EFF ONE

We Formula 1 hacks thought we had died and gone to heaven when we walked into the Red Bull Welcome Celebration Party at Melbourne's romantically-named Shed 14. Red Bull might be new to F1 team ownership but those Austrian wallahs are old hands at organising the best F1 parties. Thursday night in Melbourne was no exception. The result was a number of massive hangovers to kick off the new season (and that was just me). The party featured a sea of Melbourne's prettiest girls although one has to say that perhaps some of the Australettes are not quite as sophisticated as they like to think they are. As a European sophisticate myself, I have to say that some I met were what my dear departed grandmama would have described as "all fur coat and no knickers."

One lass seemed to be offering to help me get a little aerobic exercise but when I seemed enthusiastic about the idea she pointed out that the muscle-bound fellow standing nearby was her "model boyfriend". She did not seem to understand when I suggested that she ought perhaps to get a real one, as what is a girl supposed to do with a model?

The one thing I did learn at the soiree was why it is that France is the only country I know of where it is illegal to sell Red Bull. The winner of the prize for the most drunken man at the event went to a French journalist, who had to be carried from the venue.

"It's all right," said one of his colleagues. "I'll drive him home. I've only had three bottles of champagne." I pointed out that this was the equivalent of a man in a coma driving a dead man, but my analogy didn't sink in, so in the end we resorted to stealing their car keys to avoid a messy accident.

On the subject of messy accidents, please don't get me started on the new McLaren team kit. There were various descriptions for this: it did look a bit like members of the Dutch national soccer team who had fallen down a coal mine but as far as I am concerned the T-shirts with splashes of orange make the mechanics look as though they're wearing flavoured condoms. I noticed that team boss Ron Dennis was sticking with the white shirt, rather than the Boss-designed explosion in a paint factory look. However, on balance, the new McLaren look is marginally better than the latest Toyota uniform. The best way to explain the new Toyota look is to mention that people kept going up to the mechanics and ordering burgers and fries.

Fashion was a big issue in Melbourne and the man who definitely did not win the prize for the sexiest outfit was Dr Colin Kolles, the new boss of Jordan. Why does he insist on wearing a ridiculous Burberry cap? Does he not understand that the look has instantly earned Jordan the nickname, "Team Chav", a chav being a derogatory term for a particular form of English lowlife who likes to drive noisy cars, has six children and has hijacked the famous Burberry brand as his own.

Every year, the Formula One Management swipe card system that allows us access to the paddock gets more sophisticated. This year, as one held the pass up to the machine, it displayed a photo of the bearer. Or at least it was supposed to. There were some teething problems with the device and on Thursday morning when I tried it, I noticed that according to the machine I was a young lady working in the marketing department of one of the teams. Coming on the morning after a particularly excessive BAR beach party, I had to repair immediately to the Gents (I pondered the Ladies for a moment) to check out that all the right bits were in the right places. I found that I had not suffered an overnight sex change, which was probably a good thing as I doubt I would have managed to get much work done if I had found exciting new things to play with under my jumper.

The organizers at Melbourne are always looking for new things to keep the crowd amused with and this year the four days of non-stop track action included Ute racing. This activity sounded very strange so I paid close attention and discovered that a Ute is a Utility Vehicle, as opposed to some kind of sheep. It seemed a bit pointless to have drivers bashing around in pick-up trucks and so I suggested that the organization spice up the races, by sticking a couple of sheep in the back of each Ute to add a little excitement down at Turn One.

There was plenty of celebrating going on in the Albert Park paddock on Sunday night, with some unexpected results. But behind the scenes there's plenty of head scratching going on with the realisation that McLaren and Ferrari were effectively knocked out of the race because of the wet qualifying. BAR and Williams look like being the big disappointment of the season, both with major aero problems. But if we accept that Renault and McLaren are the class of the field right now, with Ferrari a smidgen behind, then at least Michelin can look forward to a few more victories. That will come as a big relief to the driver of the French company's water bowser, used to artificially wet the tracks for rain tyre testing. At a recent test in Spain, he was so keen to get his job done that he spun the water tanker on his own spillage. If you think pirouetting an F1 car is scary, try doing it with several tonnes of tanker strapped to your back.

At Melbourne airport prior to heading home, I realized that I'd run out of reading material, so I headed off to the newsagents, where I was confronted with a load of books under the headings, "Fiction, Non-fiction and In-flight reading" and I am still looking for an explanation of that last category. I needed every page of my novel to keep me sane as the Economy class cabin was terrorised by a gaggle of screaming toddlers. It reminded me of a warning printed on a particularly tough suitcase I bought a few years ago. While guaranteed against anything from a nuclear explosion to being run over by a bus, the warranty carried the following disclaimer: "Does not apply to shark bite, bear attack or children under 5."

The new F1 rules which had their first outing in Melbourne were partly introduced as a cost-cutting move and I was pleased to see some team bosses are taking money saving measures of their own. Boarding the BA flight home, BAR boss Nick Fry paused to kiss his significant other goodbye, as he turned left on the plane and she turned right and headed for her Economy seat.

Admirable if not exactly chivalrous.

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