Features - News Feature
SEPTEMBER 13, 1997
BY JOE SAWARD
It is de Bar's job to make sure that everything runs smoothly with the ceremony and that the right sponsors appear, the right music is played, the correct flags are flown and that everyone is where they should be.
The flags and the music for the ceremony are transported from race to race. The flags are put behind the podium and normally those of the men most likely to win are set aside so that the flags can easily be found. Other flags are available if, for example, there is a surprise face on the podium - eg: the Danish flag for Jan Magnussen or the Dutch one for Jos Verstappen. As soon as the results are known the flags are fitted to the ropes on each of the flag poles. Three people are then designated to raise the flags at the right moment in the ceremony.
The music is on either cassette tape or compact disc and is selected in the same way and played over the public address system. Usually the recordings are shortened versions of the national anthems so that the ceremony does not drag on because of a lengthy anthem.
The podium ceremony is a triumph of organization as not only are there three drivers needed but there must also be a representative of the winning team. In addition there are normally at least three VIPs who present the trophies and the Moet & Chandon silver trophy.
The choice of VIPs is made by the FIA and Formula One Administration combined. This is not always easy because traditionally the FIA likes to have the important people from the local automobile clubs while Bernie Ecclestone prefers to have visiting celebrities. These can range from politicians such as Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to the state president of a German state. Sometimes visiting royalty will be asked: Prince Rainer of Monaco regularly presents the trophies at Monaco - despite the fact that he and his entire family were once sprayed with champagne by a very excited Ayrton Senna.
There are also presenters such as the late Princess Diana, who presented Damon Hill with his trophy at Silverstone in 1994.
In addition there are international stars such as Sylvester Stallone, chat show host David Letterman and Michael Douglas.
Things do not always go to plan. Occasionally a car will break down on the slowing down lap and will not be back in time for the ceremony. Normally the drivers are shepherded to where they should be by the FOA's security officer Pasquale Latteneddu an Italian who works for Bernie Ecclestone in London. There is actually an FIA regulation which states that drivers are not allowed to talk to any journalists until the podium has been completed.
Sometimes it is the VIPs who cause trouble. Some have security guards who do not want their charge to be in such and exposed position but it is impossible to have a VIP's guards on the podium with them.
There are also difficulties when a race is stopped early. In Canada, for example, the race was stopped because of Olivier Panis's accident. The Prime Minister of Canada was there to present the trophy but he was at the other end of the Paddock Club and had a long way to go to get to the podium. He was slowed down by the fact that he was walking on crutches at the time and so the drivers had to wait for the VIP to arrive.
There were other problems when Eddie Irvine was on the podium for the first time. Eddie comes from Ireland but as he is from the Northern part he is considered to be British and so a Union Jack was flown. This upset the Irish nationalists who demanded that an Irish flag be flown and threatened Eddie and his family with violence. When an Irish flag was flown there were threats from the Irish extremists who want Eddie to be British. Irvine asked the FIA to fly a neutral flag and play a neutral song!
There have also been problems with the use of champagne - a Formula 1 tradition. Back in the 1980s Alan Jones used to spray orange juice - a rather sticky substitute to champagne - because the Williams team at the time was sponsored by Saudi Arabian companies and alcohol was forbidden by religion.
In France there is currently a law forbidding all advertising of alcohol products. In theory, the use of champagne on the F1 podium is an infringement of that law and this year the French refused to supply champagne. Annoyed, Bernie Ecclestone sent one of his assistants to a local supermarket on the morning of the race with instructions to buy bottles for champagne for the ceremony. If there was any legal action, Bernie said, he would face it. The champagne was sprayed and nothing happened...
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE TROPHIES AND THE CHAMPAGNE
Normally there is not much champagne left in a bottle when an F1 driver has sprayed it over the others on the podium and even over himself. The bottles can be very valuable, however, and are sometimes kept and then signed by drivers for charity auctions. A signed bottle can raise a great deal of money. Others are given to mechanics as gifts by which to remember special events. They are rarely, if ever, left lying around. Sometimes a driver will decide not to spray the champagne because he wants to give the bottle to his mechanics or to his friends. Normally, however, the drivers are overcome by the urge to spray the champagne, if only to defend themselves against the others!
The trophies are normally given by the drivers to the teams. Some teams even have it written into the contracts that the trophies won belong to the team and not to the driver. Most of the big teams have display rooms full of all the trophies they have won and, in the case of McLaren or Williams, these can take up an awful lot of space. McLaren has an enormous display room at its base in Woking while Williams has an entire museum to display its cars and its trophies.
If drivers want the trophy the teams normally arrange for copies of the trophy to be made. These are expensive but it is only fair that the driver be allowed to keep his trophies as well. Some drivers do not care. Niki Lauda used to give all of his trophies to his local garage and they would be displayed there. Other drivers, such as Nigel Mansell, have their own Trophy Rooms in their houses to impress their guests.
There are occasional hiccoughs in this system. At the end of 1989 when Alain Prost was leaving McLaren and was angry with the team management. He deliberately gave away his trophy for winning the Italian Grand Prix to annoy team boss Ron Dennis. He simply dropped the trophy off the podium and into the crowd of tifosi. Not surprisingly, the trophy was never seen again...