GLOBETROTTER

That loving' feeling

Twenty years ago, as a much younger Formula 1 reporter, I went to Adelaide for the first time. I had done a lot of travelling already by that point and knew Australia well after several visits to Bathurst and such places.

But Adelaide blew me away. It was not a race meeting at all. There was a race but the "Grand Prix" was much more than that. It was a great big week-long all-or-bust party.

"Falling off the plane after a 24 hour flight, we thought we would be sensible, have an early night, and be ready for the hard work of a Grand Prix," I wrote at the time. "At three the following morning, we found ourselves sitting in the bar at the Hilton in deep and meaningful conversation, having had a couple of glasses of wine, then a couple more and another two after that."

In Adelaide during Grand Prix week you could never get a moment of peace. During daylight hours at the track, overhead there was a constant stream of air displays: F18s, Mirages, little flying boxes which brushed the tops of the flag poles and helicopters which flew backwards belching coloured smoke. I thought I was dreaming when, while eating breakfast early one morning at a function held on the lawn outside the media centre, I saw parachutists descending from the skies. This was at eight thirty in the morning."

There were barbecues every night; a Grand Prix Club Cabaret, Grand Prix Balls; Not Grand Prix Balls; big stars in concert; the Grand Prix FM Radio station playing all the time; drag racing; sprintcars; and so it went on.

There was no rest for the wicked. And we were wicked...

"And this in the City of Churches - a religious place - where even the churches were jumping on the Grand Prix band wagon to promote their causes," I concluded. "Heaven alone knows what place there is for religion in a sport which uses the Seven Deadly Sins as its Code of Conduct."

On the Monday I said goodbye to Adelaide (and a young lady) at the airport, with "a heavy heart, heavy eyelids and a glass of tonic water in my hand. By then I could not handle anything else. Would that all Grands Prix could be like this one..."

Well, Singapore was just like that. The only difference was that I am older and perhaps a little wiser. Perhaps not.

Singapore's airport code is SIN and for those who wanted to have fun this was Sin City. For a start the night race idea meant that it kind of made sense to stay up all night and sleep during the mornings. That is always a bad idea when there is wine, women and song available. There were some spectacular tales to be heard (usually from people with very big bags under their eyes) not least stories of one team's PR lady, who discovered - although perhaps she already knew - that she had a considerable talent for pole-dancing.

Even the local pros were impressed.

I cannot say that I went to the instantly-famous establishment known as "Four Floors of Whores", although several people told me that the fourth floor was to be avoided as the advertising was not necessarily telling the whole truth about the products.

In Adelaide, as I recall, the local girls were not professionals, but rather enthusiastic amateurs and it seemed that Singapore was a hot little town as well, although the demands on an F1 reporter these days are way more time-consuming than they were in the old days. I spent far too much time in the Media Centre and not enough time having fun, although it must be said that the staff in the Media Centre were a nice lot and we had fun, although there as no actual dancing on the tables - at leats not when I was there!

Whatever the case, I was reminded very much of Adelaide with its 'concrete block in the park' feel and the party atmosphere. Everyone in Formula 1, apart from the odd cantankerous Frenchman, thought that Adelaide was the best race of the year. We used to arrive from Japan to be greeted at the airport by jazz bands and TV cameras. There were some great races too, and two spectacular World title showdowns. There was the astonishing race in 1993 when the great Ayrton Senna drove what would end up being his last F1 victory in an underpowered McLaren. Afterwards, when the crowds had gone off to watch Tina Turner's post-race concert in the park, Senna joined the American diva on stage and she sang "Simply the Best" to him. I will never hear that song again without thinking of Ayrton.

We lost that loving feeling when the Australian GP moved to Melbourne in 1996. Melbourne was good, but it was never Adelaide and to be entirely honest, we have missed it ever since. There are races that we like but none that we love.

The funny thing is that I have been going to Singapore for 25 years, changing planes. I have occasionally looked at the immigration area and thought: "I guess I should go in one day" but I never did. If I had holiday time in Asia, I went to Hong Kong because it sounded more fun. Apparently until recently that was true.

"This was a really boring place until three years ago," said the taxi driver as he dropped me off at three o'clock one morning. "Now the place is really buzzing."

Indeed so.

I certainly did not do much sleeping. I found mysel living on two time zones at the same time, so went to bed at five and woke up at seven. I didn't do much partying and I ate almost nothing apart from sandwiches provided in the press room, because I was never out in the town when I was hungry or could not be bothered looking for somewhere to eat at five in the morning.

We would go to sleep as the sun came up.

Like vampires.

Anyway, Formula 1 discovered night racing and it worked. Big time.

Asia has found its Monaco. They are now building the casino... Should be done by next year.

Print Feature