this rubbish one! Duh!
We walked along the inside of the Parabolica. There were no bleachers  but they had a few rows of the concrete benches, then tree’s and grass. There wasn’t really much room for anything else, what with the trees and and a carpark. As we continued around the inside of Parabolica, at the very centre of the corner there was a gate which lead straight to the track (as opposed to a few feet of “no mans land”), which was there, presumably, to take broken down cars or something. But I also noted, that a crowd of people could fit through, say, if the gates were opened, for some reason, maybe… (convenient plot point)
More bleachers and all that started to appear at the exit of Parabolica, and the whole “general admission” area started to open up. There were still a lot of trees though, and a car park. We had a look at around the area for possibly somewhere to sit for the rest of the weekend. There were decent enough views and a big screen across the track. Though as it was the exit of a long corner, it would be doubtful there would be much action to see on race day.
As Free Practice 2 was coming up, we decided to sit on the main grandstand in front of the pit lane. The sun was very hot so sitting in the shade would be good! We would have to cut under the track again, which meant passing the ‘Paddock Club’ entrance and the actual paddock entrance. While passing through the car park, mentioned earlier, a car was driving past and we stood aside to let them through. As it drove past I looked at the driver and thought to myself “Huh, there’s Damon Hill…”, I let my brain process that subconscious thought then I realised, actually, that it was Damon Hill, and his silly beard, looking for a parking space! To which I reacted by gorping, pointing and saying “Look Leona! It’s Damon Hill”, to which she replied “stop pointing!”.
I was shocked by my own cretinious reaction. Though, I was impressed that an Ex-Driver had just showed up to a Grand Prix (that wasn’t in Silverstone!). Then I remembered he worked for Sky now… so I was less impressed. But still seeing Damon Hill looking for a parking space, driving slower than he did in ’99, was pretty cool. I didn’t stay to judge his parking. I could have even stayed and offered to parallel park for him.
That was the only famous person I seen doing something “normal” that weekend. Normal as in not doing something within the F1 ™ bubble ™.
After cutting under the track we hung around the F1 Tat selling zone ™. There was a bit more happening than was the previous day. The Pirelli stand was full of games, including a Tyre Changing challenge. Sadly I didn’t get to have a go. Plus the ski machine was going beside it. It somehow advertised tyres. Yeah, I don’t know either!
First attempt of panoramic picture.

 

We hit the main grandstand in time for FP2. The thinking being we’ll be in the shade, we can see what’s going on in the pitlane and there will be a big screen opposite.

 

We couldn’t see much in the pitlane and the big screen was off the whole session (annoyingly coming on a few minutes after the session ended). Though, the shade was nice.

 

After practice, we tried to scope out the rest of the general admission areas. But behind the main grandstand was full of stuff we had to walk around (Tat selling/broadcasters). Eventually, we ended up behind a grandstand beside the entry to first chicane, so we got a hot dog and sat in the grass, as we listened to the GP2 cars do their qualifying. Another random Monza quirk, there was an emptied out swimming pool beside us.
We tried to walk to the outside of Curva Grande but more obstacles rerouted us, this time in the form of a campsite. When we got to the exit of the first chicane (which seemed like ages to get to) we got to an area behind the grandstand, which at the time I noticed we didn’t actually need to be scanned in to get to this area, the stewards were scanning for people to get into the grandstand. Beside the grandstand was an embankment where you had a pretty good view of the first chicane and the entry into Curva Grande, and it appeared you didn’t need a ticket to get here. I’m pretty sure I can’t be right, there may have been a mistake, or nobody bothered checking since the F1 sessions were over. But if I’m right then there’s a top tip (don’t do that. That’s a stupid idea!)
free view?

