On Friday 18 May at about 21.30 the participants in the 2007 Mille Miglia will start arriving in Rome having left Brescia on Thursday with an overnight in Ferrara. At one-minute intervals they will start leaving Rome at 06.30 on Saturday. Inconvenient times, but enthusiasts will be out there to watch the passage of 350 incomparable cars, none less than 50 years old. We are told that millions will line the 1,600 km route to watch the event go by. Why? The answer is passion.

I love the passion of Italians. Years ago I often changed planes in Geneva on a Sunday evening to fly to Turin and invariably got mixed up with groups of young Italians, usually skiers. At once I was in a different country and a happier, more vibrant culture. There was chatter and laughter and noise and vitality; flashing eyes, beautiful teeth, luxuriant hair, all those hand gestures and the musicality of the language. My spirits immediately rose and I was happy to be back.

Two major Italian passions are football and cars; cars meaning primarily Ferrari. Metternich famously referred to Italy as