EFF ONE

"I'm only home for about 16 weeks," I explained to the woman seated next to me at a dinner party recently, when asked about the Formula 1 season.

"Oh, you poor thing, she sympathised.

"It's okay," I replied. "16 weeks soon pass."

It takes me a long while after the end of the season to adapt to not boarding a plane every week and to stave off my craving for air travel, I recently took a trip to the Big Apple for a couple of days, taking advantage of the weak dollar to indulge in some retail therapy. I always forget that in New York, the actual fare quoted on the meter is only a basis for discussion as the driver always expects a tip that is huge by European standards. My driver took such an unusual route from JFK to the hotel that I assumed he had arrived in the country just minutes before I did, especially as his knowledge of English appeared minimal. However, he had the necessary vocabulary to insult me royally when I failed to hand over a sufficient number of greenbacks to satisfy his greed.

"Tip, tip," he screamed.

"You want a tip mate?" I retorted. "I'll give you a tip. Don't eat yellow snow."

This confused the cabbie just long enough for me to be able to bid him a cheery "Adieu!" and slip through the revolving doors of the hotel. They say that the worst tippers are the French and so I was delighted to help perpetuate this theory.

Some people get upset about being mistaken for Frenchmen but that has never bothered me. One man it did annoy was "Jabby" Crombac. Swiss by birth, Crombac was a true gent, as could be seen from the fact that he loved dogs, drove a Lotus 7 and preferred to speak English. His recent death means there is no longer a link between the F1 press room and the beginnings of the World Championship. Jabby's sharp wit often furnished me with a good line or two and my favourite dates back to a poorly attended race at Jerez many moons ago.

"Jabby," I asked, "do you think the crowd is any bigger than last year?"

There was a theatrical pause as he put his pipe down and stared across at the main grandstand.

"Well old boy," he said. "I don't see anyone I don't recognise from last year!"

Those were lonely races at Jerez!

This is a lonely time of year for the F1 pressman. We stay home while all around are going about their business, our only connection with the sport being with press releases from the teams and the occasional phone call to keep tabs on what is happening. It would be churlish to complain about much of the non-news that has been filling my mailbox since the end of the season. We journalists have only ourselves to blame. We lament the fact the teams do not give us enough information. At least in this electronic age the arrival of worthless press releases is not as irritating as in the days of the fax, when my office floor would be covered in the purple prose.

I must admit that some of this year's material has managed to surprise and amuse. The surprise came with the arrival of a Test Session report from McLaren-Mercedes. Yes, the team for whom the question, "Hello, how are you?" is often regarded with alarm and suspicion is now telling us what they have got up to at test sessions and very informative it is too.

Confusion seems to reign at BMW, as I'm getting all their press releases at least twice; once from them and once from the Sauber press office. While this minor glitch in communications won't cause any serious problems next season, surely it can only be confusion over who is in charge that has led to Jacques Villeneuve being kept on as a driver for next year, which is a far more serious problem.

Meanwhile, what used to be Jordan now wants to be known as MF1. Maybe someone told the team's powers that be that calling it Midland would carry unwanted associations with the dreariest part of the British Isles, but obviously they did not explain that MFI is the name of a chain of furniture stores which is aimed at the mass market (if you know what I mean). Every time I see an MF1 press release I think about drab furniture. No doubt rumours will now surface that Alex Wurz will soon be driving for the team. Why? Because he's a tallboy!

Please don't moan, I'm saving the good gags for Christmas.

Full marks to Minardi for eking out every last drop of F1 publicity with all sorts of stunts in the past couple of months before transmogrifying into Scuderia Toro Rosso. I know it is an unpopular view but I am really not too bothered by the demise of the old team because, as far as I'm aware, there is still nothing in the Concorde Agreement or the FIA Sporting Regulations that states that Minardi has to come last at every race. Personally I hope that the new owners turn the team into a more competitive entity.

But old Paul Stoddart was a shrewd operator and managed to get plenty of television coverage from putting woman racer Katherine Legge in the cockpit for a test. It was headline news when she crashed at her first attempt before doing rather better the next day. Inevitably, we had to put up with the usual nonsense about her chances of getting into F1. It is only a few months since we were all speculating about Danica Patrick joining our F1 world, although that all seems to have gone quiet recently. But then she's been busy marrying her trainer, a man 17 years her senior. Just the sort of news we old geezers like to hear.

Well done Danica, it's a decision he will not regret!

In my opinion the old saying about women being like buses - you wait ages for one and then several come along at the same time - does not apply in most sports where the saying should be "Women are like buses." Full stop. My feeling is that there will not be a female Formula 1 driver until all the countries to the east of Finland decide to opt out of the Olympic code for performance-enhancing drugs. If a woman actually wins a Formula 1 Grand Prix in my lifetime, I can assure you that by then, the sport will have become so safe that the greatest risk to this woman's life will come if she nicks her Adams Apple while shaving on race morning.

And with that thought I must be off and away (pursued no doubt by screaming feminists). Just one last thought: before you all go and behave disgracefully at your office Christmas party, just remember how annoying it is to have to get up and look for a new job the next morning.

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