Silbermann says ... Gin is the only tonic

It’s only Friday and Eric Silbermann’s been on the sauce already, but it’s alright, he’s only riding a bicycle.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Austrian Grand Prix - Preparation Day - Spielberg, Austria

I’m thinking of having a laminated sign made to hang round my neck, bearing the message “Brexit Not Discussed Here.” Having done the referendumb to death last week, I arrived in Austria to find all our foreign colleagues want to quiz us Brits about the vote. It’s fair to say they all approach the topic as though you’ve just had a death in the family. And once they’ve moved on from Brexit they adopt a more jovial visage and go, “so what about Iceland and what about Boris Johnson.” At last an easy question as the former is a supermarket that sells chicken and the latter is a chicken.

If you think a Formula One website is the wrong platform to discuss politics and football, I’m sorry to disappoint you but on Thursday in Spielberg, there wasn’t much else to talk about and this was the biggest story, to be found in the FIA’s own race preview: “25mm negative kerbs have been installed on the entry of Turns One, Two, Three, Five and Eight, and on the exit of Turn Three. Meanwhile, 100mm ‘Abu Dhabi’ kerbs have been installed behind the existing apex kerbs at Turns One, Two and Nine. ► Additional run-off has been provided straight on in Turns One, Two and Eight as well as on the right entering Turn Three. ► 50mm high ‘sausage’ kerbs have been installed behind the 25mm negative kerbs on the exit of Turns One and Two. ► 50mm negative double kerbs have been laid on the exit of Turns Five, Six, Seven, Eight and Nine.” Apart from the unwritten rule that getting the word “sausage” into an F1 story is always comedy gold, it rather summed up the ennui of the day.

So, to amuse ourselves during the FIA media conference those of us watching from our desks tried to count how many answers Kimi began with a variation of Maah, Baah, Mwob, Oofff, Poh. But wait, more comedy gold from Ricciardo who when Kvyat admitted he’d tried to download videos of races at the old Osterreichring but that it took too long, the Aussie interrupted to inform us that Daniil was probably busy “downloading other things” presumably from nudgenudgewinkwink.come.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Austrian Grand Prix - Preparation Day - Spielberg, Austria

So a rather dull day in the Styrian mountains was drawing to a close when I suddenly remembered I’d been invited to drink gin at Manor’s hospitality. Cue choir of heavenly angels. Apparently this was a “soft launch” for new sponsor Daffy’s Gin. It might have been a soft launch but it was definitely hard liquor. What I found refreshing, apart from the gin and tonic, was that there was none of that “drink responsibly” nonsense. We were old enough to drink and there were several cries of “not for me I’m driving.” Adults being treated like adults, whatever next? As I was travelling on a bicycle I was under no such constraints and, after a few libations I was reminded of the late John Bolster, Autosport’s fabled road test editor who, apart from testing the luggage capacity of a vehicle by seeing if his two enormous blood hounds could fit in the boot, was also rather fond of a drink. At one evening function, his foghorn voice was heard above the din of cocktail chatter as he summed up his day: “I don’t think I’ve been this drunk since (long pause for thought) lunchtime!”

At the risk of this turning into the Food and Drink column, I have to say the media centre is once again doing us proud. After the gin and tonics, I returned to my desk only to be told my colleagues were downstairs tucking into a delightful Thai Chicken Curry, so I staggered down for my third free meal of the day, after breakfast and lunch, in surroundings reminiscent of a 5 star hotel. There was a slight altercation two years ago when I was nearly arrested for bringing a piece of cake back upstairs to my desk, but the security goons have learned to relax over the years, refraining from clicking their heels and shouting “papers” as you enter the building.


For some of my colleagues, the highlight of the Austrian weekend so far was a trip in Red Bull’s beautifully restored Douglas DC6 airplane. It dates from the late Fifties and used to belong to Marshal Tito, former President of Yugoslavia. I once sat in the plane on the ground which was good enough for me, as I’m not too keen on the idea of flying in anything that’s almost as old as I am. Plus it struck me that travelling in a plane with the bosses of a team one may have royally ripped apart over their mediocre performance last year might have ended in being dangled out the door by Messrs Horner and Marko.

For the past couple of years, the Austrian organisers have stuck old Austrian racers in old F1 cars for our delectation and this year, they’ve gone and found a load of those old BMW Procars that ran as a support race to F1 in 1979 and ’80. Niki Lauda won the first series – yes F1 drivers raced in other events on the same weekend in those days – and will be driving this weekend along with Hans Stuck, Jochen Mass, Marc Surer, Jan Lammers, Christian Danner, Johnny Cecotto, Dieter Quester, Harald Grohs, Markus Hotz, Sepp Manhalter and Prince Leopold von Bayern. A note of warning to any TV presenters considering interviewing Stuck this weekend. F1 commentator Bob Constanduros interviewed the lanky German about 20 years ago at Le Mans, when Stuck insisted on telling him a joke live on air: “What do (insert name of beer company here) and making love in a canoe have in common? They are both f***ing close to water!”

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