EFF ONE

Whenever the British weathermen predict snowfall, the people in charge of the country's roads and railways tell us that, this year, they are ready to deal with it; that they are fully prepared to keep our nation's arteries flowing; that they will win through.

There comes a dusting of snow, lighter than icing sugar on one of Granny's sponge cakes, and the whole transport system immediately falls apart: the roads are grid-locked; points and signals are frozen solid.

Britain's ability to cope with a short sharp spell of wintery weather for some reason always reminds me of David Coulthard's traditional pre-season speech to the nation on the subject of his World Championship chances.

This year, he says, he is fully prepared and ready to get the job done...

The reason I mention this is that this winter I only lowered the drawbridge at Eff Towers on a couple of occasions and both times I had a pretty disastrous time. First off there was the Ferrari launch down Maranello way. I slithered my way to the airport and we flew down to Italy where we discovered that the local council had evidently sold all of its gritting salt to the local pizza makers and so the roads were left looking (and feeling) like the set of "Holiday on Ice". Not having been blessed with the reactions and car control of Kimi Raikkonen, I pirouetted my way to the autostrada where, staring intently into horrible murky fog, I saw that Roman Catholicism is alive and well. The locals hurtled at full speed through the thickest of thick fogs, putting their trust in God that there will be nothing untoward on the road ahead. I crawled along in the slow lane, a confirmed atheist, with my eyes out on stalks, straining to see anything through the reflected glory of my own headlights.

I was in the process of congratulating my passenger (a photographer) on having successfully navigated us to the Maranello road, when I saw blue lights flashing in my rear view mirror. It seems that I had driven the wrong way down a one-way street. Mention of the Ferrari launch would normally have been enough to see us on our way with a friendly caution, but my mad-looking eyes and the fact that my pal was busy rolling a cigarette made the policeman assume that we were a pair of potheads and so we were delayed further.

I got home eventually, after two days of aggravation, having seen what looked suspiciously like last year's Ferrari with a new lick of paint. My only consolation was that I had sold my Prancing Horse press kit for $100 on E-bay even before I had left Italy.

I had just one day at home to chill out (literally) and then it was time to try and get to the airport again for a flight to Sicily and the launch of the new Renault. The British roads were even worse this time and I almost missed my flight. I was working for Renault, providing simultaneous translation from French to English, and was travelling with two of Renault's press people. As I tried to run for the departure gate, chasing these two young men whose combined age did not even add up to mine, I wondered if God was going to punish me for speaking French with a walloping great heart attack.

A fair punishment one would have to say.

Can someone please explain to me why Renault, an Anglo-French racing team, has to go all the way to an island off the south of Italy, famous only for its Mafia connections, to launch its Formula 1 car? I was planning to ask, but there were too many big men in dark suits and sunglasses hanging around.

It was my first visit to Sicily for almost 20 years. The last time I went there I was working for a touring car team. The track, as I recall, was quite dangerous but by far the biggest for a driver was going off and having to get back to the pits through the hundreds of poisonous snakes that lived at the circuit.

Of course, since then I have been working in Formula 1 and so dealing with poisonous snakes in the paddock is something I do on a daily basis.

The Renault event was a lavish "do", staged in an opera house, reminiscent of Milan's La Scala. Being something of a philistine when it comes to the performing arts, the theatre reminded me more of the one used as a set for The Muppets but mention of La Scala did raise one interesting question: would not the whole thing have been better if we had been doing it in Milan. At least we could have gone shopping afterwards...

Once the show was I had the chance of a second run-in with the Italian constabulary in the space of a week. It was all a bit of a rush and I charged through Security and Passport Control and, seeing no one at the gate, panicked and walked out across the tarmac towards the plane that had been chartered by Renault. I was immediately surrounded by police cars and escorted back to the terminal.

Apparently, I was way too early...

From the historic Ferrari factory and the splendour of an opera house in Sicily, it was back to the real world when Jordan launched its new car in a garage at Silverstone on a suitably rainy day. It wasn't really a launch at all, as there were no speeches, no dry ice, no music, no lunch - and no team-mate for Nick Heidfeld. Being Jordan of course there had to be a joke. The new car livery included some decals which read "Lazarus." Several Internet sites immediately ran stories about the team having secured a major new sponsor presumably not knowing that this was Eddie Jordan's way of suggesting that the team had risen from the dead.

Come what may, it seems that the British economic climate is not going to stop Eddie doing his thing.

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