EFF ONE

Every now and then any decent journalist gets into trouble with the lawyers. I thought I had managed to get through the season without upsetting them but, alas, in China I was summoned to a team office and had my knuckles rapped for inadvertently painting a driver in a bad light. I was given all the usual stick about consulting the legal team and while taking my spanking I found myself musing on that old truism that if you have a lawyer up to his (or her) neck in concrete, you just don't have enough concrete!

Bernie Ecclestone is far too powerful to worry about lawyers, which is why he can get away with the sort of remark he came up with at Michelin's Pierre Dupasquier leaving "do". The Bernard jumped up on stage and remarked that he was there on behalf of Bridgestone to say thank you to Pierre for allowing them to win at Indianapolis this year. The eccentric Frenchman (one might say "mad as a wet hen" if one did not have to worry about the lawyers) is finally hanging up his pressure gauge after 2000 years as head of Michelin's Competition Department. He embarked on one of his famously speeches, despite warnings not to speak for too long. He had reached 1978 when a SWAT team removed the microphone from his hands and announced that anyone wanting to hear the story of the 1980s, 1990s and the twenty-first century could talk to Pierre after the event.

Shanghai was all about farewells as we said goodbye to Sauber, Jordan and Minardi as well (not to mention a few retiring old hacks). While Eddie Jordan and Minardi boss Paul Stoddart made a lot of fuss about never having enough money to do the job as independent team owners, Peter Sauber smoked his cigars, ran his team with great care and thrift and kept a very nice portfolio of sponsors happy. The quirky Swiss team has now been sold to BMW and Sauber has departed saying the money is not important (which is something that only people with lots of it say).

Paul Stoddart has done well too, trousering a decent wedge of cash from the Mighty Red Bull. Stoddart might have been a breath of fresh air (actually given his 200 cigarettes a day habit even that's not true) but he never really had the cash to do anything except tread water and keep the team afloat. Stoddart goes out with his head held high having guaranteed the jobs of his staff. The new Baby Bull squad will keep alive Minardi ethos of bringing on new drivers. To say farewell Stoddart threw an Aussie-style barbecue on Saturday night. Instead of throwing another prawn on the Barbie, Stoddart arranged for an entire shark (which for some reason he named Max) to be cooked.

The transformation of Jordan into Midland is sad enough, not least because Midland is possibly the worst name in the history of motor sport. What non-Anglos might not realise is that "The Midlands" are the part of England most ridiculed by the rest of the nation. In the past, the strange ways of the local inhabitants were ignored because they were the industrial heartland, providing us with stuff. But now that Britain has no industry left, the name is synonymous with mediocrity and dullness. A cruel person might say that the name is probably appropriate for the team.

Now is the time for us journos to start penning seasonal surveys and saying rude things about the teams but I think it is fair to say that it has been a good year for the sport, mainly because Ferrari did not win the title with crushing ease. I have nothing against the Reds, but they and the Mr. Ordinary Family Man Michael Schumacher have won everything this century, which is all very worthy but it is rather dull.

Now we have a new champ and as he is only just out of short trousers and probably still gets a buzz from looking in the mirror in the morning and seeing he hasn't got any spots, we can look forward to a bit of fun and frolics from our sport's latest ambassador. Hopefully Fernando's hormones will now go into overload mode and he will run away from his PR advisers and minders, sleep with supermodels, shag the sisters of supermodels, get drunk, have fights, get photographed on a yacht with several film starlets, tell the King of Spain that he doesn't believe in the monarchy and frighten blazers at the FIA prize-giving by turning up unshaven and wearing jeans.

I know it's not exactly original, but in these politically correct times, we need someone to shake us up a bit. Fernando is the youngest World Champion so he should make something of that and behave like a kid and not waste the opportunity to put himself and the sport on the front pages for a while.

One old stager who is still getting in the papers is Sir Jackie Stewart, who was in the Shanghai paddock in role as Royal Bank of Scotland ambassador. Stewart is no stranger to seeing his face in the papers, but I doubt he would be too pleased at the coverage he got in London freesheet newspaper "Metro" on the Wednesday before the Chinese GP.

"One is a three times World Champion who is among the most successful Formula 1 drivers of all time," the article said. "The other is a three week old baboon who isn't even quick enough to escape his mother's clutches. But there is no denying the passing resemblance between Reggie, a newborn baboon at Paignton Zoo and Scottish racing legend, Jackie Stewart."

The caption accompanying the photos added the final insult.

"They could be twins: Baby baboon Reggie and his doppelganger, motor racing legend Jackie Stewart, left."

I cannot say I really saw much of a resemblance. The baboon wasn't even wearing a tartan cap.

The same could not be said down at Jordan where team boss Colin Kolles finally proved that he does have a sense of humour after all. Mocked earlier this year for wearing a particularly crass check cap, he purchased a load of fake Burberry caps for the mechanics to wear on the grid, which they did with great enthusiasm.

Fake goods were all the rage in Shanghai with everyone being offered watches whenever they emerged into the real world. They may have been cheap but they were not all very accurate. One of my colleagues bought a TAG Heuer but although it said TAG Hour on the face, it lost so much time that the buyer was perpetually eating breakfast and missed the start of the race. Another pal bought an Omega and after handing over some money, the salesman said that he did not have the coins necessary and offered a Rolex Daytona as change.

A popular item for the street hawkers outside the circuit was binoculars and the Jordan team had some fun with. It was the classic trick of calling someone over and telling them they just had to look at something through the binoculars, only for the person in question to find, sometimes several hours later, that the eyepieces had been coated in black shoe polish so that the victim looked like Giant Pandas, or in F1 terms, like some of the more exotic lady TV commentators, who always seem to have huge black rings around their eyes.

There were a few folk suffering Giant Panda Syndrome by the end of the weekend, notably those who attended the Red Bull bash on Sunday night. I have to say that I was there and loads of F1 drivers turned up to demonstrate their total inability to remain vertical after nothing much stronger than a small glass of shandy.

Luckily, there were plenty of young ladies keen to help them and in view of my recent brush with the lawyers, I don't think I'll say any more than that.

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