Stansted Airport, England, 6:00 a.m.
The guide from the luxury tour operator was one of those unfeasible women; completely immaculate and with the sort of cheek bones that could slice a kiwi fruit. She arranged for the porter to take the bags off to the private jet area and ran through the day’s itinerary. “Ok, so when we land at Nice, you’re already fast-track cleared through customs, so it’s straight into the helicopter for the transfer to Monaco. There’s a champagne breakfast on the terrace overlooking the track for morning free practice, then into the Paddock Club for a tour of the garages and an interview with one of the Grand prix drivers in our exclusive suit. You’ll then be driven around the circuit between races, before lunch. Then it’s over to the harbour side yacht for your view of the race, with champagne and canapés. Any questions?”
It was around this point that the girl from the low budget airline began cattle prodding us past the V.I.P. area and into our own baggage check queue. Given that they seem determined to treat us like inmates of Guantanamo Bay it always seems strange that it’s the airline staff who wear the orange jump suits. “Remember, any item of hand luggage larger than this kumquat is 40 Euros extra.”
The coach transfer from Nice Airport dropped us off so far from Monaco that I swear I heard the sound of Swiss cow bells. “Remember, you need to be back on the coach no more than 6 minutes after the end of the race or we’ll miss our flight slot.”
This was all around 10 years ago, pre-satellite phones and i-Pad maps, so we just headed downwards in the vague direction of the sea. As we eventually shuffled nearer the track, the space became more and more enclosed, lest anyone should accidentally get a free glimpse of any part of the track or even the town. The grandstand was perched on a floating dock out above the harbour, uncovered and exposed to the merciless Mediterranean sun.
And then the engines started; one at first and then more, revving angrily. As the noise bounced off the concrete fingers of tower blocks and through the man-made canyons in-between, it seemed to grow unstoppably. The track-side commentary was inaudible but you could sense where the cars were coming around the track until at last the first flashed past. The pace seemed impossible against the backdrop of the barriers and buildings. A Sauber came around the swimming pool too fast and slammed into the tyre wall right in front of us. The race wasn’t the greatest, but that didn’t matter. It was an experience of senses rather than the brain.
Back at Nice airport, around midnight, they confirmed that our delayed flight would now be departing, having missed its earlier slot ahead of the private jets, just as soon as the passengers had a whip round to pay for the landing lights at Stansted to be kept lit.
Eventually, we were left on the damp tarmac in England with nothing but the light from my sunburned nose to guide us back to the deserted terminal.
Would I do it again? You bet.
FORMULA ONE MUM