 

We walked along the outside of Curva Grande through, what I would describe as, a forest path. Still pretty close to the track. There were no sessions on yet. We were trying to get to the second chicane, then the Lesmos, for the Porsche Supercup practice session. But the forest path guided us away from the track and then took us outside the park wall. Dam! The Porsches had started and we could hear them as we walked along the road. We decided to just go back to Milan as it was the last session of the day.
We hit the train station just as the Milan train was pulling in. There was a guy on the platform, who I thought worked for the train station (now I’m not so sure), he just told us to get on. The whole way back to Milan I was bricking it, worried an irate Italian conductor would give off to me for not having a ticket, but it wasn’t to be. For the rest of the weekend I would chicken out and get a return… y’know … just in case. (the trains were far too full for a conductor to check tickets to be feasible, but I am ever the eternal pessimist)
Due to lack of seating, Leona and I got separated, so I sat with to Kiwi’s and an Australian. Started chatting about where we sat that day etc, then I asked them if New Zealanders and Australians *actually* hate each other (answer: yes, but they unite to take on the rest of the world) and weather New Zealand was anything like Flight of the Conchords. They informed me that a lot of the Irish emigrants are idiots (I agreed) but most are dead on.
We got back to Milan and dropped our stuff at the hostel. We then went for dinner. Resisting the charms of “Chicken Chicken” we went to a nice restaurant across the square. I had tagatelli, it was ace. We had some sort of pastry desert cake with custard in it. It was also ace!
After dinner we went to the supermarket to buy some cheap cartoned wine, beer, cider and bread rolls (classy). Went back to the hostel and drank some cheap wine before heading to sleep.
As seating wasn’t guaranteed for Saturday we had to get up early. I’d set my alarm for 6 in order to get the 715 train from (station). Yep. That definitely, definitely was going to happen!

C’monza good thing

Grand Prix weekend #2! Wooo! I had no intentions of going to another Grand Prix for quite some time, it’s just too dam dear! However, as a birthday present, Leona got me general admission tickets for the Italian Grand Prix. She got tickets for Monza because, when booking tickets to Barcelona, I kept yacking on about wanting to go to Monza. She got general admission tickets as she couldn’t trust herself to book “the right” grandstand (I was very analytical when booking the Barcelona grandstand, taking into account view, big screen, possible overtaking etc). Either way, I just wanted a tuner pedal so this was a nice surprise.
Just like Barcelona we had to print a voucher and go to the track to get our proper tickets. Also there would be a pit walk in the evening. Last time we got temporarily lost in the Barcelona train network, patronised a Catalan railway worker, walked to the wrong place and had to (unnecessarily) run to the ticket place. This year we decided we should allow a bit more time to account for such hiccups.
After a decent sleep, compared to the previous night anyway, we went to the kitchen in the hostel and had some breakfast. It was great, if you got up early enough you could get freshly baked croissants. However, it was not just the usual continental fare there was free reign of the coffee machine, cereal, bread rolls, homebaked tart, and, bizarrely, hard boiled eggs. I could have done with an omelette but, for a free breakfast, it was quite good. There were also packets of ham and mozzarella slices in the fridge, which I thought would be useful for taking to the track with some rolls!
During breakfast I noticed two lads with English accents, one of which wearing a McLaren tee.
After breakfast, we went to a few shops, but quickly decided we could just go to Monza early and just loaf about. I’d forgotten my sun glasses so we went back to the hostel and met the two English lads outside. We chatted for a bit and talked about how to get to Monza. We said we were going to Centrale and getting the train to Monza. They said they were just told to get the red line and get a bus from there. We met them again a few minutes later and they were in the metro station looking lost. We showed them were to buy tickets and we went on (we still had our 24h pass from Wednesday). Leona then asked if we should have waited on them. Probably… (Thinks of a way to excuse rudeness) but we were going different ways.
We got to Centrale and went to the train station to find the Monza train. It’s a bloody amazing looking train station (as train stations go). No sign of a Monza train though. We retired to the metro/train network map to rethink our plans and noticed the train goes from Porta Garibaldi so we jumped back on the metro.
When buying our tickets at Garibaldi we were trying to find the station close to the track. Leona she wasn’t sure but she thought it was Lecco, the ticket machine informed that it took about an hour to get to Lecco but only around 20 minutes to get to Monza. That didn’t seem right so we just decided to go to Monza and walk/get bus/taxi (Spoiler alert: we walked… all 6km). Booking a return was strange too, in the fact we had to select a time to return. We didn’t bother and decided to get a ticket on the way back. Turns out, if I had bothered my arse to do any research I’d realise the train station at the Lesmo corner was called “Biassono-Lesmo”.  I suppose if I had intended to go to Lecco I would have heard Lesmo on the tannoy and the penny would have dropped. Or even I would have caught on to follow the people, wearing F1 gear, we had left on the train at Monza.

