EFF ONE

If I hear one more story about an ITV woman dying of the plague in some Sao Paulo hospital, I think I might do someone an injury. This was the perfect example of the press flagellating itself into a frenzy over a story that was never there. Firstly, the woman was not a journalist and secondly she did not have SARS, but the local private hospital seemed to like this very tenuous link to the F1 scene and kept issuing bulletins. Someone suggested that Mr. Ecclestone might give her a lift home in his private jet, but the milk of human kindness turned sour at the thought of contracting an infectious disease.

I can't see what all the fuss is about. After all she's only a woman. It's not as though it was important, like say the death of a damn fine shooting dog!

Yes, I am in tetchy mood as the pilgrimage to Sao Paulo was, as usual, fraught with dangers that one doesn't come across too often in rural England. Having cleared customs in a record time of two hours, the fun really started on the feeble excuse for a motorway that runs into the city center. Lane discipline is easy to understand, as you just drive in which ever one is not blocked by a black smoke-belching, limply-lurching 50-year-old truck, driven by a man who has just over-nighted from Rio after blowing his wages drinking home-brew in a brothel. You can be sure he learnt to drive by taking a correspondence course and everyone on the road is a potential target. You can be equally sure there are no liberals behind steering wheels in Brazil.

It is important when changing lanes to keep an eye out for the suicidal motorcycle jocks who hammer full throttle between the cars. As we approached a road narrowing section, I happened to glance in my mirror and spotted at least five of the two wheeled maniacs barreling towards me with the throttle on the stop, head down and slipstreaming one another. I asked my passenger where he thought these chaps might be heading, although my language could have been a touch more colorful. I got my answer a nano-second later when the lead biker applied his brakes, his eyes bulged to the size of saucers as he peered into our back window, his front wheel rode up the bumper, before biker number two rode straight into him, prior to somersaulting over his handlebars. He executed a perfect triple pike with twist dive but luckily the ground was there to break his fall.

As the rest of the bikers arrived on the scene, piling into the carnage like forwards in a rugby scrum, the scene now resembled a breaker's yard. At this point, my passenger offered a pearl of British stiff upper lip wisdom, worthy of Jack Hawkins in a 1950s war movie.

"Drive on driver," he said and handed me a lit cigarette.

Brazilian hotels present their own set of dangers, as the note pinned outside every elevator on all floors of my 25 floor establishment pointed out. "Warning: Before getting in make sure that the lift is in this floor." Mind you, there were other dangers involved in hotel lifts as most of them seemed to be home to a constant stream of "ladies of the night" doing a roaring trade during Grand Prix week. It's amazing how many F1 people seem to have attractive female "cousins" living in Brazil.

Anyone running out of essential supplies of prophylactics for use in the hotel lifts was well looked after by a host of pretty girls handing out postcards at the gate to the Interlagos paddock. The card advertised the "Bahamas Club" and it was fairly obvious that this was not the sort of gentleman's establishment with leather sofas and whisky-sodas served on silver platters. The picture on the front portrayed the bottom half of a young lady sitting on her haunches opposite someone wearing a race suit and boots. I don't think the girl was about to do up his shoe laces. Stuck to the card was a "Powersex" condom.

On Saturday, all the team owners got together to discuss the new F1 rules, but I gather that, as usual, they barely got past the stage of arguing the toss over whether the window in the meeting room should be open or closed. The rain tire farrago was probably up for discussion and a note on the subject from the FIA hit our desks just as we were preparing for the excitement of qualifying. It expressed surprise that the tire companies hadn't brought a rain tire more suited to the very wet Brazilian weather. The tone suggested it must have been written by Max Mosley, while on a recent trip to see his old friend Dorothy Parker at New York's Algonquin Round Table.

There was further controversy on race morning with the news that Raikkonen's engine was being changed but, despite this, he could still start from his original grid position. It seemed a strange decision, given that another driver was denied permission to change his seat. Admittedly, he did want to change it for one nearer the front of the grid.

Any parts can be changed at the discretion of the stewards, but if qualifying is now supposed to be part of the race, being allowed to swap motors without having to start at the back of the grid or pitlane seems remarkably lenient. What if a team sneaks a qualifying engine for Saturday and then pleads for a change before the race?

Come Sunday night and I had only one thought on my mind: getting out of the press office. Not because I don't enjoy this event, as it is one of the more colorful race weekends, in all senses of the word. The reason for my haste was the company I was keeping. I was seated next to the F1 correspondent of one of the major newsagencies. He had some local "help" in the form of a very large and noisy Brazilian woman. If she had only opened her mouth to speak when she had something intelligent to say, she could have passed for a mute.

Her silliest uttering came when the decision was taken to delay the start. Pointing at the Brazilian air force flypast going on at the time, she asked why the cars could not drive on the track, when the planes could fly in the sky. I was planning to ignore her, but she kept repeating the question.

"Madam," I began, trying to maintain my composure. "You may have noticed that unlike the racing cars, the planes do not need tires to grip on the shiny wet clouds."

She didn't understand, but at least she shut up for the next half hour while trying to grasp this radical concept."

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