EFF ONE

Eight weeks on from the end of the Formula 1 season and little news has filtered through the ramparts of Eff Towers. Looking for a bit of fun and with no F1 to keep me employed I decided to take myself off to watch the British round of the FIA World Rally Championship down in Wales. For foreign readers Wales is a sort of Adventure Playground for the English, where in the old days we used to go for a bit of rape and pillage. The government has been very kind and allows the Welsh to go on living there and, as a nation, they are very well balanced, having chips on both shoulders about not being English.

I earned my living in rallying back in the Seventies, when men were men (apart from the hang-glider collars and gold medallions) and sheep were nervous. The big ralllies would last for several days and nights without sleep and cover most of the British Isles. This year's rally never ventured out of Wales but at least the post-rally party seemed to have echoes of the old days. This could explain why I returned to my boarding house at three in the morning, perfectly able to post my room key through the letterbox. It only took me 20 minutes to untangle myself from the coat stand in the hallway. Getting undressed was easy once I'd figured how to get my trousers off over my head, and then I leapt onto the bed and stubbed my cigarette out on the top of the bedside radio.

I woke up a few hours later with a thirst that made my addled brain think I had just finished covering the Safari Rally rather than the British one. There was a bottle of Coke in the minibar, but naturally there was no bottle opener. With hindsight, trying to prise the top off in the door jamb was not the brightest idea I've ever had and I went back to bed, still parched, but with a piece of door embedded in a wet foot. Some consolation came in the morning, when I woke up, looked in the bathroom mirror and felt sick. At least there was nothing wrong with my eyesight.

I don't think I'll be bothering with rallying for a while and I am looking forward to a much quieter life when F1 resumes in Melbourne in March.

If my head hadn't been throbbing, I might have laughed at an article I read in a local paper before leaving Wales. The town of Cowbridge had hit on a plan to celebrate its 750th birthday by emulating the famous Running of the Bulls in Pamplona in Spain, where young men, dressed in white with red sashes and hats run through the streets chased by a herd of very annoyed and dangerous young bulls. You may have seen it on TV. It looks like a fire alarm has just gone off in a Morris Dancing Club.

Cowbridge plans to stage a similar event with cows although anyone who has ever seen the leisurely pace at which a herd of cows heads home to the barn would realize that the only sort of person who might be in danger of getting gored would be a little old lady walking up hill with a Zimmer frame loaded down with shopping bags.

My only other trip since the end of the season literally failed to get off the ground. I had planned to head down to Spain to watch some of the F1 cars testing. I got to the airport check-in and threw my suitcase on the belt.

"Anything else to check in sir," said the girl.

"No," I replied, "but I wish I'd brought my piano with me from home."

"It's a good job that you didn't," she laughed, "because you wouldn't be able to check it in. Why would you need to take your piano anyway? Isn't there one where you're going?"

"I'm sure there is," I replied, "but I still wish I'd brought my own from home."

The check-in girl was looking puzzled.

"May I ask why sir?"

"Because I've left my ticket and passport on top of it," I replied and cancelled the trip.

The plan was to go to see the new McLaren running. Lots has been happening at McLaren in recent weeks. Parts of the organisation are finally taking up residence in the modern day version of the Taj Mahal, now officially known as the Technology Centre. And next year's MP4-19 is already whizzing round the tracks. Ron Dennis is evidently in a hurry to return the team to its winning ways and has even sorted out his 2005 driver line-up by snatching Juan Pablo Montoya.

Ron hasn't had to deal with a South American driver since the days of Ayrton Senna and some of us remember that that relationship wasn't all a bed of roses, with some of their contractual discussions making a Vegas high-roller poker game look like a game of Happy Families.

But, I get the impression the easygoing Montoya might prove less of a handful, which is precisely why Juan Pablo might not be quite the ticket for McLaren's return to World Championship glory. At the most, the Colombian can be expected to keep Kimi Raikkonen on his toes.

Of course, that assumes the Finn will be still be driving for the same team in 2005, which is far from a foregone conclusion. In fact, all the signs point to a very different McLaren a couple of years down the road. The Technology Centre, a competitive MP4-19 and the recently launched McLaren-designed and built Mercedes sports car all hint at Dennis preparing a fitting epitaph to a glorious F1 career. He and Mansour Ojjeh could well sell out to Mercedes-Benz, which some of us think would see the team hit rock bottom slightly quicker than the Bismark.

With the possibility of the Frank 'n Patrick Show down the road at Williams eventually doing a similar deal with BMW, I have been pondering the commercial viability of setting up a sauerkraut and frankfurter concession somewhere in the south of England. I have been looking for an investor and, in the wake of the Montoya-McLaren announcement, one must assume that David Coulthard will also in the market for new business opportunities.

I must go and ask him if he likes the idea...

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