EFF ONE

Someone called me "Lad" in Monza, which is always a compliment when you are old, as long as you are not working with horses, so I enjoyed our trip to the Temple of Speed, which seemed to have turned into an Old People's home over the race weekend.

Apart from those retired drivers we have got used to seeing on a regular basis working as TV commentators, Messrs. Irvine, Berger and Alesi were also in Italy and at least the latter had the decency to look at me as though I was mad when I suggested they might be about to join the GP Masters series.

I can't say this veteran's championship does much for me, perhaps because I once worked as a cook in an old people's home and have therefore spent enough time with the smell lingering in my nostrils. Nostalgia is a thing of a past and personally I think that's where it should stay, as who wants to see a racing series sponsored by Viagra, Saga Holidays and prostate cancer scanning services? The big technical question in the series will no doubt revolve around wings: which are bigger? Those on the cars or those on the drivers' incontinence pads.

Irvine and Berger are not planning to go back to the future and were in Monza because they are both involved in plans to buy out current out F1 teams. The clever money is now on Gerhard becoming some sort of Minister Without Portfolio for the new Red Bull Minardi squad. I gather Gerhard's main qualification for the job is that unlike other Austrian candidates such as Niki Lauda (not enough ears, someone else's kidney) and Dr. Helmut Marko (not enough eyes) he still has all his own body parts.

With all the Red Bull talk it was nice to have something else to drink for a change when we were served excellent wines at the traditional Ferrari Monza press dinner. Now you'd think that given their current lack of results this year, apart from that magnificent one-two finish in Indianapolis, the mood in the Monza marquee might have been morose, but not at all. President Montezemolo was in fine form, joking about his promising young driver Michael Schumacher, who has not won enough races yet and threatening to lock Rubens Barrichello in the Maranello gaol, not letting him go to BAR until he has won another race. But then I guess I'd be in a pretty good mood if, despite a ban on cigarette advertising, I had just persuaded Philip Morris to continue shelling out millions of dollars for a further six years.

F1 sponsorships and promotions throw up the most bizarre things and having been on the road for a while now, I have only just found a press release headed "McLaren and Partners participate in "Truly Brit-ish" event at Harrods" Apparently the once-classy department store is running a promotion based on Excellence in British Engineering featuring McLaren, Mercedes, TAG and Boss.

Maybe I just haven't moved with the times. I do remember accompanying my father to the basement bank in Harrods to cash a cheque before heading for the barbers shop and the glorious food hall. But of course that was before the finest corner shop in the world was taken over by Mr. Al Fayed, who rather than running the store is still intent on proving that the British authorities had something to do with his son dying in a tunnel in Paris (coincidentally in one of those British Mercedes cars) alongside Princess Diana.

While I grant you that it's hard to be more English than a team based in Woking (even if its part-owned by Mercedes-Benz and partly by an Arab gentleman) I'm not sure what my relatives would think of Mercedes and Hugo Boss being included under the banner of British engineering given that any number of German officers showed up for the Battle of the Bulge in the very forests surrounding the Spa track, driving Mercedes vehicles and wearing Boss uniforms.

Ah, but we are all Europeans nowadays and so we have abandoned nationalism and gone back to that age-old war of the sexes instead.

Maybe it was just me but I did notice that whenever they waved a red flag at Spa, which seemed to happen at least twice in every practice session and indeed in several of the races, I couldn't help noticing that the flags were waved by women: red flag equals danger, woman equals danger, woman waving red flag equals tautology.

One of those red flags saw the smooth satisfaction of schadenfreude run like a creamy warm ripple through the Spa press room on race morning. Taking part in a Mini celebrity race - not sure who was mini, the cars or the celebrities - was ace "F1 Racing" hack Peter Windsor, no slouch behind the wheel. Mr. W has a reputation for writing incredibly complex articles about the art of race driving, so there was much mirth when "Friction Circle " Pete as he is known in our own circles, comprehensively modified a stretch of steel barrier on the fast run up towards the pits. One of Windsor's clients is the American Speed Vision TV company and no doubt they would have rung him to find out why the GP 2 race had been delayed, thus screwing up their satellite schedules. The poor man would have had to explain that some bloke in a Mini had put a hole in the barriers that had to be cut out and repaired before racing could resume.

I overheard a couple of very interesting phone calls on Sunday night in Spa that I am delighted to share with you:

"Kerpen Car Crash Insurance Services, how can I help you?

Yes, Mr. Schumacher, I have your policy here. Do you really expect us to believe that? A Japanese gentleman on a motoring holiday through the Ardennes in a Honda? Seems a bit unlikely? You do come up with them don't you sir? We have on our records here your last claim concerning a Scotsman in a Mercedes whom you believed was trying to kill you a few years back on the very same road. Yes, Mr. Schumacher, we know it's an Accident Black Spot, we're still trying to sort the claim for a 13 car multiple crash here back in 1998. All right Mr. Schumacher, we will agree to process your claim in this instance. Oh, just another question before you go. Have you modified your vehicle in any way? You've fitted it with Bridgestone tyres, you say? In that case, I'm sorry Mr. Schumacher but that invalidates your claim. Goodbye.

"Monchengladbach Motor Insurance, how can I help you? I'm sorry sir, I can't hear you very well. Are you on a speaker phone? If so, maybe you'd be good enough to pick up the receiver. What's that? You can't because you've dislocated your fingers? OK, never mind. Your name? Yes Mr. Heidfeld, what seems to be the trouble? I don't understand, are you reporting a car theft or an accident? One theft and two accidents! You had a crash in Italy, then a Brazilian man took your car away and while cycling to Belgium to get it back, you fell off your bike? No sir, that's no problem at all. We'll cover all your costs. It's only if you had been doing something really dangerous like playing tennis with a Colombian that we would have refused the claim. Goodbye."

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