When I looked at Kimi Raikkonen in the post-race press conference in Austria I was shocked to see that his neck appeared to have been compressed into his shoulders in the course of the Grand Prix. One might have imagined that happening to Michael Schumacher as he tried to scrunch himself down in the cockpit to avoid being barbecued but there was Michael with his neck in its usual form and there was Kimi with his race suit up around his ears.

Was it, I wondered, the result of the amazing downforce generated by the McLaren MP4-17D or had something gone wrong with the HANS device? A little investigation was called for and I discovered that McLaren has decided that its drivers do not look clean enough after 70-odd laps being covered in oil, brake dust and then being sprayed with champagne and had therefore come up with the idea of having the driver slip into something a little more comfortable before charming the international media.

And so now Kimi puts a little race suit replica blouson over his usual overalls on his way to meet the media so that he looks nice and tidy for the TV cameras and the sponsors get maximum exposure. No doubt the FIA will soon be asked to provide telephone booths into which the racers will pop post-race for a Superman-like change of costume.

Putting on strange clothing for the TV cameras is not unusual (as a German TV presenter famous for his chocolate and custard pinstripe suits and crocodile shoes will attest) and I found myself being thrust into unusual garb in Austria by my TV producer. He thought it would be a great idea to put his "talent" into lederhosen, those rather odd tight leather short pants which men like to wear in Alpine regions (if you see what I mean).

This was fine until it started to rain and I began to resemble a chamois leather and had to run the gauntlet through the paddock in fear of a burly truckie grabbing me by the nether regions and trying to use me to clean his windscreen. Finally I was allowed to remove this ridiculous apparel, letting out a thigh of relief. The damage was done, although I have to say that I have been rather enjoying rubbing my inner thighs with body lotion twice a day ever since...

This kept me busy through the long and tiresome evenings one tends to have in Austria, where it seems all the towns close down at the weekends. Past experience of this phenomenon resulted in several racing organisations deciding to entertain the press in the paddock: BAR, for example, staging a screening of "The Italian Job" which is a film all about British bandits in Italy.

I was wondering if this should have been organised by the Jordan team after I heard that the team has just signed a new sponsorship deal with the Sicilian tourist board. This was put together by Giancarlo Fisichella's perma-tanned manager Enrico Zanarini, who is sometimes mistaken for one of the Men in Black.

It is however a clever deal as Eddie Jordan is brilliantly suited to the job as he has spent his lifetime making people offers that they cannot refuse. It has been decided that henceforth the loquacious Irishman will be known as The Gobfather. One wonders whether he will also arrange for a Prancing Horse's head to be put in the bed of those who disagree with him. I am not sure I would want to wake up next to Jean Todt. Come to think of it, I cannot imagine that he would want to wake up next to me!

It was during the Austrian weekend that I heard EJ threaten someone with the immortal line: "Tonight you sleep with the missus!" Apocryphal words or so it seems, as on race day, back home in England The Sunday Times ran a story about Mrs. Jordan in bed with former England cricketer Ian Botham. It was all a fuss about nothing of course, as the truth behind the story was really rather dull.

"Beefy" Botham and Mrs EJ did indeed slip quietly into a hotel room at a golf tournament they were attending last year. The Botham and Jordan families are old friends and had snuck off to watch television in order to see qualifying from the US Grand Prix. What the newspaper failed to reveal until the dying paragraphs of the story was that Mrs. Jordan's children were with her at the time!

One of the other events which took place in Austria was a food tasting at Michelin dedicated entirely to "chocolat". I went along hoping to bump into Juliette Binoche carrying nothing but a jar of chocolate spread. All I could find was the chocolate and so I spent an hour gorging myself on chocolate biscuits, mousses, great big churns full of chocolate sauce, fruit dipped in chocolate, chocolate pancakes and even chocolate dipped in chocolate. Actually there was something almost obscene in a display of confectionery that made Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory look like a subtle and understated production.

Later in the weekend, it was McLaren's turn to indulge the press with a tasting of Austrian wines. It was one of the few events of this kind where the pre-tasting speech was more palatable than the wine itself. I took myself off to another team's motorhome for a decent glass or two of a full-bodied Spanish Rioja, because expecting to learn something about wine in Austria is a bit like going to a synagogue to be lectured on the subject of bacon sandwiches.

Later I managed to sneak into a BMW dinner for photographers. Despite the very public spat going on between the German car company and Williams, BMW boss Mario Theissen was on fine form.

"This is my favourite dinner of the year," he revealed. Why? "Because when you invite journalists all they want to do is ask questions all evening," he said. "The photographers just want to eat and drink."

I'll drink to that...

Print Feature