EFF ONE

We arrived at the Bahrain International Circuit (otherwise known as BIC) on Thursday to find the locals in the process of finishing off their final preparations for the race. There were wires here and there and ladders up against walls. And thus it was that the country's national sport was finally revealed to me: there they were, playing "sheikhs and ladders".

Having chaps in dresses wandering around in the F1 paddock (including one Japanese journalist who adopted the idea) is still an odd feeling, although those with longer teeth will remember that this is not a completely new phenomenon thanks to the efforts of Kenny & Clive of Team Lotus back in 1980s. It must be said that, generally-speaking, their frocks were rather frillier than those worn by the good folk of Bahrain.

On our first trip to Bahrain last year, we were all relieved to discover that, despite what we might have thought and heard in advance, much-needed alcoholic tincture was readily available in Manama. However, getting liquored up was not really an option if you happened to be in the company of one of the thousands of sheikhs who stick to the rules. When a sheikh asked in perfect English what you would like to drink, you panicked and racked your brains for the name of a non-alcoholic beverage but in the end all you could stammer was: "I'll have a milk shake, sheikh" at which point he would look rather puzzled and say: "My dear boy, I am terribly sorry, I didn't realise you had a speech impediment."

The big problem for F1 during the race weekend was that the sport had to fight for time on the air waves as all that seemed to be on TV was the latest word from Rome about Pope John Paul II. By Friday afternoon the whole of Italy was in a state of shock and grief but it was not just about the pontiff. A Ferrari gearbox had failed. Ferrari was proved to be fallible, a concept that many Italians seemed completely unable to grasp. The whole nation watched on tenterhooks as a new gearbox was found and despatched to the Middle East. In the Media Centre there were reports that The Pope's dying words were: "Has the gearbox got there yet?" I did consider wandering down to the Ferrari garage and running the gag past Jean Todt. But then I thought better of it. As head honcho of Catholic Italy's national racing team, there was no way that Todt was going to laugh at such a joke.

One does not make jokes about failed gearboxes.

By Sunday, the gearbox had arrived in Bahrain and the pontiff had departed and the big question in the F1 paddock was what form of tribute should be made by the god-fearing members of the F1 circus. Ferrari chose to paint their noses black (the cars, you understand), while Jarno Trulli decided to adorn his helmet with the slightly bizarre message "Thank you Pope". This was slightly better than the previous day when he had worn the words "JP2 I love you" in Italian. As the race approached and the temperature rose to extraordinary highs, we all expected the Honda wallahs to signal the passing of the Pontiff with a burst of white smoke from the exhaust pipes of both engines.

As it turned out Ferrari did only slightly better than BAR, which might have been a good angle for the Honda people to have adopted to cover up the disappointing season they are having. Fortunately for them everyone was writing about Ferrari misery. This is understandable given the current Constructors' Championship standings. It is a bit of a shock to see the famous Prancing Horse team in sixth place. If this goes on much longer Ross Brawn might want to reassess his view that it's not fair that a top team like McLaren be allowed to run a third car on Fridays, having finished out of the top four the previous year. On current form, the Scuderia's technical director might appreciate the advantages to be gained from having Luca Badoer running around on Fridays in a third car.

Still, the FIA's ruling that drivers may no longer wear jewellery while racing could help the team bring down the weight and the centre of gravity of Michael Schumacher's car. It has always amazed me that while engineers work flat out to shave every thousandth of a gramme off the weight of the car, drivers have for years insisted on clambering into the cockpit weighed down with the biggest and most expensive neck chains and watches. Not for them the subtlety of a slim Longines or a tiny Reverso. As a rule the drivers favour watches that only a weightlifter can carry around and they will not even look at a watch that has less than three dials and four huge knobs on the side. And it must, of course, be 24-carat gold. Given that the timepieces are hidden beneath layers of Nomex, they are about as much use as a chocolate crankshaft. When it comes to jewellery F1 drivers have always styled themselves of appearing to be a cross between a pimp and student who is just back from the usual Gap Year trip, spent "finding themselves" on Thai beaches (you have to be careful how you say that because if you are reading this article out loud to your Granny - as I am sure many of you are - it might come out wrong).

Anyway, back to jewellery. The Italian drivers favour very thin, dare one say effeminate, gold bracelets, while the Germans and Brits prefer the heavier ethnic or surfer dude look. Michael Schumacher will have to give up wearing his lucky Yin and Yang amulet, which is probably a good idea as it does not seem to have been working too well so far this season.

The FIA Bling ban also extends to body piercing, which means that Red Bull's Messrs Klien and Liuzzi will have to remove their earrings. The two youngsters may think that they are the height of fashion but they should know that back in the dark ages of the 1980s Christian Danner became the first F1 driver to wear earrings (at least in public). Christian's small diamond stud was so cool that he became known (and is still known) as "Christmas Dinner".

Red Bull's great start to the year came to a bit of a screeching halt in Bahrain with Mr Klien never starting the race and Uncle David Coulthard admitting that he did not think he had driven a single good lap prior to the race. But the old stager 's lights came on when the lights went out at the start and he ended up adding to Red Bull's score with a skin-of-the-teeth move on Rubens Barrichello for eighth place on the last lap of the race. On his way to this he inadvertently barged Jacques Villeneuve off the track. The two men are old muckers as they park their personal live-in motorhomes next to one another at European races (when they feel a bit strapped for cash and cannot afford hotel rooms). As soon as the race was over, DC rushed over to Sauber to see Jacques and barged into the shower, where the naked Canadian was having a quick scrub down. Jacques accepted DC's profuse apologies, but then he was hardly in a position to started a fight without people getting the wrong idea. DC's desire to apologise may have had something to do with the fact that he had hitched a lift back to Europe in Jacques's private jet that evening. As there have been no reports of DC parachuting from a private jet over Turkey one must assume that the two are still friends.

There was no private jet to take me home, but as I ended up sitting next to Takuma Sato's charmingly petite girlfriend, at least I didn't have to fight for the arm rest. Heathrow Airport was, however, something of a nightmare with a queue a mile long to get through Passport Control. This was caused because the man checking documents was an F1 fan and, as the flight boasted team owners, drivers and technical directors he was keen to chat and exchange pleasantries with all and sundry. I don't know if Jordan's Colin Kolles was button-holed because he has now stopped wearing his Burberry cap after accusations that he looked like a Chav. In Bahrain he was none too happy when he read an F1 magazine which had devoted several column inches to his unconventional dress sense. I guess he might have been on the flight because by the time I finally got through immigration, in a blaze of well-deserved anonymity, I arrived at a nearly empty baggage carousel, around which a lonesome Burberry suitcase was circulating unclaimed.

Could it be, I thought, that the bag belonged to Kolles and that he was hiding behind a pillar somewhere, waiting for everyone to leave before he picked it up?

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