Walking in … Monza


Anyway, hindsight is a wonderful (or tedious) thing, but everyone loves a six kilometre walk in a warm Lombardian afternoon… ahem.

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Actually, I didn’t mind, I got to see Monza town. It looks brilliant! If the hotel prices hadn’t been ridiculously extortionate we probably would have stayed there! Sadly, unlike Montmeló, there wasn’t a sign at the train station pointing in the direction of the track and more surprisingly there wasn’t a pile of stalls selling overpriced Formula One ™ tat (though this was only Thursday, there wasn’t even any sign of setting up!). The only F1 ™ related thing I could see in the town was Vettel’s car from last year beside some sort of promotional event.

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Six kilometres later we got to the circuit and collected our tickets (the ticket office was at the entrance, not the other end of the circuit!), with complimentary lanyard and earplugs. We also go a map of the circuit (more detailed than the one I printed online) and weekend timetable (less detailed than the one I printed online). We then headed towards, what I think they call the GP Village. Basically it’s the area where you can buy overpriced Formula One ™ tat. Had a look around and had my eye on a Ferrari back pack at only €25. It would have been useful but in the end didn’t bother. There was also a Pirelli stand with games (and a ski machine?) but nothing was happening at that time so we went to get lunch and a nearby food van.

 

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One of the strange things about Monza was the food vans. They didn’t have chips or burgers (I thought those things were universal). But they had hot dogs, paninis and some sort of cooked flat sausage panini. I can’t remember what it was called so I’ll call it a hot dog burger. I’ll also assume it’s a popular Italian thing so, y’know, when in Rome… or in this case Monza. They didn’t seem too concerned in cooking the meat too much but with fried peppers and onion it was tasty, especially with my cold beer! Leona had the same with a Pepsi and it somehow only came to €11! I have no idea how, bearing in mind a beer was at least €5, but I was not going to correct him… (Thinks of excuse)… language barrier.

Mr Pitiful


It was coming up to four o’clock so we made our way to the pit lane. Once again no one had the foresight to stick up a sign so we tried to follow the map provided/follow everyone else. We ended up walking under the main straight and ended up outside the paddock entrance. We continued to follow the crowd and we then found a bigger crowd behind the pit lane. We Assumed this was the right place.

So we waited and waited. It was now after four. The crowd got bigger. We just stared at a big gate that was slightly ajar. A few people in red wigs(Murussia fans maybe?) started chanting in Italian, paused, then chanted “Open! Open!”. We waited some more. The guys in wigs then started an Alonso chant.

One point, tedious to some but I find interesting, is that the Tifosi chant Alonso different to the Spanish fans. In Barcelona they chant “A-lonnnnnnnnnn-soooooooo, A-lonnnnnnnnnn-soooooooo” whereas the Tifosi chant “A-lon-so, A-lon-so” (in the same way you hear “U-S-A” chanted on WWF shows). I tried to start a “Fe-li-pe” chant. Nothing. (sad face).
We waited some more. The gate opened a wee bit to some excitement and closed again a few seconds later. This charade continued for a few minutes. I have a feeling what was happening that the stewards were scanning the bar codes on the tickets, a few people at a time. But it seems that they realised the enormity of their task (it was now 4.20pm and there were a few hundred people waiting) so they just opened the gates fully and everyone piled into the pitlane.
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The pitlane was already packed when we got there. Bearing in mind we came through, what we thought, was the only entrance: Where did they come from? Compared to Barcelona, the pitlane walk was alot busier, and everyone decided to stand outside the Ferrari garage!

