Back to basics and going on holiday

As dedicated followers of Formula 1 will know this is - officially at least - the school holidays and it's a very weird thing for those who are used to living by the constant fortnightly heartbeat of Grand Prix racing. We have all been thrown a little bit out of kilter, because we can go to the beach with the kids and live like normal people live and it is all a bit of a shock to the system.

Being contrary by nature, I did my beach holiday three weeks ago before the schools broke up in England so the beach was pretty much deserted and I was able to indulge in great feats of sand engineering with an excited small boy running around me like a whirling dervish, learning the laws of physics as he tried to dig canals going the wrong way through the sand.

It was great fun and the only problem was that my mobile phone kept falling out of my pocket. Each time it narrowly missed landing in one of those sandy pools. This was a bit of a worry as the mobile phone is a journalist's best friend (and worst enemy) these days. And if you think it strange that I should go away on my holidays with my phone, then I guess you are right. But that is what happens...

In Formula 1, holidays are never really holidays. While the team bosses are sunning themselves on their glittering white boats off the coast of Sardinia they are really only doing it for show. Most of them spend most of the time on their satellite phones calling one another. The European scandal mags are full of pictures of David Coulthard smearing sun cream over his latest girlfriend (I think it is same one as last week but it is hard to tell), but you never see a picture of Ron Dennis or Jean Todt lying on a beach. And Flavio Briatore may be in the newspapers being accused of all kinds of wild things but you never seen pictures of Flav without his top on. Nor is Eddie Jordan often spotted digging sandcastles.

Why? Because it is not in the nature of these men to do such things when there is a war to be fought for the World Championship.

The idea of the F1 summer holiday was a good one in many respects because the ever-increasing number of F1 workers who want to go off with the kids should be taken into account. But at the same time an awful lot of people are still in the factories day and night, working flat out on the latest tweak which will appear in Hungary. There are some mega-tests to be fitted in during the next few weeks because of the end of season testing ban which stretches from the end of the first week of October right through until Christmas. So, using F1 logic, everything must be done for next year in the six weeks that remain open for testing at the end of this month and in September. And that takes time and preparation which means that a lot of F1 folk will get their holidays as usual after the last race has ended and before the rush begins to build the cars for next year.

After my beach holiday, I went back to life on the road in Germany and then by a curious twist of fate I found myself in Holland and discovered that it was exactly 17 years since I'd last been there. Somehow or other I had never managed to get back, mainly because I find Amsterdam to be a scaggy kind of place full of doped-up dregs of society. It would be lovely town but for that.

And while I was there I thought I would telephone an old pal, who used to work for the Dutch TV in Formula 1. I rang and was rather surprised to hear racing engines in the background.

"Where are you?" I asked.

"At Zandvoort," he said.

It was one of those moments when one is ashamed of being in Formula 1 because we are blind to the rest of the world. Yes, we know that there is a thing called The Marlboro Masters and that it is one of the biggest Formula 3 events of the year, but do we know when it is actually taking place? No way. I had stumbled into Holland on the right weekend. And being there with nothing to do but bicycle around the sand dunes, I decided to go along to Zandvoort and be a spectator for a change.

Being very honest, not much seemed to have changed at Zandvoort. The track was completely different out at the back in the dunes but in the pits, you would not have known that. I wandered up the pitlane and there were some of the old faces from Formula 3 days: Alan Docking still getting by, the Jaguar Junior Team looking a lot like Paul Stewart Racing dressed in green. It was nice to be there, nice to talk and not have to worry about deadlines and digging up stories. After knocking around the paddock for a bit I headed off into the sand dunes to watch the cars going around and watched the various demonstrations - including Luca Badoer in a 2000 Ferrari, various Yamaha Grand Prix bikes with famous riders and Freddy Loix in the a World Rally Championship Mitsubishi Lancer. It was so long since I have sat in a crowd of spectators that I could barely remember what it was like. It was a good lesson. In F1 we might look snootily down upon such things as Renault Clio racing but it was great fun to watch. And no-one really cared much about who was driving. We all had our favorites - "Come on number 26" - and we knew not and cared not a jot who was driving. It was good fun. By comparison the Formula 3 cars were rather dull, droning around, their drivers fighting to be as precise as possible rather than throwing the cars around. The Ferrari F1 car was great to watch and sounded magnificent. One forgets these things when your perspective is the Media Center.

The sun shone. We all ate ice cream and then went home, buzzing with the simple pleasures of motor racing.

And I turned off the mobile phone and let F1 do its own thing for a while...'

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