EFF ONE

Years ago, before I had ever tried a Martini without a cherry, the American writer F Scott Fitzgerald wrote a short story called The Lost Decade, the tale of a man emerging from a drinking binge that had lasted for 10 years. I mention this because I went to Monza, by way of the town of Brno, where I attended a rather drunken promotional event organised by McLaren's title sponsor. I arrived at Monza absolutely wasted, or perhaps more accurately, absolutely West-ed.

Brno is one of the most famous spelling mistakes that appear on maps of the Czech Republic but I was glad to be there rather than in Mnichovo Hradiste as saying "Take me to Bruno" while under the influence is a lot easier than trying to get back to the other place. The only slight fear I had was that I might end up in a den of vice with some male stripper called Bruno. I did end up in a rather sordid nightclub at one point but there seemed to be lots of girls about, none of them called Bruno. If the truth be told (and remembered correctly) during my visit day and night seemed to merge due to the effect of too much hooch and the fact that I spent the daylight hours swatting away a plague of wasps and night time swatting away a plague of unsuitable women.

After abandoning the nightclub I went to the bar in my hotel where I seemed to be the only customer. The girl behind the bar was one of the Czech Republic's finest female forms, with legs that went all the way up to the cruising altitude of a Boeing 747, and jets in all the right places. She obviously took pity on me and began to tell me tales of her life, informing me that she was actually a student paying her way through college by working as "a hostess". Now, I don't know about you, but as far as I'm concerned, these days any "hostess" who is not in an aeroplane is really nothing more than a high class hooker and so I began, with usual Eff social awareness, to show an interest in this poor fallen woman, and asked about life as a prostitute in half of the former Czechoslovakia.

It was when I started talking about chess that things went wrong. I deny ever asking her if she was good at Czech mating.

It turned out that the long-legged lass's grasp of English was as shaky as my grasp of the bar stool and it turned out that the word she had been trying to remember was "waitress" rather than "hostess". Anyway, after that two large men arrived and decided to fight to defend her virtue, which was rather amusing as I don't think she'd ever done much of that herself.

The end-of-event party the next day (at least I think it was the next day) was held in a brewery, so I knew in advance that I was going to crash and burn. As it turned out the wreckage was far worse than expected and I completely disappeared from the radar screen, to such an extent that my work colleague, with whom I was travelling to the circuit, failed to actually notice that I was not in the car that was sent to collect us. I did eventually get to the track and I even managed to do a bit of work before being poured into the back of a limo, accompanied by the aforementioned colleague, with only a chauffeur and an excellent bottle of red for company. Fortunately we also had two glasses, provided by McLaren caterers, Absolute Taste, and the drive back to Prague (or Praha as they say over there) passed in a high-speed haze. And I mean high speed as our driver had once been employed as the chauffeur to the President and liked nothing better but to weave from lane to lane as though trying to shake off a heat-seeking missile. When we requested a road-side pit stop, he insisted on "covering" us with his own personal Smith & Wesson.

Arriving at Monza, I was hoping to put the brake on my downward spiral of drink and recrimination but the first night there was a dinner courtesy of Italian brake supplier Brembo. Sadly the brakes came off and soon I was under the influence again. The following night the slogan turned into "the drunk in front is a Toyota," as the extremely well-funded Japanese team set about destroying its stock of wine as Monza marked the last time this season that the motor homes will feature on the F1 calendar. And it was not just the guests who were drinking, as one member of the Toyota squad let it all hang out and told me an unlikely tale of his adventures with two twin girls, only to end the conversation with the interesting comment that one of the girls was 22 years of age and the other 23. I suppose that it might have been their birthday. It had been arranged that I would get drunk and my trusty photographer would drive me home but some time later he fell through the door of the Toyota motor home, wearing his tie as a bandana and I realized that getting home might be more of a problem than I anticipated.

The next day I was perplexed, not because I had trouble remembering how we finally got home but rather because I was convinced that I had seen a photographer who owns a tie and I wondering if perhaps I should check myself into the Betty Ford Clinic because I was beginning to have hallucinations. This seemed a good idea at the time as I heard that Betty Ford is coming back to F1 next year to take over Jaguar Racing.

Good old Betty!

I am always getting into trouble over names. One of the things that one can usually rely upon at Monza is that Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo will turn up and give us a few sound bytes. One year he did that and the copytaker at the English newspaper I worked for at the time typed "Lucky Monkey Zemolo" as I was reading my story over the phone.

Signor Zemolo was a lucky monkey on Saturday when BMW F1 boss Mario Theissen, trying to get some space for BMW in the Italian newspapers, presented him with a brand new Mini, painted Ferrari yellow with a Prancing Horse emblem on the roof. At a Ferrari dinner on Saturday night, Luca mentioned the gift, remarking that, "if BMW ever wins the championship, maybe in a hundred years, I will be happy to give them a red Fiat Panda!"

When I left the circuit late on Sunday night I noticed the Mini, abandoned in a car park. No doubt, it will still be there when I return in 12 months, burnt out, scratched and definitely not this year's model.

Who knows what will have happened to the car by then

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