There was also a crowd outside McLaren’s garage as Hamilton and Button were doing signings. I tried to get close but to no joy. One guy beside me was shouting “Hamilton number two driver” at Lewis. I don’t know what he was referencing, but Hamilton just ignored it. I couldn’t see Jenson through the crowd. There was also some clown with a megaphone shouting “Hey Lewis, give us a wave!” in a broad English accent (spoiler alert: we were near that fool quite a bit over the weekend. Spoiler alert 2: We resisted the urge to hurt him!). I then tried to hang about outside the Ferrari garage for a bit, but got bored of waiting and bored of the crowd so went to have a look at the Red Bull garage, which was a bit quieter.
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I left Leona hanging about outside the Red Bull garage, she was trying to steal Vettel, and I walked over to the pit wall to have a look at the track. When having a look Vettel, of all people, was doing some sort of naff PR photograph by lying on the finish line. (Edit: I hadn’t realised until after but I appear to have taken a photo of Martin Brundle filming a piece)

 

Went back to the garage and waited on Vettel and Webber to come out. We knew it wouldn’t be long as you could see Seb just ‘hanging about’ at the back of the garage. He then came out and handed out autographs (note, he had pre signed some cards), then a few minutes later Mark joined him (signing the cards live). I managed to get a Webber autograph but not a Vettel one. It was too busy to ask for a photo. The gobshite with the megaphone started shouting “Mark! Mark! Will you sign my helmet?” (he was wearing like a chrome helmet… possibly a McLaren mechanic one?). Webber looked confused at first, looking around for the voice, but fair dos to him, he signed it. The guy shouted something else, possibly a back story but I tuned it out.

Most of the time children are short, thick and bloody useless but one child did something adorable when Seb was walking back to his garage. The kid cautiously walked up to the World Champion and shyly asked for a photo. Vettel obviously did and posed with boy, when it was other the kid thanked Seb and giddily ran away…. awahhhhh!

The kid is only three years younger than the World Champ

At the same time as the Red Bull appearance was on, some bright spark thought it a good idea to send out the Ferrari drivers, so we missed them. So we decided to get some rest and sit under the podium for a bit and get some shade.

We headed back up the pitlane and there didn’t seem to be much happening. Passed by Daniel Ricciardo, who was smiling politely at people talking Italian at him, and got his autograph, I didn’t have anything for him to sign except a manky print out of an email so gave that to him to sign.

Went to ask Leona to take a photo but she had walked on. Dam!

Sweet Home AlabaMa Qinghua

After finding some discarded signed Ferrari photo’s (yoink!) we hung out at the HRT pit wall, which was obviously quieter than the Ferrari area! I noticed a crowd gathering at one of the “new team” garages and went to see who it was. It was someone at HRT and I had no idea who it was. Actually, I had seen him a few minutes earlier sitting in the car as the team practiced pit stops. I had assumed it was a mechanic embarrassed into signing autographs. Spoiler alert (though not really): It was Ma Qinghua who made his debut in one of the practice sessions. However, I didn’t find that it could have been him until I listened to a podcast on the flight home.

