Years ago, when I was much wilder than is now the case, I took it upon myself one day to cycle up Mont Ventoux, the most notoriously horrible stage of the Tour de France bicycle race. When I got to the top, my legs were even more wobbly than Juan Pablo Montoya's pectorals but I felt a great sense of achievement.

Every year in Japan, I remember this great event because I borrow a bicycle from the hotel in Suzuka where I lodge and cycle up the gentle hill to Suzuka. Advancing years, combined with the usual regrets about an innocent past spent dabbling in hallucinogens and peyote, meant that when I arrived in the bicycle park at the track and saw a green rubber dinghy "moored" there, I assumed that I was having some kind of psychedelic flashback. But no, after pinching it (and myself) I was convinced that it was real and on Friday night I realized why. It must have been a lot more useful than a bicycle when it came to going home through the pre-typhoon storms.

When finally I arrived back at the hotel, I found that the British photographers lodged there had adopted a siege mentality and as the hotel had neither a restaurant nor a bar they had raided the local 7-11 and bought food to see them through the incoming Typhoon Ma-on. Their chosen provisions seemed somewhat misguided given that we were in Japan as they had bought disgusting German sausage (although that may be tautology) and French bread, which goes stale quicker than a French government can capitulate in the face of aggression from another nation.

For those staying in the more luxurious surroundings of the Circuit Hotel, the scrubbing of action on Saturday meant that Friday night suddenly became a chance to sample the various alcoholic products on offer at the famed Log Cabin bar, a scene of many of Formula 1 atrocity, not least the Tyrrell Family signing "Puff the Magic Dragon".

By the early hours of Saturday morning it was looking more like the Waterlogged Cabin and there were not many survivors beyond an F1 team boss, a veteran technical guru and some Teutonic engine bosses. Roped into their revelries were a group of young women attached to a rival team. The poor dears were then forced to listen to the team boss extolling the virtues of his team kit and the fact that it made the bottoms of his (female) staff look rather more fetching than the kit that the captured girls were forced to wear by their team. The ladies in question then decided to put on a practical demonstration to prove him wrong which led the aforementioned team boss to decide that, as they had shown him their many talents, he would show them his, at which point the women recoiled in horror.

Any polite Japanese person around at the time would no doubt have cried: "Ah so" when viewing this spectacle, but as we know the Japanese are famous for being unable to pronounce their "L"s.

Although in recent years the Japanese have learnt to pronounce the name "Log Cabin" rather than "Rog Cabin" that confusion does continue. The official programme contained a description of a "Frying Lap of Suzuka" which perhaps explains why Coulthard and Barrichello overcooked things at the chicane when finally we got round to qualifying on Sunday morning.

In the week before the Japanese GP, Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone also felt some heat: the British are angry that Bernie seems to want to cancel the British GP; the team bosses are still complaining that the sport's commercial boss is not giving them a big enough cut of the cake; but worst of all was the hot water Bernie was in from his neighbours in London over the behaviour of his dog, a chow which answers (with a growl) to the name of Brulee. This squat carnivore with a Sixties hairdo is known as "The beast of Chelsea" because it has been savaging local dogs and their millionaire owners in the communal garden of the elegant square in which the Ecclestones own a modest town house. Brulee is reportedly being sent to rehab to curb his violent instincts although most of the newspaper headlines written about "The Beast of Chelsea," did not make it quite clear if this treatment referred to the animal or to its owner.

The flight home from Japan was packed with F1 team personnel, but it was a very quiet affair, a far cry from the rowdy airborne parties of yesteryear, although I am glad to hear that the younger crowd involved in the MotoGP series are keeping up the tradition of making air hostesses work for a living. On the Monday after their two-wheeled Japanese GP a large group of European-based MotoGP people boarded the British Airways flight from Tokyo to London. When the boarding was almost completed there was an announcement that there would be a delay in taking-off, although no official

reason was given. Most passengers in steerage resigned themselves to

the wait but up in business class the reason for the delay had become obvious as Suzuki rider John Hopkins was being told by the cabin staff that he was unfit to fly. Hopkins had crashed heavily in the race at Motegi and had suffered three broken ribs and a nasty gash in his buttocks (a common injury?) which had required stitches. Hopper had asked for assistance to place his hand luggage in the overhead locker and had said to a flight attendant: "Can you give me a hand, I've got a couple of broken ribs?" At this sirens began to wail and the BA folk demanded that a doctor be onboard in case of problems.

Step forward Dr Parrish, a former GP rider who nowadays is the leading analyst for the BBC's coverage of MotoGP and is better known to his friends as Steve. Ever willing to assist a fellow biker in distress Parrish pulled out a business card which indicated that he was "Steve Parrish NLAMN" and stepped forward to examine Hopkins, the BA staff apparently thinking that NLAMN means something other than No Letters After My Name. In an instant Dr Parrish had declared Hopkins fit to fly. The doors were shut and the plane took off. Meanwhile, back in Economy Class, a group of Spaniards from commercial rights holder Dorna were getting very convivial and with the passage of time one Spaniard became so drunk that a flight attendant rushed to find Dr Parrish to see if the man was all right. Declaring drunkenness to be the problem, Dr P skulked off and on landing made a quick exit after it became clear that the flight crew had alerted Heathrow security in advance about the drunks onboard.

The sequel to this tale is that "Dr Parrish" arrived in the Media Centre for the following week's Qatar MotoGP, grasping a small black leather bag, with a stethoscope poking out the top.

Print Feature