EFF ONE

Forli is the airport to which most of F1's rich and beautiful fly when they visit Imola in their fancy Citations, Challengers, Falcons and Learjets, but in recent years the locals have been keen to build up traffic and so it is a great pleasure to slip in there on cheap old Ryanair at a fraction of the cost.

The trip from there to Imola is much shorter than from Bologna but after getting the hire car sorted out, one must always ensure that the horn works. It is much more important than the brakes or lights, because I believe that it is an offence to drive in Italy without sounding the horn at least once every kilometre, more in built-up areas.

Having raced to the track, I then did all my work and that evening was a guest for dinner at Sauber, a civilised place where they still have one of the few remaining old-style motor homes. The only other hostility units that hark back to the last decade belong to Jordan F1 and, up until this year, Bernie Ecclestone.

F1's ringmaster has hung out for years in the only vehicle in the paddock that boasted bubbling paintwork and rust and we concluded that Bernie was the only man in the paddock who was not bothered about impressing people. Now, finally, he has splashed out and spends his time in a menacing stealth-black Command Centre which boasts two huge spy holes that point up the paddock so that the Big Cheese can see what all his little mice are doing out there.

Peter Sauber has better things to spend his money on (Jacques VIlleneuve?) but his modest little motor home is always a place where one will get a warm welcome, excellent food, some excellent Sangiovese and a nice little Cuban after dinner. You may also get a display of the mad chef throwing knives about but this is rather more interesting than the soap operas that go on in most of the other team motor homes.

As we enjoyed the convivial company of the Swiss team, the newest kids in the block - Red Bull Racing - held their first party in the totally over-the-top Red Bull Energy Station. Quite what the other teams think of this three-storey construction is hard to imagine as it dwarfs all the other facilities, including even the famed McLaren Pachinko Palace, that once ruled supreme on the F1 skyline. I am told that things will get even sillier in Monte Carlo where Red Bull is planning to build the Energy Station on a boat in the harbour.

The problem with a life of good cigars, great wine and millionaires for company is that a poor Ryanair frequent flyer can become a little delusional after a while, although my hotel in Imola was designed to bring me down to earth with a bump. When I got in from the Sauber party I discovered that I was sharing my room with a family of Italian cockroaches (not as upmarket as those in Monaco). Having removed my shoes and socks before discovering them, I attacked with an aerosol can and left them nicely lacquered. Come to think of it, that was a pretty good description of my own condition at the time.

The following evening, in keeping with tradition (the lazy man's excuse for doing the same thing over and over again) it was dinner in the McLaren Pachinko Palace and things got off on the wrong foot when I managed to drop an entire vodka and coke (at least there was no Red Bull in it) on the plush carpet on the upper deck, a place one only ever gets when one is travelling First Class. There was an exasperated sigh from the great Ron Dennis, which indicated that I was going to be in for a rough time. After the vodka, the Brunello del Montalcino flowed like water and so did the conversation, as I took Dennis to task over this year's spectacularly awful McLaren team kit. This is as brave a manoeuvre as going around the outside of Michael Schumacher in Piratella, the faster left-hander at the top of the hill at Imola. Ron was having none of it and edged me towards a metaphorical sand trap by accusing me of having no sense of fashion! After some rubbing wheels, we agreed to disagree. Then Ron began talking ethics with the man from one of the tabloid newspapers and I had to leave, as it was like listening to someone attempt to hold a discussion about the works of Franz Kafka with a domesticated parrot.

With two very good drives from McLaren stand-ins Pedro de la Rosa and Alexander Wurz, the F1 paddock seems to have forgotten about Juan Pablo Montoya, who used to drive the car before putting himself out of action while "playing tennis". The crowd, however, has not yet forgotten Monty. A banner hanging over a trackside fence carried the message: "Juan Pablo: See you at Wimbledon!" complete with a passable rendition of a couple of tennis rackets.

Come Saturday night I felt the time had come to extend the hand of friendship to the newest team in the paddock by asking one of the Red Bull ladies out to dinner. She turned up (which was a good start) but alas my reputation must have preceded me, because our intimate diner a deux was not quite as planned. She brought along heavy protection in the form of the team boss, the technical director, her entire PR department, not to mention drivers Christian Klien and Tonio Liuzzi. They were all very happy given the announcement that day that the team will be running Ferrari engines next season.

Obviously they are sending the bill to Austria.

There was an element of bad timing in the Ferrari-Red Bull announcement in that Cosworth's new owner, Kevin Kalkhoven, was due to arrive in Imola for a meeting with the Red Bull bosses a few hours after the deal was announced.

One step forward all those of you supplying the team with engines next year.

Where do you think you're going Kalkhoven?

People in F1 think that the Red Bull deal is significant because the other teams now have have one less ally in their war with Ferrari but I have a different theory. I think that it is more to do with Catholicism. Ferrari has always made a song and dance about its close links to the Vatican and the late Pope visited the factory not long before he died. Now, with a German pontiff, it makes sense to strengthen the links with the Germanic world so that the team will have plenty of goodwill in the Vatican Bank when it needs divine intervention the next time the cars are not competitive. The new Pope has made life even easier for Ferrari by announcing that he can be contacted by e-mail and so do not be surprised to see Jean Todt rushing off to his laptop from time to time to get advice on settings. If any teams out there want advice on their angel wing settings, the address is benedictxvi@vatican.va.

It was a fabulous race on Sunday and it was a little sad that the evening was spoiled by FIA-BAR fiasco (I always thought that "fiasco" was Italian for an unsuccessful wall painting). This resulted in big hairy scrutineers sticking an endoscope into various delicate orifices in Jenson Button's sweet little BAR. Endoscopes are usually used for eye-watering medical procedures, which reminds me of the time I went to see the doctor suffering from constipation.

He gave me a suppository and told me to leave it in my back passage. I left it outside the kitchen door for at least a week but I have to say it did me no good at all. I might as well have stuck it up my bottom!

Print Feature