EFF ONE

Many of my press colleagues had feelings of malaise about Malaysia, what with the Gulf War (Mark 2) and this new killer pneumonia virus. This meant that the Media Center at Sepang was (at best) sparsely populated. The extra desk space was particularly useful for grabbing a few moments shut-eye during the long hot days. My need for sleep had nothing to do with jet lag or over-indulgence in the grape and the grain. No, the cause of my insomnia was the Mad Mullah with a Megaphone. Every morning at six o'clock, MM would call his fellow believers to prayer and sadly, what he lacked in musical ability, he made up for in enthusiasm and volume.

If music be the food of love, then this was the syrup of figs.

In the interests of religious tolerance, I will say I've had similar troubles with church bells at the crack of dawn in Catholic countries. Thankfully, the Church of England doesn't go in for any vulgar advertising, as the thought of the local vicar singing "Onward Christian Soldiers" outside my back door does not bear thinking about. On the subject of soldiers and things military, the general feeling in the Sepang paddock was that the daily (and noisier than a Mad Mullah with a Megaphone) air display by the Malaysian Air Force fighter planes was in poor taste, given the current situation in the world. And it sat uneasily alongside the message on the sidepods of the Minardis which read "Malaysia For Peace." Paul Stoddard strikes me as an unlikely peacenik, but the team boss made it clear that this local anti-war message did not necessarily reflect the views of his team.

Methinks the stickers should have read, "Malaysia For Peace - Anything for Money."

The Jordans also sported new stickers after a tie-up with the Shanghai circuit and China's national TV station. However, as the latter's initials are CCTV one got the impression Eddie Jordan had done a deal with a local Silverstone circuit security firm. As for the Shanghai International Circuit decals, I'm not sure how the drivers felt about driving cars with SIC (sic) dribbling down the side of their cockpits.

Jacques Villeneuve is getting on my nerves these days. If he'd slaughtered Olivier Panis last year and done the same to Jenson Button this season, then one could listen to his whingeing with a degree of sympathy. On current form, if I was the team press officer, I'd give him a good slapping every morning as soon as he got to the track. When he asked why, I'd tell him it was for anything he was likely to do or say between now and the next time I saw him.

The entire Jaguar team are also candidates for Eff's Slap of the Day. Admittedly, the first mistake to emerge in Malaysia was not their fault. The name above the pit next to Webber's read "Antonio Pizzanio." The organizers rushed to change it, but their second effort was no better, as they gave the Brazilian a quick sex change, calling him "Antonia Pizzonia."

The real comedy moment came on the very first installation lap on Friday morning, when both drivers got lost on the way back to the pits, driving up an escape road. Quite understandable then that John Hogan, recently drafted in to bolster Jaguar's management, was asked why he had come out of retirement to face the challenge. It transpires he was getting bored at home and his wife was getting fed up with him and had suggested that he sail around the world.

"I didn't fancy that," said Hogan. "I thought it was so much easier to come back to work."

One can only hope that Captain Hogan's vessel does not founder on the rocks in the shark-infested waters of F1.

I for one was not surprised when Fernando Alonso tore off into the distance at the start of the race. Leaving the track on Saturday night, I found myself alongside the young Spaniard at a set of traffic lights. Unbelievably, even though I was at the wheel of something called a Proton Wira, he left me for dead. While many aspects of Malaysian life are right at the cutting edge of technology, this does not extend to the car hire companies' vehicle of choice, the Proton. Anyone nostalgic for the Seventies would love it, but I prefer powersteering. In fact, I thought it did have power steering until I tried driving it without two bulky journalists in the back seat to take the weight off the front wheels. I also found out why it was called a Wira, as every time I approached a corner at a speed in excess of 60 mph, my passengers screamed "Wira all gonna die!"

Wherever you go in the world, local newspapers are a mix of silly features and poor prose and Malaysia is no exception. A story about prostitutes being arrested for soliciting in hotels caught my eye, although the girls were referred to as Guest Relations Officers, presumably so that randy businessman could claim their "services" as a legitimate business expense. Alongside it was a story about the Grand Prix:

"The massive support shown by fans at the Sepang F1 circuit has not gone unnoticed by the drivers," declared the opening paragraph. According to David Coulthard, "the fans' enthusiasm will further electrify the race."

It sounded very un-Coulthard-like and on race day the point was proved. The fans' enthusiasm did not help his race engine after it conked out with electrical problems on lap 3.

Although I am happy to see as many nationalities as possible represented on a Grand Prix grid, I hope we never have to write about the F1 debut of one of the Thai racing drivers competing in the support event at the weekend. His name was N. Charoensukhawatana (There was much dispute about what the N stands for and the conclusion was that it was probably Nebuchadnezzar). If I was paid by the letter and not by the word I would probably welcome him with open arms.

That was one thing that Justin Wilson was unable to do after the race in Brazil. In fact his arms had no feeling whatsoever in them and so he spent an extra night in Kuala Lumpur. I am a big fan of Justin and if I could raise $750 I would probably buy a slice of him. The only thing is he clearly has not got the hang of being a Formula 1 driver yet.

I don't understand why he needs his arms to get home. I mean, how many Grand Prix drivers ever carry their own bags to the check-in desk?

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