One of the best places in the world to watch a MotoGP race - apart from the stands, among the fans - is in the press room. Journalism is supposed to be a lofty profession, whose practitioners raise themselves above the level of the subjective fans, and regard the world with a cool, clear, objective eye. To be fair, for most of the weekend, that's exactly what the journalists attempt to do. But once the lights go out and the racing starts, any pretense of objectivity goes right out of the window, and the journos become ordinary fans once again.
Sunday's MotoGP race at Qatar was a case in point. The tension before the race had been rising to fairly unbearable levels, all the more so because this was the first race of the year, and it had been such a very long wait for everyone. Once the bikes roared off the line, the journos became fans once again, cheering on their favorites in the hope of success.
Fans they may be, but they still have enough objectivity to appreciate a good pass, even when it is made by one rider on their own particular favorite. So Casey Stoner's move through the field was met with much appreciation, even though the majority of Italian journos are all diehard Valentino Rossi fans.
When Stoner crashed out on lap 6 of the race, the media center absolutely exploded. The expected outcome had gone up in a puff of desert dust, and speculation immediately started as to what the cause could be. Later on, when Andrea Dovizioso challenged Rossi, when Jorge Lorenzo barged his way into 2nd, and when Nicky Hayden came within a whisker of taking a podium, the room was filled with oohs and aahs, sighs of disappointment and screams of joy. With the Italians and Spaniard being the two largest groups in the media center - just as they are on the track - two factions naturally form, and a friendly - and sometimes not so friendly, when a rider of one nationality knocks off a rider of the other nationality - rivalry forms, the banter, barbed witticisms and jokes flying between the two rival groups.
Fans though they may be, the collective intelligence of the media center ensures that the comments being made are incredibly detailed and well informed. When riders go down, someone immediately correctly identifies the corner, and the cause of a crash is usually narrowed down very quickly. The minutiae of racing is observed and pointed out: Who has chatter, who is using what tire, exactly where the problems of a particular bike lie. Probably the only place to watch a MotoGP race with a better informed audience is in the pit garages, but there, you truly miss any semblance of neutrality.
At the end of Sunday, both the Italian and the Spanish factions ended the race happy. With one Fiat Yamaha rider - the Italian - taking victory, and a crucial 25 points, the Italians were absolutely ecstatic. The other Fiat Yamaha rider - the Spaniard - had fought through to finish in 2nd, far ahead of where he had expected to be on Sunday, given Lorenzo's injury and his trouble in qualifying. Both men did far better than they had dared to hope, and so both the Italian and Spanish press factions in the media center were equally happy.
After the race, and after the buzz of the race had died down, we all stopped being fans, and the clatter of keyboards - which had been humming away quietly while the race was on - reached positively deafening levels. For 45 minutes, we had stopped our work, and given free rein to the passion that brought us into racing in the first place.