Someone asked me yesterday if I could remember something I wrote years ago and I tried to find it (and failed), but in doing so I found some interesting stuff, lurking in the dusty filing cabinets of the computer, which have been migrated from one machine to another for many a year, without being read again. I discovered a column I had written for an Australian magazine in December 2002. Holy Crap, that is nearly 13 years ago. There are F1 drivers nearly that old these days…
Anyway, I like it and thought that I would share it with you, to try to explain in a very human way that F1 is not always what it may appear to be. It reminds me of a conversation I had a few years ago with an F1 driver who honestly thought that journalists earned the same kind of money as F1 drivers.
Anyway, it is something to enjoy on a summer Sunday…
It never happens
to James Bond…
People keep telling me that I lead a very glamorous life and, as I strolled up to entrance of Sporting Club in Monte Carlo, at a quarter to eight on the dot, dressed up in my best dinner suit and clutching an invitation to the FIA Prizegiving Gala, I have to say that I was feeling rather good.
Monte Carlo was glittering as it does and everyone was dressed up and looking like extras from The Great Gatsby. As I went to the reception desk I somehow resisted the temptation to say: “The name is Bond. James Bond.”
I guess that going to see the latest Bond movie “Die Another Day” twice in a fortnight had had an effect on me. I looked around to see if there might be a Miranda Frost-like figure in the hall, but all I saw was a couple of North Korean-looking types. I thought for a moment that I might have to shoot them, but then I spotted the kindly figure of Ove Andersson, the boss of Toyota Motorsport, and so I went to talk to him instead, to find out the latest gossip from Cologne. And then Paul Stoddart scooted by. It was like being in a motor racing hall of fame. There were oodles of champions (as one would expect), the FIA movers and shakers and then a certain amount of pondlife that somehow always gets invited to these sort of events. I had seen them all earlier in the day in the lobby at the Hotel de Paris.
Bond would have loved it. The Hotel de Paris houses the best of people and the worst of people and, as I went in, I spotted one of the sleaziest sleaze-bags that money can buy sitting in a corner, deep in conversation. He clocked me but with his eyes hidden behind sunglasses. I saw him curl his lip.
Who the hell wears sunglasses inside the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo in December? I thought as I felt for my revolver to put the poor bastard out of his misery. I scanned the room. There was The Very Fat Man who appears from time to time on the Grand Prix scene and behind him as always was a scurrying Japanese, nodding and smiling weakly at those he passes.
The Albanian had to be there somewhere. I could almost smell him.
Well, it was a nice idea. In fact we were not very Bond-like at all. We were a ragged bunch of journos in the hotel foyer, trying to look smart as we waited for the press release after the FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting. Still, a few hours and a dinner jacket can make all the difference and, with a glass of champagne in one hand, I headed for my table at the Sporting Club, feeling very Bond-like.
“Hello,” said a man from Sweden. “We’ve met before.”
“Yes,” I replied as Bond would have done. “In a bar in Paris as I recall.”
It was a bit of an act, of course. It was Friday the 13th and I was not been having a particularly good day. As darkness fell on Monte Carlo I had popped out of the Hotel Mirabeau to pick up some cash. One cannot achieve much in the Principality without a fistful of Euros and so I was somewhat disappointed when the bank machine told me that M (for bank Manager) had rescinded my Double O status because, apparently, I had OO in my bank account. We all have the odd credit card which isn’t working, or one that works but we have lost the pin number. My favourite card always works unless, of course, some spotty git at the bank has forgotten to make the necessary transfer from one account to another. It is amazing that this always happens on a Friday evening, just after the banks have closed for the weekend when one is in Monte Carlo, pretending to be James Bond.
I tried not to think about it at the Sporting Club and I had a very pleasant evening. The transparent beef tail ravioli were rather delicious and the Brittany lobster soup slipped down nicely. One could not fault the duck and the odd glass of Pichon Longueville always eases the pain of life. The company was agreeable and such events are always good places to pick up stories.
The James Bond theme popped up later in the evening in one of the videos accompanying the prize-giving. A dark-suited skier came down a mountain at breakneck speed. This was intercut with shots of the F1 World Championship. At the end the dark-suited figure took off his headgear and winked naughtily at the camera. It was, of course, Michael Schumacher.
I avoided the requests to go out on the town (one needs a mortgage to do that in Monte Carlo) and I wandered back to the Mirabeau, as the clock edged round towards one. They had given me a card which would allow me into the Casino, but I was not in the mood and was not going to risk my last 10 Euros on the roulette tables. Bond would have done it and, naturally, would have won a small fortune and taken home some luscious beauty as well. In the morning he would hijack a helicopter or steal a jet-ski and get himself to the airport in the nick of time, but when I emerged from the hotel in the morning it was clear that Monaco very early on a Saturday is not an easy place to steal anything. There were not even any little old ladies to mug, nor yappy little terriers to hold to ransom.
In the course of the night I had searched my clothing and luggage and had turned up another 20 Euros and so I had a fighting chance of getting home, despite the fact that in Monaco they have some very weird ideas about pricing. A helicopter ride to the airport costs a whacking 88 Euros. A taxi fare is a disgraceful 75. The train fare is three… The only problem with this is that the station is on the wrong side of town and there is a similar problem in Nice. But necessity breeds invention and so I walked, trying to look as Bond-like as possible, with my bag swung casually over my shoulder.
After a day of adventure I did finally make it home to Paris and as I walked up my street I laughed out loud and thought of the glamorous world of Formula 1. It is not always as it seems…