EFF ONE

There's a bloke down the pub who knows all about Formula 1. I made the mistake a few years ago of letting him know that I was somehow involved in the sport and nowadays I am frightened to go in for a quick snort for fear that I will be trapped for several hours by this great orator, spouting forth his views on the latest happenings in F1 circles.

Still, as long as he buys the drinks I am happy to listen and as he was in buying mode the other lunchtime I thought I would let him tell me all the answers to the problems of the sport.

"The problem is that at Jaguar the tail is wagging the dog," he said. "Or at least, the Cat anyway. It is the marketing blokes in America. They keep changing things and the team is being pulled all over the place. Down at Ferrari the horse is prancing to what the engineers say and the marketing blokes are running along behind with shovels, trying to build their empire. It is survival of the fittest, isn't it? So if the Jaguar engineers start wagging the cat, the results will come."

I nodded like a sage. And it struck me that he was right and I thought for a brief moment what a strange thing it was that there are men in pubs in England who know what is wrong with Jaguar Racing and yet no-one in Dearborn, Michigan seems to understand the problem. The fact is, I suppose, that the team is ruled by a bunch of automotive politicians who would never venture into a public house to discover what needs to be done.

It was then that I decided that I would become an F1 "consultant:" and give my advice to people. There are many such people with less grasp of the sport than the man down the pub so why should I not get a slice of the money they earn.

I think that I should begin my career with a few words of encouragement for Antonio Pizzonia who has already blotted his copybook by comprehensively stuffing one of those new-fangled Jaguar S-Type things with a couple of journalists riding in the back.

Apparently the Brazilian rookie forgot he was at the wheel of a saloon car and did not apply the brakes until he reached the point at which one slings on the anchors in a Formula 1 car. This was rather too late for the S-Type and the result was that Jungle Boy took his passengers for one of those loop-the-loop things that tend to dislodge one's lunch and reduced an automotive masterpiece to a pile of (shiny) scrap metal.

Still, Antonio, my own career behind the wheel is littered with the wreckage of various fine (and not so fine) automobiles, a testament to my enthusiasm triumphing over my ability. My advice to you is to familiarize yourself with the type of vehicle you are driving. I would also suggest, from my own experience, that one should check the width of a vehicle, particularly if one is towing something.

The reason I say this is that many years ago while towing a hospitality caravan back from drag racing event (Well, someone has to go to them) I squeezed through a rather narrow gap at some traffic lights and accelerated away at some pace. Imagine my surprise when I spotted a cyclist in my wing mirror, very close behind me. I speeded up but he was still there and seemed to be gesticulating that I should stop immediately so that he might overtake. Intending to lecture the two-wheeled freak about the dangers of travelling at speed on a bicycle, I found the wind taken out of my sails when it became clear that he had become wedged between my car and the caravan and was travelling considerably faster than he would normally have wished to do.

I seem to remember that he seemed quite pale…

Of course Antonio isn't going to get much driving advice from anyone else these days as Jaguar Racing is now run by some kind of electronics genius after it was decided to put Niki Lauda into involuntary retirement.

I staggered off to a London hotel to hear the announcement and it struck me (and I meant to mention it to that Richard Parry-Jones bloke) that it does not seem to make much of a difference these days who is the team principal as his career only lasts a few months.

At least with Lauda there was a certain familiarity with the gnarled features, the shoddy red cap and the oldest pair of jeans in the world with the fly buttons in their habitually half-open position.

As we departed I overheard one of my colleagues muttering about "Look what the Cat dragged out," and I knew what he meant. Still, as I am a great believer in the Lauda school of fashion, I think I shall miss the old boy.

The irony is that, just when Jaguar are building cars that don't require owners to be on first name terms with their local service manager, their performance on the racing circuits is sadly lacking.

A couple of days after that I was down in Maranello, giving some advice to that nice Luca di Montezemolo, who has been running Ferrari in recent years. He's done rather well but he still seems a little confused on the subject of marketing. He was banging on about the fact that winning races has never had much of an effect on car sales. In 1992, he said, Ferrari sales boomed but the F1 team did not win a single Grand Prix, nor even take a pole position.

For a moment I was tempted to suggest that if winning doesn't make any difference to the balance sheets that it might be a better idea that Ferrari keep all the money it spends on motor racing and let the staff stay at home at weekends. That would, of course, help Formula 1 to put on a much better show.

But in the end, as the lunch was rather good, I concluded that it would probably not be what Luca wanted to hear. Although I guess that the bloke down the pub would have said it anyway.

I am now considering a career in the diplomatic service.

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