Apart from Spa and Monza, I haven’t wanted to attend any other Formula 1 race. In MotoGP, it’s Laguna Seca. For almost everything else, I’d much rather be sprawled at home, chai in hand and watch the action in detail, with the advantage of slow-motion and replay. The thousands of cameras around the circuit help you see and hear everything. It’s the best way to see everything and miss nothing. Or so I thought.
Recently, I attended my first MotoGP. It was the race at Sepang. In parts, it was as expected. From the grand stand, I could only see bike-shaped blurs whizz past in a straight line, lap after lap. For the rest, I had to resort to the giant screens. Although the irony of watching the race (most of it) on a screen from the stands was not lost on me, nevertheless, I am glad I went.
Sure, I got to see only one angle and one stretch of the race track, but then television is a poor substitute for the real thing.
On TV, you can’t imagine how tightly the first corner winds back on itself. Neither can you tell how much the track rises and falls. I wouldn’t have been able to see the aloofness in Rossi’s eyes when he came to flag off the Asia Ducati Week, his famous imp-like smile never really reaching his eyes. Nor would I have been disarmed by Nicky Hayden’s casual charm. Or, seen the scars on their hands. Never would I have realised how casual and unassuming most of the MotoGP riders are. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that the best seats in Sepang are in the first box on the back straight. Every sight, every smile and every face made the entire experience much more than just a show on TV.
And then there was the sound. The raw and otherworldly voices of those incredible machines. Sans earplugs, Saturday’s qualifying left me with a constant ringing in my ears. The refined and unblemished howl of the Honda V4 streaking down the main straight, its quickshifter working undetectably; the mighty bass-roar of the Ducati as it thundered down the straight; the explosive spit of the Yamaha as it shifted up at full throttle; the unwavering screams of the CRT bikes; and the crude coughing racket the bikes made as they cruised down the pit lane echoed around in my head for hours after.
The next day was, of course, race day. Nothing I’d seen, heard or read, could’ve prepared me for what followed. The sound of 20 MotoGP bikes charging off from starting positions is something everyone needs to experience at least once during their life. If a bomb went off behind me, I wouldn’t have realised it. A giddy numbness settled in as the aural assault continued undimmed lap after lap.
With the earplugs in place, the vibrations became pronounced. You could feel the bikes even before you could see them as they opened up the throttle and zoomed up the straight. I took the earplugs off for the MotoGP race, inhaling deeply as the bikes went by. Whether it was to calm my fluttering heart or to soak up the madness, I don’t know. What I do know is that I felt an odd lump in my throat as the Malaysian crowd cheered their home hero and pole sitter in the Moto 3 race. The silence, as he got bundled down to second just a lap from the finish, was one of heartbreak. The thunderous applause from the crowd as their “Fahmi” Khairuddin stood on the podium made my hair stand on end. During the MotoGP race, we cheered Dani Pedrosa into the lead (or so we felt). Finally, it was the claps of thunder and the roaring rain that brought the race to a slippery stop.
I am glad I went, and aware that I should have done this sooner. A lot sooner. I’ll be happy to watch the action from the comfort and convenience of my home. But, it will be impossible to shake off the urge to experience the theatre of MotoGP again.