Nine months, nineteen races, and god only knows how many airports, flights, and hotels. Sponsor events, team dinners, casual nights out, private parties, and an endless stream of VIP guestlists.
Formula One is back.
With a week and a half to go before the first race of the season, the party invites have already started rolling in. New sport sponsors Rolex have organised a cocktail party for Friday night in Melbourne, the teams are lining up their own soirees, and what little time remains has been given over to dinner plans, sunset picnics on the beach, and a long list of restorative breakfasts.
But before the fun begins anew, there’s still a bit of travel to attend to. Fun though Melbourne is, it would be hard to imagine a less geographically convenient start to the season. Airborne for 24 hours, and this at a point in the year when no one has enough frequent flyer miles available to bag an upgrade to business.
I’d spent the off-season having a recurring dream about an upgrade on my own flight to Oz, so it was beyond disappointing to arrive at Heathrow and discover I was going steerage all the way. At least steerage in an A380 is about as comfortable as the cheap seats get, even when the flight itself is full to bursting.
But there are perks to being a frequent flyer, even one confined to a pretty strict budget. Emirates have just opened an A380 terminal in their Dubai hub, and it takes a lot of the pain out of the day-long slog to Oz. Passengers can deplane straight into the business and first class lounges, which each take up an entire floor of the new terminal building.
There are showers and cigar bars, cinema rooms and executive dining suites, buffets and top-drawer champagne. The only thing they don’t have? A press of hoi polloi, all manoeuvring their wheely suitcases around like drunken demolition derby drivers.
And when the time comes to start the next leg of your journey? These new lounges have direct gate access, meaning you can while away hours in the terminal without ever realising you’re in an airport. Bliss.