Grapevine: News from the Paddock - Belgian GP

Oi! You're Late

Grapevine: News from the Paddock - Belgian GP

Oi! You're Late

Finn Kimi Raikkonen turned up late for Thursday's pre-Grand Prix FIA press conference ­ because he had to make a detour to McLaren's factory in England en route from his Switzerland home. He was due to be in the opening half-hour with Williams-BMW driver Antonio Pizzonia but in the end nestled into the hot-seat with BAR-Honda's Takuma Sato and Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello in the second half-hour. After wiping the sweat from his brow following his speedy entrance into the Spa circuit, Raikkonen explained the reasoning behind his delay. "I left Switzerland this morning but I needed to go to England, to the factory, so it took me a little while to come here," he said. Why he went there still remains a mystery.

Football Fever

England's inevitable failure to beat Germany in crucial football matches returned on Thursday as they suffered defeat in the annual football tournament organised by McLaren-Mercedes title sponsors West. Both sides won all three group games against French, Italian and United Nations teams before meeting in the final match of the evening, played at the Royal Spa Football Club. While there was no Michael Schumacher in action for the Germans this year, as has been the case in previous tournaments, they were still victorious as England went down to a narrow 2-0 defeat in the deciding game.

Wolfgang Schattling, the Mercedes media officer, was among those turning out although he bizarrely represented the United Nations rather than Germany. The English, however, were left fuming after an effort by striker Nick Warren struck the crossbar and dropped towards the goal-line only for the referee to rule out the goal and, unlike Geoff Hurst's debated strike in the 1966 World Cup final, there was no Russian linesman to award the goal. After that, they thought it was all over...and it was.

Leinders in Demand

Members of the media have hardly flocked to Minardi this season for one-on-one interviews with Bas Leinders but the Belgian Grand Prix has proven to be a busy time for the team's third driver. As the only home representative on the track, albeit only in Friday's practice sessions, his every move has been scrutinised by the Belgian media and fans alike. And he could well be left without a voice by the end of the weekend, with television and newspapers reporters keen to discover exactly what he thinks about Formula One's return to Spa-Francorchamps and life in the fast lane in front of his home fans. There were also 60,000 free tickets made available for fans on Friday to ensure he enjoyed a well-supported turn-out.

Horse on Fire

Bemused journalists looked towards televisions in the media centre before Friday's second practice session to see what seemed to be a horse on fire in a field adjoining the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. On a second glance, it was actually found to be a fire smoking away less than one metre from the said horse, which was tied up, with an individual attempting to damp down the fire. Ahhh, rural Belgium is back on the calendar!

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