Sounding apologetic, he says that he wasn't at the track today. He nods down at his girlfriend and her daughter, sitting knee-to-knee. Crosses dangle between their cleavages. They're dressed to kill. The threesome is bound for the F1 party on Crescent Street, the guy says. For the dancing.
I'm soon there myself, looking at custom cars with TV screens in the headrests and gull-wing doors. A speed painter is knocking off artsy versions of F1 cars. Revelers, hangers-on, the drunk, and the sober all blend in one impenetrable mass in front of Newtown, rock blasting and gawkers gawking from the upper deck. Roy Ritchie, the Detroit-based photographer who has joined me, holds his camera high overhead and snaps away.
Rip Martin is a fan's fan. He raced in Europe, used to follow the whole Grand Prix circuit, and this year will attend four races. Speaking through a drooping gray moustache, eyes hidden by big shades, Rip says his wife, Debra, loves F1, too. "On our first date, to impress her, I took her to Monte Carlo." Did it work? "Of course!"
Kim Reimer is a hoot. A Ferrari appears to have landed on his head. He made it himself, one of six, a different head-topping model each year to stay current. "They keep changing the car," he laments, with a painful squint. Reaching up and feeling around, he says, "They changed the nose this year." He aims an arm, carefully, so he doesn't drop the car off his head, toward the bleachers. "My daughter's in the stands. She usually wears last year's model. This year, she refused."
I don't wonder why.
Fans pass us quickly, purposefully, intent on reaching seats, if they have seats. I talk to two F1 virgins: first race, wired, expectant. When I ask Haifa Saadaoui and Ines Ben Mokhtar, both from Tunisia, what they like best, they say in unison, like they've rehearsed this, arms around each other's shoulders, "The ambience!"
Then the Snowbirds from Canada's Air Force bank around in tight formation, buzz the track, the national anthem plays, and it's time to start your engines, gentlemen.
After the start, which reaches my ears from a great distance, I'm unable to even see the hairpin, so I throw in the general admission towel. I retreat to the BMW hospitality tent, a tad embarrassed to abandon my fellow fans in the trenches but curious to actually see a little of the action.