EFF ONE

First of all, let me give you some useful information about Magny Cours:

Nearest airport: Paris

Nearest nightclub: Paris

Nearest tourist attraction: Arc de Triomphe in Paris (don't bother with the Eiffel Tower until they remove the scaffolding).

The French Grand Prix provides many of us with our annual chance to experience life as part of the faded French aristocracy. With hardly any hotels in this godforsaken by rather charming part of the country, many of us end up staying in chateaux which are well past their sell-by date. The plumbing is dodgy, the electrics dubious and one is surrounded by half-finished building projects. One of my colleagues fell (literally) foul of the latter when he stepped out of the French windows in his room, only to fall two meters to the garden below.

Given we were in France, I suppose it begs the question, what other sort of window would he fall out of? Which reminds me of the time a year ago in Imola when I bumped into one of Fleet Street's finest at the bar of my hotel.

"I've just found a great little Italian restaurant," he enthused, without the slightest hint of irony.

In France, dodgy plumbing is not just restricted to crumbling old piles. The Magny-Cours circuit is a modern facility, except when it comes to the toilets, which appear to have been built around the time of Louis XV. So when I felt the need to use the facilities while enjoying a restorative glass of wine at the Jordan motorhome on Friday night, I snuck into the on-board loo, rather than risk the ones outside the media center. I don't know what the Jordan staff usually get up to in there, but a blunt warning sign pinned to the back of the door caught my attention: "Warning, Do not put anything into this toilet unless you have eaten it first!"

France is, of course, famed for its food but as getting into local restaurants is so difficult many of the F1 teams lay on events in the evenings at Magny Cours so that the media can eat. Thursday evening usually provides the only opportunity to eat outside the paddock but this year a lot of the F1 media were confined at the track because of the efforts of a bunch of French policemen, who turned up that evening to seize the assets of British American Racing. France's most famous policeman is actually an Englishman. I refer of course to the late Peter Sellers in his hilarious film role as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. However, there was nothing even remotely funny about this crowd.

One F1 man who gave them a wide berth was Dave Freeman, the chef at the Honda motorhome. Honda Dave is still rather wary of "les garcons en bleu" after an incident at the recent Monaco GP. After the race Dave was approached by a policeman and asked if he would swap a few items of BAR-Honda memorabilia for various bits of police uniform, including a hat and a shirt. Dave agreed to the deal and then decided that he would put on his newly-acquired police gear and, for a bit of a laugh, go and tell the victorious Williams team stop celebrating and "move along there".

As Dave's hand was coming down on the collar of the Williams team, a hand came down on his collar and he was frogmarched off to jail to answer charges of impersonating a police officer. The policemen did not see the funny side of it until a deal was struck. If in future you need a policeman in Monaco, just look for someone wearing Honda gear...

Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya no doubt both breathed a sigh of relief when Dave was released as they are in the habit of sending minions to the tradesman's entrance of the Honda motorhome for a plate of his sushi when they are feeling peckish. Of course, if they knew about Clare's puddings...

Montoya spends most of his time hanging out at the Williams team's Hewlett Packard motorhome, where the computer company has taken its branding to such extremes that the HP initials even feature on bottles of brown sauce.

It's hard not to warm to a guy like Juan Pablo. While his fellow drivers are all hermetically-sealed away inside their air-conned motorhomes, JPM is happy to hang out in the open air with his wife Connie and a posse of Colombian. In France, he was chatting with former motorcycle race ace Randy Mamola when his attention was diverted by Mamola's young son and a game of "chase the Williams cap" broke out as Juan Pablo and the little lad charged around the motorhome, slamming doors and generally causing mayhem.

"How old is he?" one of my colleagues asked Connie.

"Oh, about eight, I reckon," she replied.

"No, I mean Juan Pablo."

"Yes," she said. "I know what you meant."

Still on the subject of Williams, there have been suggestions that the Grove squad's sparkling form of late is linked to the return of veteran aero expert, music buff, wine connoisseur, inveterate tea drinker and famous talker Frank Dernie. The team's technical director Patrick Head was non-committal on the subject: "What I can tell you is that we all now know a lot more about hi-fi and tea consumption in the motorhome has shot up dramatically."

When Dernie comes to town, even Magny Cours is no longer a quiet spot.

The ability to speak appears to have been lost recently by some Grand Prix drivers, particularly but those using Bridgestone tires. If this seems puzzling, allow me to explain: in the case of Ferrari there is a simple reason why no one is talking. Actually there are 50 million reasons, each one with a nice picture of a US President printed on the front. This is reckoned to be the number of dollars that the Japanese tire giant pays for the privilege of supplying Ferrari with its racing tires...

The problem is not so much to do with a number called the coefficient of friction but rather that the truth is being well-disguised by something which is best described as the coefficient of fiction. Even the media seems to have been sucked into the idea that one cannot blame Bridgestone for the recent run of poor results.

"Without Bridgestone today would you win or would you lose?" someone asked Michael Schumacher on Sunday afternoon. The obvious question should have been: "Do you think you would have won today if you had had Michelin tires?"

As it was, the fleet-footed World Champion was able to dodge the answer by using his world famous sense of humor to reply that "it would be very difficult to run without tires!"

Print Feature