OCTOBER 27, 2004
The end of term was never supposed to be like this! We were all looking for a relaxing last few days of school in Sao Paulo. We were supposed to be allowed to convert the class room into a disco for the final day and molest the babes in the Lower Sixth.
However, at the end of this school year: Headmaster Ecclestone, Matron Mosley and the prefects Dennis, Todt, Stoddart etc had different ideas. Instead of steaming open our end of term report cards and steaming up the windows in the changing rooms, we had double detention on Saturday night, writing essays on "The Future of F1 and its New Rules." Extra marks were given for a coherent explanation as to why Ferrari did not sign the document that Stoddart was pedalling round the Common Room. That particular answer became apparent on Sunday afternoon, when it was as clear as the balls on a dog that the combination of a damp track, the Ferrari F2004 and Bridgestone tyres was a recipe for disaster. No wonder Jean Todt wouldn't sign to reduce testing when his team so obviously needs to do much more of it!
You have to congratulate Bernie Ecclestone on his ability to outwit just about everyone in the sport. For some inexplicable reason, Mr. E managed to get the team principals to link all proposed cost-cutting changes to the fate of the French and British GPs. A couple of months ago, he shifted the blame for not staging the Silverstone race onto the BRDC, then it was the teams' fault for not agreeing to his financial offer and now, when Ferrari would not sign the Saturday paper, the evil Italians were to blame for everything
I'm not too sure why there is so much fuss about new rules, as the F1 race director seems to introduce them whenever he sees fit. For example, Saturday morning's practice session was red flagged when some dogs were spotted on the track. One was tempted to suggest that such things never happen at Silverstone but I seem to remember that the Minardis were in action on the Northamptonshire track.
Painting the Scuderia as the bad boys of F1 is nothing new. It's been going on for at least 30 years, but you have to say that both sides in this particular argument have their merits. Cost cutting is admirable, but why should Jean Todt agree to his team giving up testing? Ferrari chose to invest in two test tracks while other teams built palatial factories or simply trousered the majority of the sponsorship money that came their way.
The most surprising aspect of the agreement signed by nine of the teams was that Peter Sauber's autograph appeared on the piece of paper. Generally viewed as a Ferrari lackey, this seemed like a brave move by Herr Peter. But it was obvious that a few hours after signing, Sauber remembered his cars had Ferrari engines and the Swiss team hurriedly penned a missive stating that Sauber loved Jean Todt and was not having a dig at Ferrari. I'm getting worried about Sauber, as this gaffe comes only a few weeks after he signed Jacques Villeneuve for 2005, mistakenly believing the Canadian to be a great Grand Prix driver.
I was surprised to see that Jenson Button's manager, John Byfield, was very much in evidence in the Interlagos paddock. My first thought was that lawyers are born with no sense of shame, but I realised that the reason he was marching up and down the back of the garages was that he was not exactly welcomed in the BAR hospitality area and therefore had nowhere to sit down.
The McLaren team had an end of season party on Sunday night, which also served as a farewell to David, their longest serving driver. One of the most amusing recollections to surface at the party concerned the team's 1997 launch at London's Alexandra Palace, where, at the height of their fame, the Spice Girls were the star turn. During rehearsals, Coulthard sauntered onto the stage and gave the Spice Girls his best "Hi there ladies."
Puzzled, the girls asked him who he was. "Actually, I'm one of the drivers," he replied with a hint of swagger. "OK love, you just wait out in the car and we'll tell you when we're ready to leave," replied the Spices, evidently mistaking DC for a chauffeur.
While Coulthard might have been taught a few lessons on the track by team-mate Kimi Raikkonen over the past couple of seasons, the Finn could still learn a thing or two from his senior colleague when it comes to PR. McLaren made a big song and dance about a new sponsorship deal with Nescafe. The press release hinted that coffee might be a useful stimulant for racing drivers, although it could not come out and claim it as a fact, as there are strict limits on how much caffeine you can have in your system if you wish to pass the drugs test.
When asked about the new sponsor, Kimi sidestepped all such issues with the simple statement that, "I don't drink coffee."
Nescafe are no doubt hoping that, coming from Colombia, Juan Pablo Montoya will be a more willing endorser of its product.