(F) One Hot Minute

 
Ah… here’s a handy link. Said Podcast was from Sidepodcast which have alot of good audio and articles (top tip: the Joe Saward shows are particularly brilliant!). They once gave away stickers for one of their shows. I got some stickers, and after sticking some on my basses, I saved them for an occasion like this! I kept some in a safe place and some in a not so safe place. Somehow the not so safe ones turned up and the safe place ones vanished. Grrr! I blame moving house!
Spoiler alert: I took this photo on Sunday
I also had promised to stick one on Rob Smedly’s chair. I’d even checked Google to find out that he sat on the left on the pit wall (thinking about it, that doesn’t make sense, Massa’s pit board was on the right…). Who’d have thought Ferrari were so popular in Italy and their area being so busy! I had to improvise.
Not as popular with the Tifosi
Hoping for an unsafe pit release
After all that it was about six o’clock. I had one more thing to do: go to the banking!

Mr Banker

I couldn’t fit in Fangio’s car
We walked out the pitlane and using my sense of direction headed towards where I thought the banking would be. Seeing it on TV, I knew the banking crossed the track just after the Lesmo corners, so I was heading in that direction. We arrived at an open bit of grass and I looked to the left and, by accident, there was the banking.
As we walked towards the banking, it just got bigger. When I stood at the bottom it struck me how high it was! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a grand prix ran on the banking, except the occasional clips. I’ve never even played it on a computer game. The closest I’ve seen to a race on it was in the movie Grand Prix… and that is harrowing! I was shocked to think anyone would be crazy enough to race that high!
I made the attempt to climb to the top, half way up is fine but then it gets more difficult, and by the top you have to do a lunge for the barrier to pull yourself up. It is so deceptively steep. On my second climb I lost my balance and ended up sliding down and couldn’t stop my momentum! The thought of driving, let alone racing, on it is crazy!

Bit of perspective

At the top, the people at the bottom looked tiny. The enormity of the banking is evident from that height. Getting down was less fun. Two choices, either slide down and wreck your trousers/get burns on your ass, or run down and run the risk of tripping over yourself. I chose the latter. I took baby steps at first but the steepness gave me extra momentum and ended up running full strides by the bottom. I used the grass entrance we came through to slow down, if I had climbed elsewhere I’d have ended up in weeds and nettles!

I sat on the banking for a bit and took it all in. It was quiet. I had only seen about 10-20 other people coming to see it. Maybe nobody else cared or maybe the local fans are here all the time so it’s no big deal to them. As I have no proper memories of watching races from here (except a movie) I could still appreciate the history of this giant old, dilapidated, weedy lump of concrete, and with the sun starting to set.. I could have sat there all day.
But I couldn’t sit much longer. I could hear an announcement from the pitlane. My Italian isn’t great (!) but I could guess it meant “get out!”.
My Sunday Hat sticker… shameless
We walked along the banking to where it crosses the track (if I could I would have walked the whole thing!) and found a gate (hole in fence) which brought us along the track. We walked along the track to the Lesmo corners, watching people were jogging/cycling past us on the track.
We walked past some ruined buildings, one looked like a church. I could yack on more about historical Monza and yada yada… but one think I loved there is one thing at Monza you wouldn’t find at any Tilke circuit… a geese farm! There were some goats knocking about too.
Actual geese!

Train in Vain

We found the exit and walked under the circuit again and we were right at the train station. The train the Milan just pulled away so we got to the station and learned the next train wasn’t for another hour. So we just waited. We didn’t learn where to buy tickets though, so asked around. The consensus was “you can probably buy tickets on the train…probably”. So we went with that.

