By Tet Tiongco
It was a once in a lifetime experience that I thought I would never achieve. Ever since I started following Formula One in the late 1990s, I have dreamed of watching races live at the track and meeting Michael Schumacher. Living in the Philippines, it was really not an easy dream to realise. Formula One in our country is not really a popular sport, with the races being broadcasted only by cable television channels, thus not much people, especially in the late 90s and early 2000s knew about the sport. But it is a sport that I fell in love with at first sight. I always loved cars and F1 has that. And I just adore Schumacher, who never ceases to amaze me by his never ending passion to bring out the best from himself and his team. I celebrated with him during the Ferrari glory years and stuck with him through the heavily criticized maneuvers and felt totally saddened, together with his millions of fans worldwide, when he announced in Monza last 2006, that he was hanging up his helmet. And so, I told myself, I promise to watch him live on track in my next lifetime.
What I didn’t know was that better times are ahead. Who would have thought that the Meister would return to racing? He left the sport in 2006, when he was still a member of Ferrari, a team rich with racing history. He joined the sport again in 2010 to race for a team that is also overflowing with racing history. It was a dream Christmas present to his fans when Ross Brawn announced that they have indeed signed Michael for three years! I told myself, this is my second chance in making my dream come true! I have to watch Michael in one of his races this time!
And the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I have just finished studying and finally graduated from medical school and thus I have the time and saved enough money to go to Sepang. I purchased my tickets so early in the season that I was able to take advantage of the early bird promo! Arriving in Malaysia, I still couldn’t believe I was actually living my dream. Good things just kept on happening. The week before the race, I was already in Malaysia and I was ecstatic to find out that the MERCEDES GP PETRONAS team would have an appearance in the streets of Kuala Lumpur to do a street demonstration! They have lots of activities for the fans because the Malaysian Grand Prix is considered as one of their home races due to their title partner, PETRONAS. I didn’t know this when I purchased the ticket! All I was thinking was that, Malaysia is the best venue for me to watch because the tickets are cheaper and it is near the Philippines. Being a home race is a superb bonus for me!
The street demo day finally arrived and it was a BLAST! We got to sit very near the demo area, and were really close to the cars, and of course to the team including Michael, Nico and Ross. The demo was in the afternoon at around 3pm and we braved the torrential rain just to be able to get a great view for the demo. Donning our PETRONAS ponchos, which they gave away for free, we sat on the wet bleachers and waited for the drivers. When Michael and Nico first appeared, I was so excited, I couldn’t believe I was actually seeing Michael and Nico in the flesh! The atmosphere was very exciting, everyone was shouting their names and to please the crowd, Michael and Nico waved and gave the thumbs up sign to the fans at every opportunity. The street demo did not disappoint. Nico went first, then Michael. Michael did several donuts in front of us, despite the wet tarmac. The Mercedes engine was loud but it was like music to my ears! It was unbelievable that I was actually just several feet away from the car and from my sporting hero. It was exhilarating! At the end of the demo, we were even allowed to go and touch the Mercedes Safety Car! It was unbelievable!
But what would top all of those was race day on Sunday. It was the day of the official autograph signing by the drivers. We found out that Michael and Nico would be one of the first drivers to sign autographs and so by 8am, we were already lining up in the meet and greet area. I was probably the 15th person to fall in line. We all sat down on the ground, shielded ourselves from the sun, made ourselves comfortable because we still have four hours to wait for Schumi and Nico! Yes! Four hours! The signing was scheduled at 12 noon, but people had started to line up as early as 8am. I told myself that I couldn’t miss this opportunity and so it wasn’t hard for me to endure the heat for four hours!
And it was well worth it! When they announced that the drivers were already here, I craned my neck to see Michael and Nico. And indeed they were there! Waving to the crowd, then they sat down on the tables to start the session. The line incredibly moved briskly once the session started and sooner rather than later, I found myself face to face with the drivers! First it was the Toro Rosso drivers, then the Sauber drivers… it was happening so fast. But at the end of the table, the line went a little slower. Nico was the second to the last driver, then saving the best for last was Michael. When I reached Nico, he smiled and signed a postcard and gave it to me. I was thrilled and said thank you and he was very gracious to smile back. Then it was Michael’s turn. I held out my old 2002 Schumi World Champion cap and asked him if he could sign it for me. I was so nervous that I gave the cap to him with the back side facing him! He nodded and smiled and rotated the cap to sign the front end. Honestly, I was so star-struck that I think I forgot how to speak or smile or move! When he finished signing, he took one of his postcards and handed it to me together with the cap.
I think I remembered saying thank you and wishing him luck on his race that afternoon. I don’t think he heard me with all the commotion going on around us, but he smiled at me and that simple smile and his nod at the beginning was enough to make my day... it was the happiest day of my life! I waited four hours outside under the sun, add to that the years I have been dreaming about meeting Michael, and meeting him for 1.5 minutes made all the waiting worthwhile! I was on cloud nine after that for several days.
The race suddenly just became a bonus for me as the highlight was really meeting Michael. The race did turn out to be one of the best for the MERCEDES GP PETRONAS team because Nico was able to finish on the podium for the first time in the season. When he took the chequered flag, I cheered with all the other Mercedes fans and it was a wonderful feeling to share the enthusiasm with other people! All in all, I still can’t believe that I have achieved a dream that I thought I never had a chance of reaching. It goes to show that if you dream it, work hard for it, and see yourself in it, you can achieve it.
Good luck to the whole MERCEDES GP PETRONAS team for the 2011 season! We are all behind you whatever happens. Let’s all keep moving forward!