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Maurice HamiltonIt was time for afternoon tea in the McLaren hospitality unit (or ‘Brand Centre’, to use McLaren commercial speak). This went against the familiar F1 ethic of ‘Don’t speak to any bugger’.

As McLaren’s neighbours were invited inside the smoked glass edifice to celebrate the start of the European sector of the season and the arrival of home comforts brought by road from race headquarters.

This sparks off the annual My Cock is Bigger Than Yours competition, as the 11 teams show off their latest mobile headquarters which have been hatched over the winter at a cost of several million dollars and dispatched for their first public airing.

Time was when teams had a simple Winnebago and it was considered the height of indulgence to have an awning large enough to allow the motorhome driver to cook supper without causing the unfortunates within to pong like the chip shop. Now you don’t see, smell or hear the kitchen activities, as a team of chefs indulge in cordon bleu excellence on the very best of stainless steel equipment.

McLaren set new standards last July with the unveiling of their two-storey Brand Centre, the biggest in the paddock. Today, Force India went a couple of feet taller with their new, highly polished ziggurat. And they happen to be located alongside McLaren.

That’s an unfortunate juxtaposition for the former World Champions. Paddock hierarchy dictates that the teams with the most championship points from the previous season are at the smart end of the paddock, while the strugglers are parked as far away as possible. Ironic, then, that the two grandest pieces of over-indulgence are located in the equivalent of the F1 council house estate.

McLaren are at the very bottom, thanks to having no points against their name on the 2007 Constructors’ Championship. That’s because of their illegal use of Ferrari information last year and the subsequent action of the FIA, as President Mosley stripped McLaren-Mercedes and delivered a severe beating on their corporate backside, presumably shouting in German as he did so – purely, you understand, so that Mercedes-Benz would be in no doubt about the error of their ways.

Fair play to McLaren, though. What’s the first thing you do after moving to a new neighbourhood? At 4pm, they invited Force India and Super Aguri, the boys from the next two plots along, to come in for refreshment. The long-standing inhabitants of the cul-de-sac accepted with alacrity.

It’s like being offered the opportunity to have a nose around that big house on the corner with the high walls and ferocious guard dogs. Anthony Davidson and his wife were chatting with Mr and Mrs Giancarlo Fisichella. You had Force India’s technical director Mike Gascoyne raising a glass of chilled Spanish white with McLaren personnel and any members of the press fit enough to make the long walk from the media centre.

Ron Dennis? Nowhere to be seen. The McLaren boss does not arrive until Friday. Presumably, as one cynic noted rather unfairly, that was why the neighbours were invited on Thursday.

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