Under the track. He certainly does.
We chatted to some Dutch fellas at the train station. Talked about me visiting Amsterdam a few months ago and one of them told me about their trip to Cork 20 odd years ago. He also talked about their “English” campsite (they had to pay in sterling) and how they saved up for years just to come to Monza and buy one of the expensive grandstand tickets (do it properly!). We also made the other guys day when he asked to see a timetable for the weekend. I had the ridiculously detailed one and gave it to him and he asked his mate to take a photo of it. I told him to keep it and he seemed so happy (I had a couple of copies).
Their train was going in the opposite  direction and it arrived first, so we waved goodbye to our new Dutch friends (didn’t get their names) and then our train arrived while later.
No one came to check/sell tickets so free train ride back to Milan. Yay. We took a wrong turn in the train station (no signs for the metro) and ended up outside. Thought, maybe the metro was around the corner. Walked 800m and arrived at a bridge. Checked Google maps and turns out the metro was around the other corner. We were 1km away from another metro so instead of walking back on ourselves we walked on.
It was now about 10pm when we got to the metro beside the hostel and the two English guys followed us out (I didn’t get their names – I really should have) and they regaled us with their adventures. Notably how they accidently ended up at the front when the Ferrari drivers were doing their signings. They also said how there was a bus to Monza waiting outside the Metro stop they went.
Being hungry Leona and I went to get food and had some focaccia. Yum.
Back to the hostel for a hot chocolate and to sleep off all that walking. Leona reckoned it was about 10km… but who’s counting?!

Milan-d it stoned me

Another early morning commute to the airport. This time I didn’t even bother trying to go to sleep. The bus was at 3am. The taxi booked for half two. It was easier to stay up. I watched a few episodes of “How TV ruined your life” on youtube to pass the time. I’ll have over two hours to sleep on the bus and three hours of flight… I’d be grand!

When we got to the Europa and got to the bus we presented the driver with a return fare, but he just waved us on. The reason given was the heating on the bus was broken. Fair enough, but how bad could it have been for Bus Erinnan to give us a free journey?
Oh… that bad! The two, or so, hours on the bus were very, very cold! This thwarted my plan of sleeping on the bus. Plus my big headphones aren’t ideal for sleeping. Despite taking up pretty much the whole back row of the bus I only slept about 20-30minutes.

I think I was losing my mind.
So, it’s half five in the new terminal of DublinAirport. I’m very cold and very sleepy. So a nice cup of tea is all I need to sort me out. A cup of tea with some sausage, bacon and eggs!
We got on the plane, its starts to taxi to the runway, the safety demonstration happened, the plane takes off and I wake up twenty minutes from Milan. Well, not entirely true, despite being awake as the plane took off, I woke up for a few seconds whilst the plane was cruising and wondered why we hadn’t taken off yet. I’m very stupid when I’m tired.

Milan-d so i watch you from afar

After getting the bus to Centralle we decided to go to a coffee shop in order to get our bearings and figure out where the hostel was. This led to more confusion than envisaged. First, I remembered my lack of Italian was embarrassing (I’d been to Venice before and got by on “Chao, Gracie, Si”. Though the situation wasn’t helped by their (what I felt was) bizarre ordering system.
 Leona successfully managed to order a sandwich and coke, get a ticket, go to the bar and receive her purchase in exchange for the ticket, she went outside to the tables to consume. I took note and tried to do the same, went to the ordering place and the lady pulled the trick of pretending to speak English then stating she hadn’t a clue. At this stage I was close to breaking down and cry “I just want a coffee!” but we were both saved by a waiter or something who took my order and got a waitress to bring me to a table. This deviation from the previous ordering system I had witnessed left me confused, but I went outside to find Leona and sit with her. When I went outside, she wasn’t there and with the waitress hurrying me to sit somewhere I took a seat and assumed Leona would show up.
My Café Macciadato (Espresso with a bit of foam) arrived with my Chocolate Tart thing and Leona texted me to say she was around the corner, apparently she wasn’t allowed to sit and eat food outside the place where she bought the food (!). So we ate our respective food apart. I was happy enough, I got to watch Milan go by, in the sun. Leona, not so much.. She sat in the train station (though in fairness… it is a really nice train station!)
We managed to figure out the general direction of where we should head (south east) and found the street our hostel was on and the Mc Donalds it was beside, but finding the hostel wasn’t as easy. Walked up and down the street a few times and then noticed it on a tiny sign (about 1cm thick) beside a door bell.


