EFF ONE

Tourist brochures will tell you that Japan is a staggering place and I must say that I agree with them. Whenever I go there I end up staggering somewhere or other. Last year the Japanese Grand Prix weekend got off to a dangerous start when I went to the annual Honda party, which is held in the funfair beside the track. The format is simple. You drink a lot, nibble at some finger food, go on the roller coaster and leave your dinner behind. I thought I was cleverer than that and so dodged the big dipper with the result that I became exceptionally drunk and needed two dear friends to get me back to our hotel.

This year the tables were turned and I (an older and wiser character) found myself helping an inkneebrated… ennybreated… (let's just settle for drunk) colleague to stagger to his place of rest.

I didn't do a very good job. For a start I was handicapped by the fact that I had a cup of Suntory whisky in one hand. Our first obstacle was a gate. I hurdled it in one jump (without spilling a drop) and then dragged my inybreated colleague over the obstacle.

After that we had a bit of a breather and a snort of Suntory to keep up our spirits and it was then that we watched a bemused local stroll up, open the gate and walk through as though it was not even locked…

We got up and staggered on down the sidewalk and then there came a revelatory moment when I realized that my pal was about to go down in flames.

I had a nanosecond to react but I had to go through the alcoholic mantra "Friend, whisky, whisky, friend, friend, whisky." Whoops, too late. So there was friend on the floor with a hole in his trousers, a bloody nose and so on. I dragged him up again. The injuries were not fatal.

We staggered on until we reached a 7-11 store in which a posse of F1 photographers were out shopping for late night snacks. My pal seized the moment (as drunks tend to do) and, yanking down his trousers, backed up to the window in order to moon them. Unfortunately this process resulted in another unbalanced moment and he keeled over into a parked bicycle. This fell over but his naked buttocks somehow managed to end up wedged up against the window. I pressed my face against the glass to watch the reaction inside, which I had to admit was not as complementary as one would have hoped. Apparently they decided that we must be twins.

The incident proved that the Land of the Rising Sun is also the Land of the Full Moon.

After all this I needed another shot of Suntory. For those of you unfamiliar with Japanese alcoholic beverages, Suntory is the country's best known brand of whisky. Your average Oriental is not however too sure about the provenance of this particular tipple, which might perhaps explain the sign I saw in a Suzuka bar, claiming that a particular bottle of Bells whisky was "made from genuine Scottish grapes".

On the subject of bells, I gather that Max Mosley's new London office affords the FIA supremo a spectacular view of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, the building which houses England's most famous bell-clock combo. Since Mosley moved in he has had to endure endless phone calls from that well known stand-up comic Bernard Ecclestone. Apparently every conversation consists of the same one liner: "Hello Max, Bernie here. Can you tell me the time?"

In the question of The Speaking Clock, however, Mosley probably gets the last laugh. Were it not for the generous nature of Mr. E the FIA President's office would still be above a carpet shop in South Kensington.

Mosley was much in evidence in The Land of the Full Moon, talking about his plans to make Formula 1 exciting again. There was, not surprisingly, plenty of talk about the Mosley Nine Point Plan for a Better World, which apparently included getting Michael Schumacher to drive blindfolded with one arm tied behind his back.

The idea of making drivers swap from team to team during the season was greeted with the same broad-minded approach that F1 has to giving women the vote. Ralf Schumacher, for one, just could not see the sense in it, or at least that's what I think he meant when he said: "To get into Sauber I would need a lot of vaseline." Whatever floats your boat Ralfie…

I think Eddie Irvine was in favor of the whole thing until someone explained to him that swapping teams did not mean you got to play with the other driver's wife.

There was some light relief to all the chatter in paddock on Saturday night (Friday night was abstinence night) when British American Racing offered free food and booze which I found hard to turn down. It was good to party with the BAR public relations and marketing girls in action, whom I had last seen pole-dancing in Montreal. With no poles in the room (nor Czechs nor Slavs for that matter) they had to find other ways to amuse themselves. Why one of them decided to stick pineapple skins down my shirt is beyond me, but I was a tad vexed as I had 15 packets of (stolen) Lucky Strike stuffed down there at the time.

You may think that dealing with F1 journalists must be difficult, you should recognize that it can only be a pleasure for the BAR girls in comparison to dealing with the photographers. One English snapper distinguished himself when he went up to a BAR girl and, without even pausing for breath between the two phrases, slurred drunkenly: "I think you're the mose booful girl in the hole whirl. God, I'm drunk!"

Plain-speaking is a rare commodity in the paddock at times and McLaren boss Ron Dennis was on the receiving end of a dose of it when he told the assembled media on Sunday that it was up to his team and others to raise their game, to take the fight to Ferrari. Ron drew an analogy with a poor football team, which needs more strikers, a stronger defence and a new goalkeeper to turn things round.

Stan Piecha, paddock wit and the man from "The Sun" newspaper in F1, put his hand up at this point. "Point of order Mr. Dennis," he said. "I think you'll find that in soccer, if a team's not doing well they sack the manager."

You'd think that at the end of term everything would be sweetness and light in the paddock. But Ralf Schumacher was in a bit of a strop after the race and stormed off to the Jaguar office in the paddock to whinge about being held up by Pedro de la Rosa.

As Ralf departed after expressing his opinion the Spaniard sprinted to the balcony. "Oi," he hollered. "If you ever come here again and talk to me like that, I'll come down and smash your face in!"

Without big brother Michael around to help, Ralf stamped his foot and flounced off back to his Williams garage.

Unlike some sad anoraks in the press room, who bang on about the musical qualities of F1 engine notes, it always annoys me when the teams fire up the V10s when I am hung over, having breakfast or (once in a while) trying to work. However even I saw the funny side of the Asiatech boffins, who had programmed their engines to play "When the Saints Go Marching In" under the media center. This was not particularly appropriate given that Asiatech is now marching out of the sport, but it was a evidence that their V10 technology reaches the parts other engine cannot reach.

On the subject of dogs, when I landed in Osaka on my way to Suzuka, the tannoy greeted me with the news that the facility now has its own team of sniffer dogs for searching out narcotic substances. Thank goodness there is not a Formula 3000 race, I thought.

Sure enough, there were soon pooches running around amongst our bags and who would believe it? When the handlers gave instructions, the dogs obeyed.

How on earth did the dogs understand Japanese?

Yes, Japan really is a staggering place…

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