GLOBETROTTER

Brain removal, Auld Rang Syne and pot luck dinners

Japanese GP 2005

Japanese GP 2005 

 © The Cahier Archive

On Thursday afternoon in Suzuka a man came up to me and asked me if I would mind if they scanned my face so that they could put it into a Sony Playstation game. I was flattered and sat down against a black background, had a black cloth put around my neck and then strange light-emitting devices scanned my crusty visage, recording every contour.

It was only afterwards that they explained that now they have the data they can make me say or do anything they want. For a moment I thought this sounded like a really bad idea because henceforth I could, in theory at least, be seen on TV making speeches in support of two-bit dictators or promoting the use of cigarettes amongst small children. I could be made to tell the world that Ralf Schumacher is worth his Toyota salary or that Takuma Sato does not keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

I could even be made to say that Ferrari's attitude to Formula 1 is sporting.

The software would do it all, I did not even need to be tortured.

I wondered whether the Sony people had done the same for Max Mosley or Bernie Ecclestone and whether we will soon be seeing programmes with Mosley praising Paul Stoddart and Ron Dennis and Bernie Ecclestone explaining that he is donating all of his money to a dog's home.

It was all rather frightening and, as this was sinking in, they showed me a TV screen where my face was rotating slowly, revealing nothing behind the facade, as though my brain had been removed. It looked, rather spookily, like a death mask.

But then - in a flash of inspiration - I realised it was in fact a completely liberating thing because I can now say and do anything I like and blame the people who have my scans!

That is, of course, assuming that I have any energy left for anything like that.

By Sunday night at Suzuka I was feeling as though I really had had my brain removed. I was trudging wearily out of the circuit, heading off for a night of tapping the keys in the hotel room. The man who in Suzuka stalks the Formula 1 journalists shouted my name and wished me well for the next year. I waved back half-heartedly, remembering that it is always best to be polite because the eccentricities of such people are driven, when all is said and done, by huge enthusiasm for the sport.

And it had been a great day, I thought, as I went past the place that smells of doughnuts and always reminds me of my childhood for some reason I can never explain. Suzuka had been hopping, packed to the eaves with 150,000 race fans - just like it used to be in the good old days when Ayrton Senna was a god in these parts. Suzuka this year managed 110,000 in the rain on Saturday. F1 was popular again in Japan. And it was great to see the crowds back. To see the next generation of race fans tripping along behind their parents wearing their Takuma Sato gear.

Gone are the days when the crowds wore red. At Suzuka it was black and white all the way.

And they had been treated to a truly magnificent race. A wonderful story with a grandstand finish as Kimi Raikkonen swept imperiously past Giancarlo Fisichella at the first corner of the last lap. On a day when Michael Schumacher was passed right and left by the new stars of the circus and Fernando Alonso pulled off a pass that we will talk about for years to come, going around the outside of Schumacher in 130R.

It had been quite an afternoon. As I made my way through the amusement park, heading for the Circuit Hotel from where a bus or a taxi would take me home to a hotel a few miles away in the town of Shiroko, they were playing Auld Lang Syne over and over on the tannoy as the stallholders were packing up their wares. Eighteen races down. One to go. Up at the hotel it felt like Christmas. The trees and even some wire reindeer shapes were covered with glittering lights. The Log Cabin was quiet, the action there would begin in an hour or so.

There was a time when I used to turn up there after work was done and party through the night but these days it seems that most F1 folk are more into conserving energy, in case it is needed later. You have to be pretty tough to do a full season of F1 races and as each year goes by fewer and fewer people do every single race. A lot do just European events, or take a race or two off just to keep their sanity.

Shanghai will be the 19th race of the year, a Formula 1 record, and it was noticeable that in Japan there was no sign of any of the people who make the F1 calendar. They put the dates together but they do not want to actually live with the calendar.

Ah, but look at what they are missing, I thought. Canned Johnny Mathis songs in Japanese and pot luck dinners where you go into a restaurant and, because you cannot communicate beyond saying "Ohio!" (which means "Hello"), you just jab a finger into the menu and hope for the best.

"What are you eating?" I asked a colleague the other evening when a giggling waitress delivered a plate of something.

"It could be monkey's testicles for all I know," he said, "but it tastes fine. In fact it tastes really nice."

There was a pause in the conversation.

"What a great life we have," he added with a big smile. "There aren't many people who get to go to Shiroko to write about their passion and get to eat monkey testicles."

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