EFF ONE

Silverstone is a place where traditions are strong and on Thursday I quickly went through the check list: Rain. Check! Old men in blazers. Check! Shoddy Media Centre. Check! Helpful staff. Check! And yet things seemed somehow different. The traffic flowed and there were buildings which looked new and nice. In one of these (alas, not the media centre) I kicked off my weekend of social events with the relaunch party for the venerable motor racing annual Autocourse, which has fallen into new hands. Entertainment was provided by that well known party animal Perry McCarthy.

"I used to be a Formula 1 driver," he said, stretching the truth beyond his colourful but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to qualify a horrid car called the Andrea Moda back in 1992. "In fact I was quite successful. Between us, Michael Schumacher and I have won seven World Championships."

It was a decent start but Pel seemed to be about as well-prepared as the Andrea Moda was in the old days and while it is amazing that he never died driving the car, he definitely died on stage.

Still, I thought, we have the annual comedy act between Bernie Ecclestone and Sir Jackie Stewart to look forward to. What traditionally happens is that at some point during the weekend Saint Bernard lunges and with a devilish cry of "Fee! F1! FOA! FOM!, I smell the blood of a Scottish man" and delivers an attack on Stewart and his evil BRDC, accusing them of refusing to modernise Silverstone and threatening to take F1 to a new venue. And Stewart parries and ripostes, saying that Silverstone has to give all its money to Ecclestone and the government will not help because it views F1 as a sport as one full of wealthy chavs. For those who are not part of UK sub-culture, a chav is a derogatory slang term for a person who is uneducated, uncultured and lower class, yet prone to wearing Burberry hats and gaudy jewelry.

Presumably the official view of Her Majesty's Government comes from ministers having attended the official Silverstone Ball in years gone by. On Friday night, while most of the Press Corps went to a Pub Night organized in the paddock by BAR, the well-heeled and yours truly went to the Ball, which took place at Stowe School, which is located just a good accident away from Stowe Corner. One has to say that there was a high chav content among the guests and I would take some of the women to task over their dress sense. Girls, you can never have enough mirrors in the bedroom!

The youngsters must learn that a Ball is not a place to model your beachwear, no matter how good your figure and for the more mature ladies they ought to know that tight black dresses can make the fuller figure look like an explosion in a black pudding factory. The big girl in small dress scenario took a turn for the worse later in the evening when the ladies were handed silver survival blankets in order to watch the fireworks and I had an overwhelming urge to baste the bigger birds as they now ressembled oven-ready turkeys.

Although Lionel Ritchie is not my idea of a musical soiree, he put on a professional enough show, before the discotheque took over. At this point, BMW's Mario Theissen proved that he probably has a moth-eaten John Travolta-style white suit in his cupboard in Munic, as he got down and dirty to the Tony Christie oeuvre, "Show Me The Way To Amarillo".

To disguise the fact that someone was making a shed-load of money out of these Balls, they always feature an auction "for chariddy," which is timed to coincide with the moment when guests are at their most drunk (and therefore their most generous).

A Gibson guitar, signed by Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) and Brian May (Queen) went for nearly $40,000, but there was some less successful bidding. A woman thought she had bought a trip to Brazil, but discovered that she actually owned a painting of Jenson Button and promptly gave it back. Another painting almost fell into the wrong hands: a portrait of David Coulthard was up for grabs and Red Bull boss Christian Horner loyally thought he ought to get the bidding started at $20,000. This was followed by a deafening silence and soon beads of sweat appeared on Horner's forehead. Fortunately for him a lady finally upped the bid.

"I'd have taken the money out of his wages if I'd had to buy it," quipped the relieved Horner.

Back in the F1 paddock Pub Night was getting out of control. English journalist Ray Matts is always the star of such evenings, putting on a show with vocals and guitar. As the old boy is hanging up his typewriter at the end of the year, BAR presented him with a beautiful Fender Stratocaster. The Mario Andretti-lookalike was overcome and, for once, was completely lost for words. A rare thing. I was sitting next to him on a transatlantic flight on a sunny day, when the seat belt sign came on as the pilot announced clear air turbulence. Putting down his drink and cigarette for a moment, the fearful flyer commented: "Clear air bloody turbulence? What's he talking about? There's not a cloud in the sky."

Ray's most famous F1 episode came in Melbourne some years ago when he had a heart attack. For days, he had thought he had indigestion, until he finally told his erstwhile travelling companion, Stan Piecha of The Sun: "It's not indigestion, it's an airlock."

"You're not a bloody radiator," replied Stan. "You better see the doctor."

Ray was determined to leave his last British GP with only a light dinner, "maybe a bit of boiled fish" but you know how it is: by the end of it all he had consumed a mountain of fried fish and chips, smothered in vinegar, washed down with copious quantities of vino rosso and flavoured by the odd pack of cigarettes. Despite this assault Mattsy is now the very picture of good health and believes in moderation in all things (it says here on this note from his press officer.)

Another British hack was in the news at Silverstone and I'm sure you have all read about Bob McKenzie's nude run round the track, which raised plenty of money for charity. Bob certainly had balls to do what he did and fortunately we never got to see them. He could have raised a lot more money, as David Coulthard offered $15,000 if the hack did it in suspenders and stockings.

I think the worrying question we should all be asking is why would "DC" want to see a middle-aged man dressed up in stockings and suspenders.

A final note for the weekend: the police explosive-sniffer dogs made their usual inspection of the media centre on Sunday morning and seemed particularly interested in the area around my seat. Quick as a flash, ace Autosport wordsmith, Mark Hughes came over to my desk.

"You know Eff," he said, "It's not just explosives these dogs go for, they're also trained to sniff out bullshit!"

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