EFF ONE

Having to spend a weekend at the Nurburgring just a few days after the Monaco Grand Prix is like being checked into the Betty Ford Clinic by some caring relative. There are no parties and no cute babes unless you like your women hairy and dressed in a most bizarre fashion. And, worst of all, there is very little in the way of drinkable alcohol. There are some passable whites around but the reds should be sent out with government health warnings attached to each label.

On our first night we managed to finish off all the non-German stuff in the cellar and so each evening we had to resort to sneaking away from the paddock with a couple of decent bottles of red purloined from one motorhome or another. The old biddy who ran the hotel was only too happy to open these bottles for us, charging only five Euros for the corkage on each one. Now well into her eighties, she still insists on dressing in leopard skin print although at her age the effect is more faithful old Tabby than wild sex kitten.

I've been thinking for some time of ringing the United Nations and telling them that Germany still has hidden stocks of weapons of mass destruction: the Wiener Schnitzel, the horrid red wine and the Birkenstock sandal. In fact I think the last-named is actually responsible for crimes against humanity now that I have seen the new 2004 Birkenstock range, which features sandals, clogs, sneakers and knee-high boots presented with designs inspired by the wildlife of Africa, including cheetahs, leopards and zebra.

When you take the road that winds its way down along the banks of the Moselle river, with vineyards stretching away above you with cutesy towns and impressive castles one cannot help but reflect that Germany would actually be a very nice country if it weren't for the fact that the people are all so Germanic.

The thing that used to make a visit to the Ring so exciting was the fact that it was once the greatest racing circuit in the world but at Grand Prix time these days the hallowed tarmac on the old Ring becomes a long parking lot for the Schumacher Camper Van Divisions. This means that one cannot blast around the old track trying to have an accident as we often did in the old days. Nowadays the only action on Thursdays is provided by F1 drivers giving drives to prize winners on the new circuit. The Jordan drivers turned up not exactly delighted to hear that they would be driving their punters around in Fords while others were doing their promotional stunts in lusty Beemers and sexy little Mercs. Nick and Giorgio got the last laugh, however, when they discovered that rather than having to play with diesel-engined Focus models the nice people at Ford had come up with a couple of rip-snorting, road-chewing, tarmac-specification Rally Mondeos. I gather this was all a bit too much for the German car companies, who complained to the organisers, insisting the Jordan drivers be forbidden from overtaking their lumbering great taxis in barely-controlled four wheel drifts!

Apart from Michael Schumacher's victory it was by all accounts a very bad weekend for the Germans. Both McLarens went up in smoke and the local commentators could be heard yelling those wellknown words: "Achtung, Mercedes spit feuer!" while the Williams-BMW team had a right rollicking race when Juan Pablo Montoya used Ralf Schumacher to slow himself down as they went into the first corner. The only sad thing in all this was that Patrick Head was not present to witness the event and so we were deprived of a repeat of his reaction when the Laurel and Hardy of the pit lane tried this kind of move at Indianapolis last year. Those able to lip-read were scandalised and I am told that the explosion was picked up by seismic recording stations all around the world. One wonders how happy the team will be to see the back of the pair of drivers next year.

Years ago, when I still believed my abilities behind the wheel extended further than they do, I barrel-rolled a Mini-Cooper into a ball while trying to compete on a rally. The wreck sat festering outside my house, being gradually stripped of every useful part. It became a major eyesore, even by the shabby standards of my neighbourhood, but I couldn't afford to dispose of it. My neighbour got very angry about this blot on his landscape and threatened to have it taken to the tip. I begged him not to. That worked a treat and he paid good money just to spite me by getting rid of it. Substitute the Williams team for me, Montoya for the Mini and McLaren's Ron Dennis for my neighbour and you can perhaps see why there's a glint in Sir Frank Williams's eye at the moment. People think it is because FW knows who will be driving for him next year but I suspect it is there because he knows who will NOT be driving for him.

By the time you read this the new McLaren should have begun testing at Silverstone and I gather that Mercedes-Benz has gone for a radical solution in the power department, coming up with a lubrication system that is designed to keep the oil inside the engine.

On the subject of strange lubrications, there was something very odd going on down at Jordan with the arrival of a new product called Libid X at the team's motorhome. This is some sort of homeopathic version of Viagra but I must admit I did not take kindly to the Jordan PR babe announcing it to me with the words: "Hey Eff, here's something for your column".

It seems that a lot of people were at least curious as to the supposed powers of the Libid X. I've never seen such a large gathering of middle aged men swigging potions from cans before. There were also a steady stream of driver managers and minders evidently ordered to pick up the drink in the hope that it would improve the performance of their drivers.

"I am getting out of here soon," shrieked a terrified motorhome girl. "This stuff takes effect in an hour!"

Personally, I decided to stick to trusty old red wine as I really see no point in creating an ache in my loins when the only person I was sleeping with all weekend was my usual crusty old photographer room-mate.

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