Grapevine: Paddock Life: Monza edition

AUTOSPORT brings you its regular column of life inside the paddock. This week: Monza

Grapevine: Paddock Life: Monza edition

There really is no better place to bring the curtain down on the European part of the season than the Italian Grand Prix.

The amphitheatre to motor racing is one of the most popular on the calendar and, for all its foibles - be it lax organisation, questionable facilities, and a track that in places falls far short of the Abu Dhabi luxury venues that Bernie Ecclestone so loves - you will never find a complaint.

A packed paddock full of Italian celebrities and fans who somehow get hold of the right passes; more Ferrari personnel that you will see at any other races; a great on-track battle for the world championship and crazy politics off it, Monza did not disappoint again.

McLaren knows only too well the price that can be paid sometimes for its regular press conference where its two drivers are placed together in front of the media for a Saturday afternoon grilling.

The amazing scenes at Hungary 2007 will certainly stay in the minds of many of the press for years to come - after Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton came to blows on track and stirred up a huge political controversy off it that marked the first step towards the Spaniard leaving the outfit at the end of the year.

On the flip side of this, however, there are times when the two McLaren drivers get on famously - and Monza was definitely one of those latter occasions.

With Hamilton on pole position again, and Kovalainen on 'fuel corrected' pole, there were high spirits between the pair as they fielded questions about the afternoon's events.

But the humour kicked in when the pair were asked for their feelings about racing at Suzuka for the first time this year - and whether they had prepared for the challenge through either video footage or computer games.

Kovalainen kicked off proceedings: "I've seen it on television but I haven't played it on video games..."

At that moment, Hamilton looked at him and muttered: "Yes, you have...

"Bullshit!" replied a laughing Kovalainen. "I tend to play rally games and haven't found a good F1 game yet."

Hamilton then made sure to set the record straight. "When I go around Heikki's house and in his office, where he has a big desk, he has a racing seat sitting in front of it, and a big TV and a steering wheel!"

Kovalainen tried to correct him: "And a roll cage, but it is for the rally games!"

Looks like the truth will only come out in Japan...

PS: McLaren's cocktail of the weekend was called the Parabolica - in honour of Monza's famous last corner. One team member was keen to point out that it would get you Parabolic-ed.

Jarno Trulli remains one of the most genuine human beings in the paddock - as well as a phenomenal talent on track, especially over the single lap.

His devotion to his wine business is well known, but what became clear over the Monza weekend was how much effort the Italian had put into raising money for the victims of the Abruzzo earthquake - the region where he was born.

Trulli has spent the last six months raising money for the appeal, through his website www.abruzzonelcuore.net and a charity football game - efforts of which had pulled in around 150,000 Euros.

But that figure shot up dramatically on Saturday night at Monza where he raised 300,000 Euros through a charity auction.

With memorabilia from Jarno himself, Giancarlo Fisichella, Brawn GP, Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull Racing, Renault, and Williams, the money flowed in from the 100 selected guests invited to the event.

One of Trulli's helmets raised 40,000 Euros after it was snapped up by two devoted Trulli and Toyota fans from Japan - who travel to many of the races.

Trulli plans another auction around the time of the Singapore Grand Prix, having already got some lots from Mark Webber, David Coulthard and Kazuki Nakajima.

Good efforts everyone.

Jarno Trulli wasn't the only driver whose helmet because a big talking point over the Italian Grand Prix, with Rubens Barrichello attracting a fair bit of interest with his new lid.

Barrichello is having the time of his life at the moment - both on track with his world championship assault for Brawn GP, but off it too as he cherishes every moment he gets to spend with his family.

So, in honour of his wife and kids, he got his son to design a helmet for him - which he duly got painted up and wore over the Monza weekend.

"My helmet is first of all something that my son did," explained Barrichello. "He is kind of getting into this thing of painting and drawing, and it is quite funny about the way it came about.

"Aside from the scandals we have this weekend, there is a little bit of Nelson Piquet and a little bit of Felipe Massa there in a way because of all the colours.

"That is fundamental. It is a good way of saying I miss you Brazilians - come back."

The Italian Grand Prix quietly marked the end of an era, when FIA president Max Mosley attended what could well be his last grand prix as the head of the governing body.

Mosley tried to keep a low profile and stay away from all the politics surrounding the Renault race-fix controversy, as he set about enjoying events and touching base with people he has come into contact with since his tenure began.

On Thursday night, Mosley chose to take the British Fleet Street press out for dinner at a restaurant near the track to chew the fat over the goings on in the sport, and shed light on his thoughts for the future.

And although Mosley has waged a war with sections of the press over privacy laws following last year's News of the World expose, he has actually enjoyed a great relationship with the specialist sports press who cover F1 week in, week out.

So in honour of Mosley's time in office, the Fleet Street brigade had clubbed together to buy Mosley a special present - a beautiful hand-crafted leather riding crop, or whip as it is more commonly known.

It was suggested that, rather than just being a memento of his time in office, Mosley could even find it useful - which Mosley found hilarious with tears streaming down the faces of many of those present.

And showing how he accepted the gift in the right spirit of humour with which it was given, he brought the house down when he said that Woman B was away having a baby, but Women A, C and D may well enjoy it.

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