The cancellation of this year’s Japanese Grand Prix has deprived Formula 1 of more than a magnificent race track. Suzuka also produced a very different kind of passion within bizarre and fascinating surroundings. A funfair in bright pastel colours, populated by babbling stall holders with high-pitched voices, brought a feel of Disney World to the area behind the main grandstand. A walk through this zone made an interesting start to the day, mainly because you never knew what to expect.
I came across this scene in 1989. Intrigued as to what the two guys would do next, I watched with increasing amusement as they tipped Alain Prost, face down, into a prone position, got underneath and carried him feet first through a road tunnel and into the paddock. Not long after, two more Marlboro promotion men struggled into view with a similar fully inflated effigy of Ayrton Senna. They managed to avoid a collision; that, of course, would be reserved for the real thing later in the day.
“Do one autograph and you’re completely finished. You’ll never reach the paddock.”