Travel 2008 – Spa-Francorchamps, Day 1

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Thursday, 31st July 2008 – Spa-Francorchamps, Day 1

So… Belgium. What happened, and what didn’t? I’ll take it a day at a time, I think. And today I’ll deal with Thursday…

Thursday started at what can only be called stupid-o’clock, because under normal circumstances 4.45 is not an hour of the morning I want to see, at least not because the alarm clock has gone off and I need to get up. We sorted out the cats, threw bags into the car, and headed for Heathrow, which proved to be remarkably quiet, especially for a mid-week morning. Of course with BA having decamped to T5, T1 was a lot quieter than it used to be, but even so from going in the front door, we were through the bag drop, passport check and security and in the duty free shop inside 15 minutes… which was odd, frankly. It’s the first time I’ve been through Heathrow since last November and the improvement was amazing. Anyway, we lurked in the business lounge after we’d rounded up a present for Nath and then, when they called our flight, we made our way in leisurely fashion to the plane. A drink and coffee on the plane, and before we knew it we were coming in to land in Brussels. Of course there followed the inevitable half hour wait at baggage carousel 8 while our bags finally turned up. By that point Nath had arrived on the train from Rotterdam and was sitting by the car hire desk waiting for us. Avis tried to fob me off with a Mercedes C-Class, but with two 6 feet plus people included in our foursome, and everyone with largish bags, that was never going to work, so it was swiftly exchanged for a Renault Laguna estate car, with lots of room in the boot. It didn’t much like going uphill, especially from a standing start, and we weren’t helped by the fact that the SatNav, “Charlotte”, was having a bit of trouble with the spatial anomaly that is Belgium. Having made us loop round the airport and go back on ourselves, she finally let us out of Zaventem and took us to Spa via Zolder, which may be quick but isn’t the shortest way of doing it.

However, unscheduled adventures aside, we made it to Francorchamps, picked up our passes, and were inside the circuit confines with five minutes to spare before untimed practice started. We’d missed the morning session – it couldn’t actually be helped as it was early Thursday morning – so for this we snatched up cameras and stuff that we really needed, and threw ourselves into the grandstand opposite the old pits to watch and take photos. Kristjan Einar’s rather wonderful grandparents were there and she kept hugging me and thanking me for what I’d done, which seemed a bit of an overreaction as so far what I’ve done is given them some photos they needed from Monza and made sure he gets a mention in your reports, but we do that for everyone – still, it’s nice to be told you’re an angel sometimes! Even if it’s patently not true!

Anyway, after the session ended it was time for a traditional, deeply unhealthy Spa lunch, meaning Jupiler beer and Woopy Snacks frites with mayonnaise.

Then it was time to head into the press office and set up for the weekend. The usually Spa-local organiser-induced chaos didn’t seem to be that bad this time, at least at this stage, but maybe that was because Jacquie and the other assorted FIA and SRO people had already been shouting at them before we got there! There were actually lots of TV screens working, and once it was carefully explained to the photographers that they had their own wifi system to sign on to and should stop stealing the bandwidth from the rest of us it was possible to get online and get working. MST (or whatever they’re calling themselves this year) weren’t doing a lot, and we didn’t have the right TV screens because as ever the bloke with the remote control had wandered off, but at least we had one screen that was showing the right page of the timing screens, so we could figure out what was going on in part. There was – as usual – no TV coverage and wouldn’t be till Saturday, but we were allowed on the roof of the building this time, so at least we could see the track. Jacquie seemed to have thought of pretty much everything, though it’s always likely that at Spa the locals will throw something else you’re not expecting into the mix just when you think it’s all under control. Anyway, the qualifying session was slightly frustrating as we all ended up clustered around the one screen, but it could have been so much worse. A quick round up of all the information we needed, and it was gone 19.00 and time to head for the hotel.

The Hotel St. Hubert was as good as ever, even if Edgard did try to water me as well as the plants when we got there.

That’s the thing about staying at the same place for 20 years. They get used to you and you get used to them.

A swift beer before dinner, and then it was carpaccio of beef…

Followed by guinea fowl and finally strawberries with ice cream for dinner, followed by passing out cold for 8 hours before we had to do it all over again.

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