EFF ONE

Monza is always a rather comic event and things kicked off in admirable fashion on Friday afternoon when Flavio Briatore turned up at the FIA Press Conference looking as though he had just stuck his fingers into a electric plug socket. His grey locks were shooting off in all directions. In fact he looked as though he had just arrived, having hurried from an Albert Einstein Looklike Contest.

This pretty much set the tone for an hour of comedy as the press conference came close to being a full blown slanging-match in an environment where everyone is usually tediously politically correct. Ross Brawn was in the red corner trading insults with the blue corners, which featured Einstein, Patrick Head and Ron Dennis. Of course the topic up for debate was the Michelin tread width saga and, from the tone of the questions, it was obvious that the majority of the media sided with the "blues" on this one. Brawn was definitely under pressure and to blow off a little steam berated a journalist who he thought was laughing at him. Little did he know that the woman in question has twitched and wobbled her way through just about every press conference for the last 20 years! Brawn was also somewhat taken aback later when another journalist told him to be quiet when he tried to interrupt a question to Patrick Head. When Ross tried to override the cheeky scribe, he was told to shut up again! You could almost see the steam coming out of his ears...

The only downside to this Punch and Judy Show was that my social diary for that evening was fit to bust and the scrapping of the sport's grandees had effectively torn up my dance card. I had to make a rapid executive decision to re-jig my drinking opportunities for the evening. The farewell to Gerhard Berger was the first slot in the diary and I didn't spend too long in the BMW bus, because rest assured, the charismatic Austrian will be back before you can say "Holy Lederhosen Batman" as dealing with the pay chits for the family trucking company won't keep Berger amused for long.

From there it was a mad dash to an Olympus function where the Ferrari sponsor was letting photographers get their hand on a new digital camera. Most of the snappers seemed to be testing out the equipment by pointing their lenses at the amply-endowed hostesses. I didn't take much interest because they last time I had a camera, it was all a huge misunderstanding. I had mentioned to Santa Claus that I wanted to get my hands on a Girl Guide. Dear old Father Christmas bought me Kodak Brownie.

Far more appealing than photography was an ice sculpture in the form of a ski slope down which the waiters were pouring champagne. Alas it proved a painful experience as my tongue became stuck to the ice.

How was I to know one was meant to hold a glass underneath it?

Last port of call that night was the Royal Palace of Monza, where the organisers of the Bahrain GP had put on a bash for us to experience a taste of the Arabian world. Fortunately, this did not include trying your hand at suicide bombing or having to eat sheep's eyes. In fact, the catering was lavish. The displays by Arab horses were spectacular and even Mr. Ecclestone was roped into the show, slipping on a leather arm protector as a hawk swooped down on him in a display of falconry.

Ah well, a bird in the hand as he would say...

Over the Italian weekend, Mr E summoned the teams' marketing and PR staff to a meeting to discuss ways of raising the profile of Formula 1. Having admonished the teams for handing out passes to airline booking staff and restaurant owners simply to ensure upgrades and tables in popular eateries, he urged them to turn their attention to getting more A-List celebrities, pretty girls and hookers. Those team members who don't have English as a first language will no doubt look up "hooker" in the dictionary and arrive with a large number of small, solid and ugly Rugby Football players, which is not what F1's ringmaster had in mind.

No doubt on Sunday Mr E was impressed when Williams set about sexing up Formula 1 with Dennis Hopper and Jeremy Irons, two of Hollywood's finest and the stars of the bizarre sexual dramas Blue Velvet and Lolita. Given that Hopper was also the star of Easy Rider I prompted a colleague to go and ask the star if he still kept in touch with Elizabeth Taylor after starring with her in "National Velvet". How was I supposed to know that this was a 1944 weepy about a girl and a horse?

When it came to the race, all I can say is that Friedrich Nietzsche was wrong. Life is not a choice between suffering and boredom. You can have both of them at the same time. The suffering came from listening to people compare the event to the previous fastest ever race in 1971, except that 32 years ago the top five at Monza crossed the line half a second apart and there had been over 20 changes of lead. The boredom is self-explanatory to anyone who witnessed the rather dull parade.

Far more exciting in fact was the Italian military band, which paraded along the main straight as part of the pre-race show. For a long time I was vaguely troubled by this and I was not sure why. But then I realised that it only seemed odd because they were not retreating and discarding their equipment as they ran...

After Heroics in Hungary, it was a case of Ignominy in Italy for Fernando Alonso. I couldn't help wondering if the fact that there was one of his fellow countrymen on the grid, in the shape of Marc Gene, had rattled the Renault man's confidence.

It does seem that Spaniards in F1 are a bit like London buses. You wait 20 years for one and then two come along at the same time.

Print Feature