Anyway, after climbing the three flights of stairs we met the lovely Sierra, Leonardo and Michaela. Despite their lack of English and our lack of Italian, we managed to get to grips with everything via Leona and Leonarado’s bit of of French (and occasionally, for some unknown reason, I slipped into a bit of Spanish). Basically, the important stuff: Free bottled water( “sin gas? Con gas?”), free coffee from the machine, free wi fi, free breakfast and you don’t have to bother with the dishes!

The room was nice and big too, with a balcony, and we could also watch all the excellent Italian Satellite programming we wanted. We resisted that particular temptation and tried to stay awake by going for a walk. We went down Corso Buenos Aires for a bit and decided to jump into the metro at Lima to do some touristy things. Mainly go have a look at the Duomo.
When we got to the Duomo we were immediately pounced upon by people pedalling tat to tourists (literally at the top of the steps exiting the Metro). One guy selling actual string offered us some for free. We declined but somehow they ended up in our wrists while he chatted to us about liking Celtic and coming from Senegal (it’s like the opposite of pick pocketing!). Then the cheeky fucker asked for a donation to Africa (“just a euro!”). All I had was a €2 coin so I gave him that just to get rid of him, saying that’s for both of us. Then was brazen enough ask Leona for a “donation”. He tried to play dumb but I was insistent she already had via me. I was initially raging by being stung like that, but in time learnt to appreciate the pretty crafty scam going on. Also the colourful bit of string on my wrist was a good way of getting rid of the numerous others selling bits of fucking string (“already have one… boom!”).

Shite multicoloured string.
After having a look at (not in) the Duomo we walked around the square and down some fancy shopping malltype place. All the fancy shops: Prada, Gucci, McDonalds… etc and walked through to a square with a statue with DiVinci in it and had a sit.

 

San Siro Hour
At that point Leona suggested we go to the San Siro. Sadly it didn’t seem to be near anything and we couldn’t find it on our map. We found out it was “near” the Lotto metro stop. Once we got off the metro we expected to find a giant stadium looking at us. Nope. Walked around the corner and saw a sign so we followed it. Then saw another sign and followed it. This process repeated itself a few time. Afterwards I checked on google maps how far it was. It was apparently 2km, but I reckon we walked at least double that. Even when we got near the stadium we ended up walking the long way around it as opposed to taking a more direct route. By this time we still didn’t even know if there was a tour. Thankfully there was!

 

Yeah, so the tour was… short. Well compared to the Old Trafford one, which took you everywhere! San Siro took you too one of the stands, into the two changing rooms and the bit below the stand. The guide wouldn’t take questions either, and I had a load of tedious ones! We walked about the museum for a bit too. It was the usual fare but in two parts, plus a few things from other teams.


We then tried to walk back to the metro. We had a fare idea where we were going and even found a map to consult. The consensus being: walk in one direction in a straight line and turn left. Wasn’t that simple and we again took some unexpected detours. By this point it was after 6 and it was starting to rain, the rain got heavier and I was just wearing a T-shirt. I didn’t really mind, the rain was sort of warm and it was refreshing from the heat we had earlier.
We finally got to Lotto and decided to eat dinner in the McDonalds across the road and have a rest before we headed back to Loretto. One think I found amusing that something, I would think as, classy i.e. a Tiramisu was advertised in a McDonalds! Sadly I didn’t get to have one despite several attempts (sad face!).

Coffee (mil)and TV

After our trek back to the hostel we retired to our quarters with some hot chocolate. It was about half eight and because of our very early start, Leona went straight to sleep. I tried to stay awake a while longer, to prevent me waking at crazy o’clock, by reading tweets and news on my phone. I read about Zanardi’s Paralympic gold and then switched on the TV to see if I could find anything on it. I just continually flicked through Italian TV, find one show where attractive ladies and older gent just dance about. Then I found some hilights of the 1981 Spanish GP on a random sports channel! Yay!
By 10 I had enough and fell asleep. The next day I was off to Monza! Double Yay!