The caipirinha, FIDO and the good old days




The early-season "fly-away" races never really feel like "proper" Formula 1 races. The paddock "village" has yet to form and for the first three races it is all a bit hand-to-mouth. On the other hand, the races we call "the flyaways" tend to be a little wilder than the average "business-as-usual" European event. It is a subtle change of behavioral pattern but the effect is that some of the inhibitions disappear.

This is often seen best in Brazil because it is a place where not everyone feels at home and where they have a drink called the caipirinha, an evil concoction made of sugar-cane alcohol mixed with lime juice and sugar.

A lot of the members of the British F1 press corps are fans of the caipirinha and indeed there is now an expression used in the Media Center in Brazil to describe the effect of the drink. The verb is "to be caipirinha-ed" and one can spot this predicament because the victims tend to have vacant pained looks on their faces after a heavy night on the mean green drinks.

Years ago, I cannot even remember where, but it was probably in Brazil, a colleague arrived in the Press Office feeling decidedly under the weather as a result of the evil brew.

Would you like a drink? We asked. The best thing to do in such circumstances is to rehydrate the victim with that greatest of all hangover cures - Coca-Cola.

"I'd like something non-alcoholic," she said. "I'll have a beer."

We had to explain that they do not serve beer in the Press Room.

A few years ago when Formula 1 was a less serious place - and when the Brabham team could arrive at a hotel and check in wearing only sunglasses and carrying briefcases (Yes, it did happen) or when a couple of famous Lotus mechanics turned up each year at the Tip Top bar in Monte Carlo in drag (the moustaches were a giveaway) - there was a very elite organization called FIDO, the Formula 1 Drinking Organisation. You could not apply for membership, you had to be chosen. FIDO members were given alka seltzer, a badge portraying a flaming cup and a sticker which featured a drunken looking dog leaning on a wine bottle and waving a checkered flag. The club motto was "Per alcohol ad astra" (with alcohol to the stars). There were some riotous evenings although we did work out how to balance vodka intake with tonic to ensure that we stayed merry and hydrated so we never had to deal with the hangovers.

Somewhere along the way FIDO faded away. We grew up, we retired or we died.

Over breakfast on Monday morning we were reminiscing about some of the wilder moments in the old days after a young motorhomer explained that she was feeling a bit rough after a night on the sauce. We sensible journalists had, of course, been working for most of the night but we began to tell stories of sillier days and soon we were all crying with laughter.

Little Miss Motorhome told us of her greatest alcohol-induced adventure last year when she was woken by a colleague in a panic and told that she had five minutes to get ready.

"Thank God we found you," said her friend.

"Found me?" she groaned. And then she looked around and became aware of the fact that the hotel room looked a lot like her room, but that none of her things were there...

Somehow - and it remains a mystery - she had got into the wrong hotel room, jumped into bed and gone instantly to sleep. It was only in those frenzied five minutes as she got ready that she began to wonder what the occupant of the room had made of a young lady arriving in the room in he middle of the night and jumping into the bed and falling asleep. It was clear that the room had been occupied but whoever had been there had checked out before she woke up!

I was reminded of another occasion when late one Sunday night (with the work out of the way earlier than usual) I had rushed to the hotel restaurant just before closing time and with some of the motorhomers we had eaten too quickly and drunk too much too fast. Eventually one young lady got up, said "Igoddagobid!" and disappeared, bouncing gently off the walls as she departed. She was found later, asleep in the corridor upstairs, with her key grasped firmly in her fingers, having failed to get it and the lock to stay still long enough to gain entry to the room.

It was not unusual a few years ago for stray team members to be found sleeping in flower beds or swathed in bubble wrap in the bottom of the huge packing cases in which the teams transport all their equipment.

I remember one FIDO member going out for a night on the town in Hungary and as the evening wore on realizing through the alcoholic haze that he had no idea what the hotel he was in was called. Worse still he did not know the address and the key in his pocket gave no hint of the name or the address. He spent the night going around Budapest looking at hotels trying to remember what his lodgings had looked like...

We are a boring lot nowadays in comparison. It is years since I have gone down the road from the Tip Top bar at Monaco, wearing a dinner suit and clasping a glass of wine - on the bonnet of a car (the policeman was not impressed). The engineer with whom I used to sing opera in bars is now a clean-living technical director and has probably forgotten the evening when we hit the same high note with a little too much enthusiasm and both fell backwards off our bar stools.

There are fewer hangovers (although Little Miss Motorhomer had a good one) but we are still having a lot of fun.

Things may not be like they used to be but that doesn't mean they are worse. In fact this year in Sao Paulo I found myself wondering whether or not things were actually a lot better than they used to be. Michael Schumacher's victory was one of his greatest drives as far as I was concerned. It was an extraordinary piece of bluff and skill combined. And the racing was good all the way back through the field.

Stranger still, I found myself actually quite liking Sao Paulo. Of course, it was the Easter weekend and millions of Paulistanos and Paulistanas had loaded up their goods and chattels and headed off to do whatever it is that Brazilians do on holiday (increasing the population and so on).

All the robbers and kidnappers, feeling that the holiday would mark a low point for their trade had gone off home to be nice to their mothers and to give (stolen) chocolate bunnies to the kids next door.

Sao Paulo was a ghost town and because there were no cars, one could jump into a taxi and be at one's destination on time without having had to sit in a traffic jam for three hours and 20 minutes. The smog rolled away and the skies turned blue. It was nice.

...and I got away without being ambushed by a single caipirinha.

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