Thursday, 16th/Sunday, 19th 2006 – Macau
Thursday saw the inevitable early start, though not as early as in some years. As we both had photographers’ access bibs, we decided that we would drop our stuff off at the press office then get the press shuttle bus to Melco, the Hairpin that is about three-quarters of the way round the track. We made it in good time and settled in for the start of the session. I could have lived without Charlie Kimball waving at us at the start and end of the session, but at least no one (well, apart from Richard Antinucci) managed to embarrass themselves there – even Richard didn’t hit anything, though he did end up pointing completely the wrong way and gave a couple of the local “heroes” a bit of a start… The marshals scrambled down and got him facing the right way, which meant he was soon on his way. The session ended soon afterwards, so Lynne and I retreated to the press office and started stringing photos together to send back to Nancy in HQ while we waited for the first of the qualifying sessions to start. The report for that is elsewhere, needless to say, and all I’ll say here is that it was a very long afternoon.
We eventually made it back to the hotel just in time to shower and change before heading out to the Clube Miltar for dinner. The surroundings were much the same as always, polished wood, hushed conversation, and excellent food. I opted for the prawn curil (a Portuguese prawn curry), but started with ham, cheese and a selection of bacalhau balls (deep fried salt cod dumplings really) and finished with a selection of Portuguese desserts shared between Lynne and myself, while Glyn took on some serious chocolate! The service was as eccentric and erratic as ever, but somehow that doesn’t matter there. It was a lovely evening, even though we had some trouble catching a cab back to the hotel. We ended up snagging one from outside the Lisboa, which made me wonder why we didn’t think of it sooner really.
We made a beeline for our rooms, bypassing the hotel bar which had become a really dangerous place for anyone intent on getting a good night’s sleep. Just because the likes of Wendy and Yvonne have no work to do at the circuit, doesn’t mean the rest of us can get by on two hours sleep a night – well, not and still function anyway.
On the way to the circuit, we ran into Charlie Kimball in the morning and saw how battered he was after his Friday qualifying accident. He’d smacked his chin right against the seatbelt buckle with the violence of the crash and it had left a graze along his jaw line. He looked as if he’d been fighting with something – I suppose he had, in the shape of Fishermen’s Bend. Unfortunately, he went and did pretty much the same thing on Friday afternoon, so he really wasn’t having a good day. Again, the day was spent at the track (out at Fisherman’s Bend and then in the press office) so by the time we finished for the day we were very hungry – we’d opted out of breakfast and there’s nowhere to get lunch since they closed the Pizzeria Toscana, presumably as a prelude to knocking down the pit/office building and replacing it with a shiny new set of offices. To be honest, after the previous evening all three of us had decided we really didn’t need more than one meal a day in Macau anyway, so it could have been worse. It was made bearable as well by the knowledge that we had a table booked at the Mezzaluna that evening. OK, so the prices are close to London levels but the food! It’s out of this world, frankly.
Macau is a place where you eat well pretty much everywhere, but the Mezzaluna is truly special. I started with pasta filled with wild boar and wild mushrooms, then moved on to the most amazing fillet of beef, meltingly perfect, then finished up with a savarin, doused in rum from a tiny atomizer… It was all quite spectacular, and we staggered home close to midnight at ease with the world (if not with our waistbands).
Saturday was a nice late start – we made the most of it, sleeping in till 10 and hauling down the track around 11. The weather was humid and uncomfortable, but I still wandered onto the grid to take photos because I could. The evening was – as ever – the Grand Prix Committee Dinner, held at the Taipa Houses Museum. It looked lovely, and the food was the usual eclectic mix. We ate well, including some very good sushi and sashimi, and chatted to people about all sorts of things, including the perils of racing in Asia (you go to Zhuhai and apparently get fined for being overtaken under yellow flags, which is not the normal way of doing things), the increasing number of girl-racers in the motorbike racing world, and good restaurants around Monza.
Sunday, needless to say, was a bit “hit the ground running and don’t stop till Monday”… The warm-up for the WTCC boys was at 7.30, which is way earlier than could be considered sensible. I wanted to get some shots so I walked to Sao Francisco and spent the session there. I stayed for the F3 then walked back to the hotel for a shower and breakfast. It had been a bit unreal as I wandered out there.
It was – please bear in mind – very early. The Lisboa night shift from the Casino was just clocking off, dozens of white shirted, tired looking individuals in black trousers, shiny shoes, heading off to get the bus home. In the park by the Clube Militar, a band were practicing very quietly while two people waved flags in a wildly complicated routine. A little old lady standing on the pavement opposite was doing tai chi moves in time to the music. On the corner, the marshals were sitting down reading the newspaper and eating McDonalds for breakfast, while one of them had his nose buried in a book. The scaffolding on the old green colonial-style house that now serves as the photographers’ stand was full of squabbling sparrows, somewhere in the gorgeous pink-flowered vine that now covers the bamboo and wire construction. It was all strangely peaceful till the cars came round…
The day got hectic very quickly, and we were working right up till the last minute, when we realised if we didn’t go and get a cab sharpish, we’d not make it to the prize giving, being held in the very bizarre Convention Centre at Fisherman’s Wharf this time… We shared a cab back with Romain Grosjean and his “friend”, which somehow we ended up paying for, but to be fair he was pretty entertaining while we waited in the queue. A very speedy shower and a change of clothes and we were back in action and on our way to the prize giving.
The prize giving dinner was very rushed, which was probably just as well. It meant Sebastian Vettel didn’t get to throw too many bread rolls at us, and we therefore weren’t forced to dole out some sort of retribution. Frankly, I reckon Maro Engel put him up to it, though I have no proof.Anyway, the dinner was very good, though Lynne and Glyn had to stop the waiting staff taking mine away before I could finish it! The perils of wanting to photograph the ceremony as well as eat dinner… Silly me! Still, as the same thing happened last year (I never did get any soup), we at least knew what might happen and the other two were prepared to repel boarders (or at least waiters). Afterwards, the lights were dimmed and the WTCC Prize-Giving started. To say it was dire would be giving it altogether too much credit, frankly. The two people presenting were reading a cheesy script as if they’d never seen an autocue in their lives before, and after about 10 minutes Lynne and I did a runner back to the Rio, pleading work to complete.
An hour later we were in the Rio bar watching the Raikkonen Robertson Racing senior staff (including Boyo) get well and truly rat-arsed, and in the case of Boyo having a major difference of opinion with the hotel manager about the price of beer. They’d run out of draft Carling and were serving it by the can, in smaller quantities but at higher prices. He wasn’t happy about that… Especially as he was buying for the entire bar! Various people wandered in and out, and Kimi Raikkonen sent a text in Finnish during the next few hours. Bruno Senna’s attempts to communicate were greeted with a major wind-up along the lines of “That was your engine Mike won with”, and eventually we all settled in to watch the re-run of the race on Macanese TV. By two in the morning the bar was almost empty, most people having decamped to Wynn, which was the scene of complete and utter chaos later (they also ran out of beer). We didn’t go – I still had too much work to do, and I like to think we have more sense. Certainly judging by the human wreckage in the foyer on Monday morning, we made the right decision.