EFF ONE

The old dear has served me well for many years. She used to be the model of my dreams and she was gorgeous in her day. I serviced her regularly. But now she's getting on a bit and some of her bits aren't working as well as once they did. And whenever I'm out and about, I can't help but notice that younger models have more alluring lines.

I fear it is time for her to go.

No, not the wife. The car!

You would think that getting a new set of wheels would be a doddle as I work (in the broadest sense of the word) in Formula 1, surrounded by the fawning PR men and women of the world's greatest automobile manufacturers. Discount heaven? Alas, no. The problem, you see, is that the more I think about the options, the less I like the idea. I can't afford a Ferrari, but even if I could, I share the late Enzo's famous distaste for his clientele. You would not want a Ferrari either if you had seen a load of overweight German businessmen with stick-on chest hair and gold medallions posing on the prom in Monaco.

BMW? Have you seen the people who drive them? I don't want to be mistaken for a hairdresser, a rap singer or a drug baron.

Mercedes-Benz? Well, I actually like Ron Dennis, so why would I want to be seen to be supporting the bane of his existence?

Renaults are for sales reps and I haven't time for the Avantime. Jaguars are just Ford with a posh badge. And although Honda prides itself on the quality of its engines, I regard having to open the bonnet (or hood for the benefit of US readers) as a sign of failure.

There are probably some others I've forgotten on the way, which says it all and that could explain why the two cars in my driveway (I would say avenue if it was longer) are a Volkswagen and an Audi; both cars produced by the only major European motor manufacturer not involved in Formula 1. Maybe the motor marketing men in F1 need to rethink their strategies.

Spin doctors seem to rule the world these days and that set me wondering how they might have changed history if they had been around back in the old days. One has to salute the brilliant marketing of the Austrians, not just because of Mr Red Bull but also because the country has got everyone thinking that Mozart was an Austrian and Old Adolf was a German, when in fact the opposite is closer to the truth.

Just imagine if old Mr Hitler had employed a spin merchant like Tony Blair's Alistair Campbell. The swastika would have been replaced with a bright yellow daisy. The troops would give a cheery thumbs-up instead of the straight-arm salute und der dreaded Storm Troopers would have become Sunny Day Troopers.

Mind you, some of the F1 teams are going to need spin doctors (and nurses) this year.

When McLaren announced that Juan Pablo Montoya would be driving for the silver team in 2005, they knew that they had struck the first blow to destabilise Williams. And yet, they had also torpedoed themselves as well. It is going to be a tough job handling David Coulthard this year. And there is not much hope of a replacement as Alexander Wurz doesn't seem to fit in the new car...

Meanwhile the Montoya Camp is busy trying to destabilise Kimi Raikkonen with wild claims about how much money the Colombian is going to be paid. The Raikkonen Camp has been stirring up stories that taking up the option on the Finn is going to cost Ron Dennis more than an arm and a leg. The fact Raikkonen is not officially signed up for 2005 might seem like a tiny ray of hope for Coulthard to hang onto, but believe me, even if Raikkonen, Wurz and even Pedro de la Rosa are all incapacitated, Coulthard will not drive a McLaren after the end of this year.

But, you know, there is always a chance that all this controversy will stir the Civilised Scotsman to deliver a title-winning performance in 2004, which would see Ronzo emulating his old pal Sir Frank, by winning the championship and then watching his Number 1 sticker trot off elsewhere.

Over at Williams neither Montoya nor Ralf Schumacher look like being there in 2005, which makes for interesting mind games.

With all this controversy boiling away in the background, the real winner is Ferrari, which can sit back and watch its two main rivals trip over one another.

Anyway, it will give us all something to write about. And we have an extra weekend to enjoy the company of the team bosses after they all voted for an 18th race, on the understanding, you understand, that they will each be paid a truckful of dollars by that nice Mr E.

Magny Cours is still on. It has never been a particularly popular venue with the F1 crowd, until this year when the future of the Gallic contribution to the World Championship hung in the balance, and we all hoped that its return would spell some doubt over Bahrain. Anyone who goes to the Bahrain comes back, chanting like a religious extremist about how wonderful it all is, and this has led to suspicion that someone has told them how to behave.

A quick and rather unofficial straw poll of several teams revealed that no one is particularly keen on heading for the desert. And it is not just because it's going to be harder to have a decent drink there than getting a bacon sandwich in a kosher restaurant. There is this terrorism thing as well.

The British Foreign reckons there is a high risk of a terrorist threat and advises against frequenting any places where Europeans gather in large number - like a Grand Prix.

I'll be very interested to see if Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley will be turning up to the race...

F1 team members I have spoken to who have visited the new circuit in the past couple of months have all described it (off the record) as looking like "a bomb site" which I have to say is an unfortunate choice of words.

We will go, of course, because team bosses are salivating at the prospect of mining new sources of income for their teams. Money has the last word - as usual.

Which brings me back to my car....

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