How ironic that on the weekend that cigarette sponsorship in F1 was reduced to a pile of ash, I was beginning to convince myself that maybe I had lung cancer or, at best, chronic heart disease. Having stopped using the evil weed a few months back, I did not share some of my colleagues' chagrin that free cigarettes would soon become a thing of the past, but when I woke up in the middle of Friday night in Budapest, with terrible chest pains, my first thought was that the cigarette ban had come a touch too late to save me.

I reassured myself with the old wives tale that if you think you are having a heart attack, it's probably indigestion and having convinced myself that it probably was indigestion began to worry, because if you think it is ingestion you may be about to die.

The next day I went to see FIA Top Doc Gary Hartstein, who made me feel better by telling me that I was clutching the wrong side of my chest and then, unable to avoid his genetic New York Jewish angst, pointed out with perfect Woody Allen timing, that it was always possible that I might be one of the "one in a squillion" people who have their heart on the "wrong" side.

Thankfully the pain subsided and I even began to enjoy the delights of Budapest but on the flight home it all came back again and so I promptly took myself off to my local National Health Service Accident and Emergency Department, where I was put through every test and check in the world. It was an interesting five hours during which I learnt that everyone over 80 takes a tumble in their garden and that they break limbs quicker than the twigs that fall from their trees; that children can get things the size of golf balls stuck in their ears and that unemployed young men fall through plate glass windows when drunk and come to hospital with their limbs wrapped in blood soaked bar towels.

This is hardly the sort of "responsible drinking" that we have in Formula 1 circles and that whisky company Johnnie Walker wants to promote through its new sponsorship of McLaren. You have to hand it to Ron Dennis, the king of the market stall holders, because within hours of his West sponsorship going up in smoke, the ashtrays in the McLaren Communications Centre were cleared away, the air fresheners had come out to get rid of the smell of cigarettes and out came the cut glass tumblers full of Johnnie Walker. I bet that by the time we get to Turkey, the glass palace will have become a No Smoking area.

At the presentation to introduce the new sponsor, I had to feel sorry for the Walker Wallahs, because with temperatures soaring towards the 40s, no one in their right mind would really fancy a whisky, no matter how much ice you put in it. Sure, a glass of beer or a pint or two of chilled white wine but whisky? It would have been a much easier sell if they had delayed the announcement until we get to the cold and damp of Spa-Francorchamps. The leaflet that was handed out extolling the virtues of the various whiskies in the range highlighted the interesting marketing conundrum of how to differentiate between the different blends without admitting that some are cheaper and effectively not as nice as the more expensive ones. Hence we were told that one whisky is ideal when mixed with another drink, presumably to take the taste away, while another should be drunk outdoors - to avoid those nasty stains on the carpet, I guess. This was not a problem faced by the tobacco boys, as each packet cost the same, the only difference being that one type was the smoking equivalent of sitting in your car with a hose coming up from the exhaust pipe and all the windows taped up, another gave one the same buzz as walking through the centre of London during the rush hour, while a third type was basically for people who just wanted to pretend to be smokers.

Formula 1 will soon have to vie for public attention with the start of the soccer season and it's become a tradition that a group of F1 football fans from the paddock gather in Hungary to make predictions about who will win various championships by the end of the next season, with prizes handed out for the predictions of the previous year. The "Fans of Football in Formula 1" dinner was duly held on Thursday night in the Vodafone motorhome and star guests were Manchester United fans, Ross Brawn and Nigel Stepney. Ferrari's technical director duly showed up in a ManU shirt with the number 1 on the back at which point, with all the tact they are famous for, the British press pointed out that a Ferrari employee wearing the Number 1 was not something we were going to see much of in 2006.

We have been going to Hungary for 20 years now and to celebrate this anniversary, the country's postal service - Budapost maybe - issued some commemorative stamps, which featured a portrait of our very own Mr Bernard Ecclestone and we were left wondering what The Bernard would think of people licking his back side.

Over the years there have been some very strange job titles created in the F1 paddock, but none weirder than Johnny Herbert's new role as "Sporting Relations Manager" for the Jordan team. No one, least of all Johnny himself, seems to be able to explain exactly what this job entails, but any injection of fun in the charisma-free zone that is Jordan these days has got to be a good thing. Why, within hours of his appointment, I could have sworn I saw people laughing in the team motorhome.

Was it Johnny, or were they just looking at their own lap times?

On the subject of Jordan, I gather all the churches in Budapest held a Service of Thanksgiving when they learnt that Eddie Jordan was no longer with the team and would therefore not be subjecting the good citizens of Budapest to his attempts at playing the drums in Heroes Square.

Meanwhile, back in the Accident and Emergency Department, a charming and petite Italian lady doctor - there are no English doctors in England anymore - told me that the ECG, chest X-Ray, blood test, urine test, blood pressure and liver function tests had all proved negative. That left only one final examination and as I heard the "ping" of a rubber glove, I just had time to pray she was not wearing a charm bracelet around her petite wrist. Oh my God, I will never be able to look at a ventriloquist with his hand up a dummy again.

Thankfully, petite doctor aside, it all turned out to be nothing more life-threatening than a chest infection and I was sent home with the perfect present for the man who has everything - a good dose of penicillin.

Print Feature