THE MAN IN THE PUB

Before you die...

For the first time in a good few years I was recently tempted to venture forth from the comfort of the pub to go for trip to a Grand Prix in that place we Brits call Europe. Actually, if the truth be told, it was the current wife who decided that this would be a good idea because she was keen that before my biological clock winds down and I die I should return to that Heaven and Hell that is Spa-Francorchamps. She who must be obeyed has concluded that since I have reached 40 it is downhill all the way from here.

Anyway, she decided that if we were going to go to a Grand Prix we should at least do it in style and luxury and ignore the fact that Spa has more average daily rainfall than the rainforest.

All I had to do was to arrange a ferry crossing. She would take care of the rest. I guess that was a mistake because I always confuse the word "luxury" with the word "economy" and my choice of Norfolk Lines did not go down very well. While she could not complain about the price ($77 for a return ticket) she did not seem that impressed when she stepped out of the Porsche in all her finery and found herself in something that resembled a cargo ship, filled it seemed with lots of randy Dutch truck drivers.

After a few hours of relative silence on the drive from Dunkirk, we reached our hotel, a haven of all that is exquisite (and expensive) situated just seven miles from Spa and yet blissfully unaware that Belgium's premier (for that, read "one and only"), sporting event was happening on its doorstep. The place was almost empty and the helicopter pad unused. After we had checked in we had a choice: do we explore the vast expanse of living space allocated to us or do we hit the mini bar?

There are no prizes for guessing which option we chose.

On Saturday, my wife went off to Liege to rekindle her affair with her credit card while I hastened to Spa for qualifying. I stopped on the way to indulge in that most pleasant aspects of Belgian life - frites and mayonnaise, at a roadside cafe?. It should be law that anybody visiting Belgium does this, but for me it is an essential pleasure. The previous night's dinner at the hotel had been mouth-wateringingly gorgeous but the portions were not enough to feed a supermodel on cocaine and I've seen glaciers which were faster than the two waiters. And thus my one euro chip shop stop was a welcome one.

Arriving at the Spa circuit reminded me why I love this stupid sport. I was a bit late, and as I walked through the woods to my seat, the action had already started. First, I heard the totally way-over-the-top noise of an F1 car obliterating the leafy silence and then I caught a quick glimpse of a Toyota as it exited La Source and rocketed at a mental speed down the hill towards Eau Rouge. Hairs standing up on the back of the neck, don't even come into it. I've been to Monaco, Silverstone, Barcelona and others, but nothing, just nothing beats watching an F1 car in the morning mist at Spa.

The one-by-one qualifying format is dull enough on TV but when you are there at the circuit it is better although the race is what we are there for and when we arrived on Sunday morning the atmosphere was just electric. It was also absolutely throwing it down with rain, which did not seem to impress the wife that much.

Thankfully we had an ace up our sleeve. We have pre-booked a lunch at a fantastic restaurant called Le Roannay, which is not far from the track. The meal was by no means cheap at around $175 a head, but it was really superb. Our host, Michel, was well into the spirit of the day and despite the frightening cost, we felt that this certainly beat a Silverstone hamburger. This was our alternative to doing "The Paddock Club" and it works out very nicely. We had considered selling both of our children for medical research in order to fund a couple of Paddock Club passes but lunch at Le Roannay and a couple of Gold 3 grandstand tickets came out at a third of the cost - and we got to keep the kids.

The race? Well you know what happened, Kimi won, somebody else came second, Montoya crashed again. Whatever. The result was almost secondary to the whole experience. It may have been wet, cold, expensive and full of drunken Germans but if you do nothing else before you shuffle off this mortal coil then you must visit Spa - and don't forget the frites and mayonnaise.

Rob Sinfield also writes for www.grandprixdiary.com

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