EFF ONE

Having spent most of the last six weeks on a plane, it was a real novelty to find oneself on a conveyance that landed on the same day as it took off, although it was quite a shock for the Formula 1 media to re-experience the austere delights of CrapAir, a low-cost airline which has now introduced a policy of no seat pockets and boasts non-reclining wipe-down rock-hard plastic seats. The last time I sat on anything that austere was when I was in the back of a police van - and I am not going to explain what I was doing there. I must admit that I half-expected the CrapAir stewardess to come and handcuff me to the arm rest.

Alas, our dreams rarely come true.

\CrapAir is a perfect example of the bizarre contrasts that we members of the Third Estate have to deal with on a fortnightly basis each summer. One moment we're slumming it with the great unwashed on CrapAir, and the next we are dining will multimillionaire Ron Dennis in the palatial surroundings of his mobile glass and chrome folly in the Imola paddock, tipping quantities of fine wines down our necks and slopping haute cuisine on our shirt fronts.

The traditional dinner for the British F1 press in Imola proved what a fickle bunch we are. In previous years, the McLaren motor home (which uses the stage name "Communications Centre") would have been humming with hungry hacks, but now that the team's 2004 challenge is looking a bit on the dodgy side (some nasty journalists have even taken to referring to the team as "Boss Hog and the Dukes of Haphazard") there were rather fewer journalists on parade. In fact I believe that as many scribblers dined at Sauber the previous evening as dined at McLaren that night. On Sunday the two teams were out there scrapping for points so I guess the head-count was about right.

As a result of the absentees, the faithful few fans of silver-grey were able to drink considerably more good red wine per head. I think I may one day forgive Ron for pointing out that I was stupid for thinking that a jet-powered dragster would have a clutch. How silly of me to attempt technical talk with the man who has overall responsibility for the magnificent MP4-19.

I think after the race on Sunday that I might propose to McLaren that the design team in Woking concentrate on building a car for next year which will allow Juan Pablo Montoya to overtake while driving on the grass. The Colombian showed some fighting spirit at Imola, even if his judgement was rather less than sound. This gumption seems to be rather lacking in Montoya's team mate Ralf Schumacher. Rumours for some time have suggested that Toyota is preparing to shell out a rather less than small fortune for the BMW Williams man, although given his current form the Japanese might decide to wait and pick him up as a pay-driver later in the year. I've had close dealings with the Japanese over the years and sometimes their understanding of the big picture is somewhat fuzzy. Given the talk of $100m deals for Ralf, one can only assume that whoever makes the decisions in Tokyo hasn't yet realised that there are two Schumacher Brothers.

Toyota's current incumbent Olivier Panis has not yet given up hope of staying on at the team next year, in spite of a recent tendency to have tea parties with Ron Dennis. Although the oldest man in F1 (at least in a cockpit) Olivier remains a racer to the core. When asked about his feelings concerning drivers who are complaining that F1 cars are too fast, Panis remarked that "drivers who think it's too fast should go home. Formula 1 cars should be fast."

Some advice there perhaps for his old employer, Mr Dennis.

Moving swiftly on (a la Panis) there was a special celebration event in the paddock one evening to mark the first appearance of the new Bridgestone motor home, which we were supposed to christen with a glass of bubbly. Apparently, this Bridgestone baby had quite a difficult birth and for a few days before the San Marino GP was confined to the Formula 3000 paddock because its shiny sleekness contravened some arcane Knightsbridge bylaw regarding the acceptable dimensions of F1 motor homes.

The other teams were asked if this would be acceptable (no doubt there is a Concorde Agreement for motor homes as well) and unanimous agreement was reached only for the plan to be dashed by Michelin, which refused to allow the vehicle access to the paddock. Having to erect, dismantle and re-erect the facility evidently did not affect the Bridgestone chef, as I later enjoyed an excellent plate of gnocchi with crayfish, washed down with the local Sangiovese, and all followed by a very splendid tiramisu, which really picked me up.

I am told that there is not much chance of the Bridgestone motor home being granted any stars by the Michelin Guide, but judging by the racing so far this season I also gather that there very little chance of a Michelin car actually winning a race.

One man who hopes that will eventually happen is Jarno Trulli and each year during the Imola weekend Jarno's Dad invites a group of mates out for a fishy dinner. Trulli Jr has recently reverted to his ridiculous topknot hairdo, first seen in the Antipodes, and at the Trulli-fest he insisted on trying this tonsorial twist on his team-mate, Fernando Alonso, who seems to prefer silly hairdos on his face rather than on his head. A bit of fooling round between team-mates is fair enough, but it seems that Jarno got carried away and insisted on seeing whether the topknot would do anything to improve the sex appeal of team boss Flavio Briatore. Riskier still, Trulli then essayed forth and tried to persuade Bernard Charles Ecclestone to trade in his trademark grey mop-top for a nice little twist.

Trulli always was a very brave driver.

Given his tendencies for hairdressing Trulli may have a future in the Porsche Cup races on Sunday mornings, which we in the media often refer to as the "Coupe des Coiffeures"

Well, you know the average Porsche driver. He is either having a mid-life crisis or running a hair salon.

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