EFF ONE

The 2008 Silly Season is already in full swing and I keep noticing that everyone has forgotten that there will soon be racing again, kicking off in a couple of weeks in Albert Park in Melbourne. Bickering over what will happen in the sport in 2008 may keep the power brokers amused but do we, the people, really care?

No. One way or another they will all come to some suitable arrangement by around July 2007 and what the FIA, Ferrari, the other nine teams and the promoter should be doing at the moment is promoting this year's World Championship, in the hope that they will be able to generate some more interest after a rather dull set of races last year. The arguing over future engine sizes or whether Minardi can use last year's very slow car instead of this year's very slow car (that they haven't built yet) only serves to confuse the casual spectator. It is hard to promote a sport when the power brokers are as easy to understand as the dictates of the Diet of Worms.

"Unless I am convinced by scripture and plain reason," said Martin Luther (before he became a King), "I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise!"

Well, here I stand, bored rigid by the whole lot of them. Let's go racing!

Dietrich Mateschitz, the new owner of Red Bull Racing (nee Jaguar Racing) seems to have the right idea. His laid back style is just what we need in a sport still living in the Dark Ages when it comes to marketing and PR. Anyone who has become incredibly wealthy through marketing a vile-tasting fizzy drink must have something going for him. Hopefully the Red Bull owner will leave the technical wallahs to do their thing with the team and concentrate on upping the profile of the sport as well as his drink.

I met Mateschitz recently when I visited the very McLaren-esque Hangar 7 at Salzburg Airport. This magnificent glass and grey metal structure houses the Red Bull collection of vintage aircraft, including a beautifully restored DC6 formerly owned by Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia. It snowed all day in Austria and while the Red Bull advertising slogan tells us that "Red Bull gives you wings," the budget airline I was travelling with decided not to give me any wings at all to get me home. I was thus faced with a three-hour drive through thick snow to Munich. The only cab driver prepared to pick up the $470 fare was well over a hundred years old and had only one serviceable leg, the other presumably having been left lying around while fighting Brother Boris at Stalingrad. There was one particularly nerve-wracking moment when he fell asleep at the wheel and the car skated across three lanes of the autobahn. It would have been only two lanes were it not for the fact that it took me a second or two to realise that I was tapping him on his artificial leg as I tried to wake him up.

I offer this cautionary tale to the top teams of Formula 1, as I understand that several of them have now decided to save money by transporting the troops on low-cost airlines. I look forward to getting plenty of interviews done as the great and the good are forced to sit through lengthy airport delays with no VIP lounge in which to hide away from the great unwashed like myself.

It seems that mixing with the unwashed and the unshaven does not bother Herr Mateschitz. He might recently have used some of his spare change to buy himself a hideaway island but we hear he has told David Coulthard that he does not expect the Scotsman to shave every single day and has let it be known that DC will occasionally be allowed out of his hotel room without wearing the correct team clothing. He's also told his star driver that he doesn't have to learn the contents of the team press kit by heart and (horror of horrors) when asked a question David is now allowed to say what he thinks.

Poor Coulthard is reportedly in some confusion after all these years at McLaren and I predict trouble ahead for us poor journalists as well. In the past we have always known when a driver is not telling the truth. It was easy. They tell lies in press conferences and the truth around the back of the motor home.

How will we know now?

Coulthard's former mentor, Sir Jackie Stewart would no doubt be horrified at the thought that the guests of sponsors will be told the truth by a stubble-covered driver. Immaculate presentation has always been JYS's credo and I gather he has already designed his own team kit to go with his new role as ambassador to the Royal Bank of Scotland, a Williams sponsor. We can expect a fetching pair of blue and white tartan trousers and matching cap. If you think your eyes are deceiving you and you spot a walking Royal Bank of Scotland ATM machine moving down the pit lane. Don't worry, it will just be JYS, although I doubt he'll be handing out cash, even if you do have the right pin number.

I also doubt that Stewart's job with RBS will do anything to curb his enthusiasm for telling team bosses how to run their team and I fully expect to see smoke signals coming out of the pits before long if he tries the trick on Williams's Patrick Head.

Further along the pit lane Eddie Jordan's former team will be listening to the gems of wisdom from its new owner, a Russian-Canadian squillionaire steel magnate (handy for sticking to the fridge door). Despite his wealth it seems that he too has managed to retain the common touch. Only the other day he declared to the team members at Silverstone that he was "popping out for an Indian" and came back with Narain Karthikeyan rather than a curry and some rice.

With Melbourne now just a few days away, the Aussies are working themselves up into a state of Webbermania. A local anorak has pointed out that Alan Jones won the world title in a Williams FW07 with race number 27 and now Mark Webber will be driving a Williams FW27 with race number 7.

Wow!

Well I've got a fancy statistic as well. Michael Schumacher started the 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004 seasons with number one on his car - and he won the World Championship every time.

Spooky or what!

Finally, an apocryphal tale I heard down the pub about that nice Mr Ecclestone. It seems that some of the local peasants were a bit short of cash and decided that the only way they could eat was to sit beside the road and nibble at the grass on the verges. It seems that Mr E came along in his Maybach and ordered the driver to stop immediately. He immediately ordered them into the limousine and took them off towards London.

"Don't worry," he said. "Come back to my place for a good meal!"

After a while they fell into an embarrassed silence and one of the yokels ventured: "You are a very kind and generous man, sir."

"Think nothing of it," said the Bernard. "You'll love my place. The grass is at least a foot tall!"

Print Feature