It was a long day yesterday, with a late finish on Sunday night/Monday morning followed by an early start in Austria, in order to cover the 750 miles back to Paris.
I left the gasthof near the Red Bull Ring when there was still a six on the clock and headed north, through the mountains and tunnels, up towards the Danube and the celebrated university town of Passau. I soon found myself amongst convoys of F1 trucks of all kinds, en route to Silverstone. We don’t often get to see F1 on the move, but the demands of this year’s daft calendar meant that there was frenetic activity even before the two Mercedes collided. F1 on the move is an impressive thing to watch. At one point I overtook no fewer than 10 Ferrari trucks one after another and I saw several more as the day went on. There were seven Sauber transporters and several Mercedes vehicles. There were TV trucks, tyre trucks, diamond vision screens, merchandising (although not much) and GP2 and Porsche teams. I didn’t see any of Bernie’s TV fleet. Everyone was rushing north to Calais and Dunkirk. I am pretty sure that some of the unbranded trucks were also carrying F1 equipment such as the Paddock Club paraphernalia and other team odds and sods.
I guessed that I would go on seeing F1 trucks until I turned west at Nuremberg, while the others would likely go straight up towards Wurzburg, Frankfurt and Cologne and, as I turned off, I watched a Ferrari transporter doing exactly that. But, as I headed west towards Heilbronn, I passed several more Sauber transporters. I had stopped for a snooze but they did not look like the same ones I had seen earlier. What were they doing? I guessed that perhaps they had figured out that the French toll roads have fewer vehicles and are faster than German autobahns, which are in a state of constant rebuilding at the moment and prone to traffic jams.
I saw another Sauber truck as I pottered past Hockenheim. One of the joys of endless travel is that you know stuff that is useful, be that a shortcut in Moscow airport or a good place to have lunch in Speyer. I was in no great rush to reach Paris at rush hour, so lunch beside the Rhine seemed eminently agreeable. Before long I was in a biergarten, with the sun shining, an accordion playing, and the sound of chattering Germans around me. Barges the size of Rutland were passing by, including one painted the colour of the Saubers. I presumed this was heading for Sweden, laden with cuckoo clocks and other products that southern Germany produces which the Swedes cannot live without. The restaurant is in the shadow of the great cathedral of Speyer, famous as an imperial city in Holy Roman Empire times and for something to do with Martin Luther (of the non-royal variety). I remembered being taught about something called the Diet of Speyer, and so decided to give it a try…
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that when one discusses going out for dinner, people suggest an Italian, an Indian, a Chinese or a Thai, but no-one ever says: “Let’s go out for a German”, despite the fact that hamburgers and frankfurters today play a huge waist-expanding role in modern global cuisine. Visits to Germanic nations do tend to be a nightmare for vegetarians, not that I care, as I do like an occasional schnitzel. Oddly, this year’s Austrian GP was rather a schnitzel-free zone, because we ate either at events, not at all or in the Media Centre, where they spoiled us. The logic was simple. They knew that their beloved Styria is beautiful, but the region doesn’t have easy access to vast culinary choice, unless you drive a long way of an evening.
They also provided TV coverage of the Euro 2016 football, so that soccer fans could watch their countries being knocked out of the competition. Soccer brings out funny things in people. There was the gruff German reporter wandering around in a jacket supporting Iceland and the normally-sane man from AFP who decided to wear a fake chicken on his head. When he explained that it was not a chicken but rather a coq, I gave up, lest I insult him by accident. He was delighted to see the French avoiding being humiliated as the English had been, by a small island with a population of three men, two sheep and some cod. The English defeat before the weekend resulted in some inevitable jokes about Brexit. I have tried many times over the years to explain to Europeans that the F1 race at Silverstone is not the English GP, but they tend to glaze over because they couldn’t care less and do not view the UK as the centre of the world, unlike some deluded folk living on the island, who have yet to come to terms with the changing world.
After lunch I had a short snooze in honour of road safety (Jean Todt would be proud of me) and then set off through the Pfalz Forest, to emerge near Saarbrucken, where I had the bizarre experience of passing a Sauber transporter coming in the opposite direction. He was driving from the east to go north and I was arriving from the south to go west. I was sure then that it would be the last Sauber truck of the day.
I worked my way across eastern France as evening drew on, stopping now and then for coffees and then just before Reims I nearly spun off as I passed a rest area when I spotted yet another Sauber truck, parked up there. I fully expected to see another when I drove up the Champs Élysées in the evening, late enough to attempt a drive through in Paris, doing a quick “eyes right” as I passed the FIA building…