EFF ONE

The big question for the Formula 1 media before arriving in Bahrain was not whether the phones would work but rather whether or not there would be access to alcoholic beverages. The answer was a resounding "yesh" with restaurants and bars positively awash with the stuff and the locals also seemingly very keen on a bit of hooch. I have seen a lot of minibars in my life (I have even slept in some) but I have never seen such big bottles of whisky chilling out within.

There are more ex-pats than there are locals in Bahrain and obviously they have found ways to survive. For the Grand Prix some of them had transformed themselves into journalists for the weekend. Most interesting, I thought, was one lady of a certain age who cut a nostalgic figure from the old days of empire. She was dressed in a twin set and pearls with gold lame accessories. It was obvious that years of boredom while her hubby Colonel Blimp was off running the local Yacht Club had led to a penchant for drink, which she ingested via a Christian Dior perfume atomiser bottle, while claiming that it was medication for a sore throat.

It was decided, however, that having champagne on the podium would not be a good thing and so Mumm was replaced by something called Warrd, a drink made from local fruits. It had an interesting "nose" to it, the predominant aroma being that of rose water. This meant that at the end of the race the drivers on the podium came away smelling a bit like granny used to. The good news was that they were at least spraying the stuff over the photographers, a famously fragrant group in F1 circles. This was perhaps a blessing because the snappers did not have a totally enjoyable weekend, several of them reporting that each day piles of human excrement appeared in the tunnel they were using to get to the paddock. It turned out that the local marshals were using the tunnel as a latrine.

But one has to say that on the whole the Bahrainis did a fantastic job to get the whole thing finished in time. I heard that despite vast supplies of the stuff in the neighbourhood, there was a very real problem when the builders ran out of sand for the construction work. Fortunately they were able to import some of the right stuff and were quickly able to go back to work.

They were still painting the tunnel from the car park to the Media Centre when I arrived on Thursday, which explains why my extremely expensive Nicole Farhi jacket now looks like some tie-dye creation from the 1960s. This turned out to be convenient as when I turned up in the Jordan camp I found that this week's sponsorship message on the back of the yellow cars was the age-old logo of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, once so popular with Ban the Bomb folk and old hippies everywhere.

The trouble was that in the car-fixated world of F1, most people seemed to think that EJ had done a new engine deal and was sporting the Mercedes three-pronged star on his cars. Given what has been happening at McLaren in recent weeks, this might not have been such a great idea. DC and Kimi both had a miserable weekend except it seems when they climbed aboard the ancient pick-up trucks, which were being used for the Drivers' parade on Sunday. DC and Kimi were no doubt delighted to find something which was reliable enough to manage a whole lap of the circuit without falling to pieces.

The old pick-ups were apparently very significant devices in the history of Bahrain as they were used to open up the interior of the island and get the oil business going. I guess that it was a sort of local version of the US wagon train.

Considering the Arab world's dislike of all things American, I was surprised to find that I was booked into the Hotel California. As a lifelong fan of the Eagles, the famed purveyors of popular music, I was hugely disappointed on arrival not to have the doorman leap out and start singing "Welcome to the Hotel California. Such a lovely place."

Actually, it seems that my joint was hugely dull compared to some of the hostelries where colleagues in the F1 media were staying. These boasted discos in the basement, bars on the roof and some even had brothels on the fourth floor. In some establishments the girls resorted to door-to-door saleswomanship, knocking on the door of every room to see if anyone there was interested in their "services". In another hotel they decided to use the available technology and rang all the other rooms in the middle of the night, asking if anyone would like to visit "the lady room". Most of those on the receiving end of this treatment tried to be as polite as possible but at least one of the journos, weary with it all, suggested that the lady apply her talents to her own person.

The esteemed editor of www.grandprix.com was one of those telephonically accosted by a Turkish tart but the only person who came to my room throughout the weekend was the doorman delivering my early morning wake-up call.

Given where we were, I assume his name was Sheikh Al-Egg.

There were sheikhs everywhere on Sunday, not to mention a number of kings, princes, kings formerly known as princes and even a few shoddy little motor racing knights. Out on the grid, protocol was somewhat confused with the photographers shouting: "King! Over here King. King, could you stand next to the other King. Smile Kings!"

My major worry on race day was not terrorism but rather whether the high winds would get under the traditional dishdashes of the sheikhs and we would see them floating off over the grandstands, in the finest Mary Poppins-style.

One item that caught my eye in the media kit was the marvellous piece of information that "the energy required to slow an F1 car from 315 to 185 km/h is the same energy needed to make an elephant jump 10 metres in the air."

One can only marvel at the calculations involved to come up with that assessment and I am now looking forward with great excitement to the day when the Bahraini space programme puts the first camel into orbit, without a space craft.

All things considered, one must say that the Bahrainis did a great job.

The only problem was that Michael Schumacher won again. But then again Michael always seems to come up smelling of roses, doesn't he?

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