"Excuse me," said my colleague Alan Henry, "but there's something I don't quite understand here." What was that? I asked. "Well," said AH, "the cars sometimes come round in a different order..."
This was last Saturday, and we - part of an F1 group that included Niki Lauda - were at Indianapolis Raceway Park for a night of sprint car racing. Front-engined, of course, in the time-honoured style, these creations that I love so much have about 875bhp, in a car weighing in at 600 kilos - give or take, therefore, about the same power-to-weight ratio as a Formula 1 car.
Real sprint car aficionados, of course, insist that these things are at their best on dirt, and I can't really argue with the bumper sticker: 'Dirt's for racing - asphalt's for getting there'. But on a paved oval, too, they give a mighty good account of themselves, smoking the tyres as they come off the turns. It may not be very sophisticated, in the Adrian Newey sense of the word, but boy these people entertain.
In the interval Lauda, when not gleefully telling irreverent tales of certain F1 luminaries with whom he had dealings in the past, was raving about Lewis Hamilton, of whom he is already a consummate fan. "Hard to know what to say about the guy, isn't it?" Niki said. "I've never seen anyone like him..."
A few hours earlier I'd been having a similar conversation with Martin Brundle. "It's almost too good to be true, isn't it?" he said, and this of course was the day before Lewis took the flag at Indianapolis, winning his second race in seven days.
"You think back," said Brundle, "to Melbourne. Could he get points in his first race - could he get a podium? And eventually you start to think, 'Well, the sky's the limit. Could he win the world championship?' What Lewis has done is open a massive flaw in Alonso - just as Ayrton Senna used to be - in that it just doesn't compute that another guy could beat him in the same car, as Alain Prost did to Ayrton, of course.
"Fernando is a great driver - a great driver, no doubt about that. But he didn't respond well on the rare occasions when Fisichella used to be quicker in their days at Renault together, and it really interests me now to listen to his words at press conferences. When people are really on the spot, in that situation, it fascinates me the way they phrase things - I've really come to enjoy that quite a lot.
"Have you noticed, for example, that Lewis never uses a negative word when he can use a positive one. Someone will ask, 'Do you feel under pressure this weekend, now you're leading the world championship?' And he'll say, 'No, I see an opportunity - I see a challenge'. It's not that he's some kind of robot, coming out with this. Either he's been conditioned, or he's very positive-minded.
"Sometimes, you know, I forget I'm doing TV, and I think, 'Put yourself in his place right now - you're there, behind that wheel. How would you be feeling?' There must be immense pressure. And yet, did you ever feel he was going to bin it off the road? And the answer is no! He is completely extraordinary. How often have you seen him lock a wheel?
He will make a mistake, of course, and when he does, we'll all say, 'What's going on...?
"Of course the great advantage Lewis has is that he can happily finish second to Fernando - but Fernando can't happily finish second to him. At the moment Fernando's getting all upset by what the British newspapers are saying about him - but what's he doing, reading them in the first place?
"It reminds me of a time I sat next to Senna on a flight to Brazil. His manager, Julian Jakobi, got on the plane, and gave him a dossier - that I couldn't help noticing! - and it contained all the British press cuttings about him.
"I was astonished - I thought, 'What's he reading all that stuff for?' Ayrton must have spent the first hour of the flight going through it, absorbing every word, and getting quite emotional about it. I think that's what drives those... multiple champions: 'I'm being beaten, so something else must be happening - he's getting special treatment: better tyres, better engines...'
"Actually, I think that's supreme self-confidence - this belief that, whatever else, it can't be them. It's part of the make-up of people like that. You know, Pat Symonds has been saying how bad Alonso was whenever he got beaten by Fisi, and when I first heard that, I thought, 'Well, Pat's just sticking the boot in a bit - Renault must be a bit frustrated, not having a great year, Alonso's gone, so it looks as if it the team was only good when he was driving for them', but actually Pat's not that kind of guy, is he? I think that all he's saying is that this is a big Achilles Heel for this guy...
"Alonso was pretty lucky at the first corner in Barcelona, with Massa not damaging the car, and pretty lucky the same way in Montreal with Lewis, wasn't he? But, at the same time, of course, what I really admire about Fernando is that he's such a racer - he just went for it both times..."
If Alonso seemed reflective after Sunday's race, there was no animosity apparent in his behaviour. The McLaren drivers had arms around each other's shoulders as they walked onto the podium, and maybe Alonso got over a hurdle at Indianapolis - in the sense that perhaps he stopped worrying about being beaten by a rookie, and began seeing Hamilton simply as a top Grand Prix driver, to whom losing was no disgrace.
Maybe, too, Fernando had begun to rethink his situation, to realise - as did Lauda, when facing the onslaught of Prost in 1984 - that he has to put different strengths to work if he is in the end to get the better of youthful genius. Experience and guile were what worked for Niki.
In the end, though, Indianapolis was all about one racing driver. After winning in Montreal, Hamilton had a busy few days before coming to Indianapolis. There was a PR appearance for Mercedes in New York (where, a week earlier, the Letterman show had declined the offer of Lewis as a guest, a decision surely regretted now), then a similar commitment for Mobil in Washington - where drastic weather conditions late on Thursday kept him from flying to Indy that night.
Next morning he was scheduled for the first press conference at the Speedway, and necessarily arrived a few minutes late. Immediately he charmed this new audience with his easy, polite manner - and it wasn't long, either, before he impressed everyone with the pace and maturity which has stunned the F1 community in 2007.
As at Montreal, Hamilton trailed his team-mate - until the very end of qualifying. In Canada Alonso threw away pole position with a mistake on what would have been his quickest lap, but at Indy admitted he simply couldn't beat Lewis's time. "What can I say?" the world champion shrugged. "I was at the maximum..."
These are fascinating times in F1, with the increasingly real possibility of a driver winning the world championship in his maiden season. Sooner or later, folk keep saying, Hamilton has to goof, because, well, because sooner or later rookies always goof. Don't they?