Chasing the Race

Kimi and Giancarlo on Orchard Road Kimi and Giancarlo on Orchard RoadHe was pleasant and made good conversation, and for a Singaporean manager, seemed quite easy, there was not that brusqueness about him. He is determined to source a range of aerospace components from India; for which he will open his office in Hyderabad by January. “You will be our first source,” he said, showing more delight than me, the beneficiary. I wondered how much time he had, but it was he who asked, “what is your schedule?” I told him I was going to the F1 in the afternoon, and he fell silent—the first such moment in the half-day meeting. “I don’t like the races,” the aerospace professional said: “Speed isn’t good.” I told him I agreed: “speed is not for the oriental.” His manner told me I hadn’t said the best thing for the moment. He represents a $4.1 billion US corporation, and I was treating him like one would a brand new Mercedes.

Jazz@Southbridge Jazz@SouthbridgeThe Only Night Race was quite a festival with many events bundled with the race: on Orchard Road; at Jazz@Southbridge; in the Esplanade, and at Padang and Stamford and Marina Square; and in the F1 Village where they’d built an enormous stage for concerts between races, where the Backstreet Boys sang to recorded music and grinned and blew kisses and shouted “I love you” to believing fans. “Even more games to the people,” seems to be the strategy, and it is working well to engross a people into making more money for more merriment. At Orchard Ion the crowd began to form under a blaze at two for the Ferrari roadshow scheduled for three. About three-hundred people gathered and, late by five minutes, a red Ferrari arrived like a regular motorcar, having stopped at the red-signal at Shaw Centre next to ordinary motorists. It roared away from the crowd and five minutes later Kimi Räikkönen and Giancarlo Fisichella walked up to the crowd. Kimi wore knee-length pants and flip-flops and hair that flowed untrained from under his cap. He slumped on the bar-stoll, the kid sat with the $49-million contract in his pocket. Giancarlo appeared the same, but with full-length jeans. They answered questions but the crowd wasn’t there to listen, only to see the stars, and the eyes of the stars were unto themselves, distracted, though they waved and answered questions and agreed to a mock-competition to fill a Ferrari on stage with petrol. I felt dizzy when the show ended and we turned round and away from that blaze of red: red carpet, red clothes, red canopy, red caps, red car and the fiery sun above. I showered and ate dinner and went to Jazz@Southbridge, where Jarno Trulli was to appear. He hasn’t the time, they told the folks at ten, after they’d settled down and downed the first drinks. Because the music was good and because the guest-guitarist from Japan (Takumi Seino) was performing more earnestly than Nakajima on the circuit, and the place being Singapore, the bar got off easy.

Vijay Mallya walks away after seeing his team Vijay Mallya walks away after seeing his teamOn race-Sunday, my seat was before the grid, before Adrian Sutil of Force India at number 17. Vijay Mallya came by to see them, so briefly that I could but barely train my camera on him. The commentators saw him and said he deserves to be proud, but of course we didn’t know that Sutil would be crashing himself and Heidfeld out of the race quite soon. The commentators went on about the drivers and their cars and their chances, and spoke strongly for Hamilton and worried for Timo Glock and Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, but maybe the teams gave no ear to them. In the meantime the cars squatted like carpets on the ground, much like candy-colored snails. When the red lights went off, the beast in them was revealed. For the next two hours, the cars came round sixty-one times, having negotiated twenty-three bends, having breached 300 kmph on Orchard Boulevard, and tore the air and pierced the ear and electrified the humans watching on the five kilometer stretch of track. The night air was moist with 77% relative humidity, and heavy and swaying, and was itself palpably charged. Most spectators abandoned the experience to their cameras, taking for themselves only vicarious pleasure through two-inch LCD screens. But the cars flitted by so fast, the spectators shook their heads at their cameras, at their inability to take in the speed. After ten laps they gave up on the cameras and settled down and and tried to identify the drivers from a blur of colors and loud brand names; after another five laps they raised their faces to the large screen above and watched the action there, quite like like the four-hundred million round the world who were said to be watching the race on television at home. That is how the race went in the Pit Grandstand, with occasional breaks when the cars came into the pits sounding different, like insistent sirens, but I don’t mean that it was boring, because the atmosphere was so tensed, and when Hamilton rode in, thumping the air, he set every heart afire. Hamilton and Glock and Fernando were solemn when they received the trophies from the Prime Minister; then they promptly blew a full burst of champagne into a television camera. People gasped in the stands, and began to laugh.

At lunch the same day: Everyone has to arrive at the watering hole; and vegetarians have to appear at theirs. I looked up from sharing my eyes between Lewis Hamilton’s book and the spinach-seaweed soup to see the face of the Indian voice placing an order. I looked again, to be sure. It was them alright: the couple Anil Dhirubhai Ambani, both in white tops, unhurried, looking like Sunday, probably arrived for the race? The service is good at Ling Zhi, the finest Chinese-vegetarian restaurant in Singapore. Would they serve him even better if someone told them they were serving a multibillionaire? In the Hamilton book I held, his father tells Hamilton at a gathering, when he is only ten, to go get the signature, address, and telephone number of every motor sport bigwig there. The son does his father’s bidding, and meets Ron Dennis who tells Hamilton to call him in nine years. I thought of what I should do, with these famous Indians right next to me, glancing at me curiously after graciously returning my greeting. Being older, and belted down by inhibition, I felt more comfort in burying my eyes in Hamilton’s book.