GLOBETROTTER

Espionage and bizarre weddings

At Suzuka a news agency reporter based in Japan, who didn't know Formula 1, asked me about a certain Team Manager, who we shall call Mr. X.

"Watch this," I said and, turning to a colleague, asked: "What happens when Mr. X opens his mouth?"

Without a prompt he replied, "Lies come out."

Before becoming an itinerant motor racing journalist, I used to be student of international history, specializing in diplomacy. My dissertation was on the activities of the CIA in the years leading up to the Vietnam War: Psywar (psychological warfare) and covert action.

Not much use in motor racing, you might think.

Well, let me tell you, it has proved to be invaluable when dealing with the machinations involving the governing body and Formula 1 team managers.

Colonel Oliver North, if you need a job - Formula 1 has vacancies.

There are two differences between the two CIA and the sport: the first is that thanks to the US Freedom of Information Act, the skeletons of Vietnam in the American closet will eventually come into the open; the second is that the governing body and Formula 1 bosses are rather more transparent in their disinformation than the average covert operative.

Or at least that was what I thought until I met Max Mosley.

Witty, charming and utterly convincing, we had met a couple of times previously, and I had made a careful note that everything he said was highly believable and therefore he was dangerous. Mosley was at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka in his capacity as President of the FISA's Manufacturers' Commission. He was giving straight answers to difficult questions on the cancellation of the Group A touring car series. Something which, in my experience, no man from the governing body had ever previously managed.

Having hurried from the Wellington Group A street race in New Zealand to Japan for the Grand Prix, I had had a head-full of the cancellation. In Japan a fellow journalist asked me to explain why the series had been cancelled. After 45 minutes he was utterly confused and I had a very bad headache.

The way Max told the story convinced me that as a politician I have no future. It was impossible to fault his logic. If he had tried to sell me a camel, I would be riding home to London right now.

But then Max could sell ice to eskimos, and should really be a Member of Parliament.

There will be victims, he said. "Vested interests" he called them. It was regrettable, but the governing body is building for a bigger and brighter future with Procar. That might take a few years. Resurrecting sportscar racing was the priority now, but there should be an international touring car category and, yes, it could easily grow to rival Formula 1.

The governing body, he added, had no particular gripe with touring cars it was just that the Group A regulations did not work. They were too expensive for manufacturers because they had to build 5000 of each car them wanted to race.

Yes, but hold on Max, the cars could be sold. True, he admitted, but not if Group A was promoted and became really big, because then the manufacturers would have to build faster cars and they could not be sold to the public.

The very principle of Group A was therefore flawed and it was much better to have a replacement formula. But what, I asked, about breaking the international link between Group A in Europe and Australia, which had been forged after many years. Surely this would leave Australia isolated once again.

Well, said Max, Europe and Australia both have Group A rules, but they are different and they cannot be linked. Damn the man!

Talking to Mosley is like having a worm inside your head, eating away at all that has been crammed in there. It is, dare I say it, psywar. It makes you a little crazy sometimes...

Well Doc (he writes from the psychiatrist's couch) I have this theory about the governing body. They are out to get me. You see, it started when I was working in the European Formula 3 Championship back in 1984. Blam! They cancelled it.

After that I moved into touring cars to make a living. Things were going well and by 1987 I was writing about a World Touring Car Championship. Blam! They nailed that. Oh well, I thought, I can always doing the European Touring Car Championship. Blam!

I was beginning to feel like a Mexican in a Clint Eastwood movie. The best means of defence was moving to Formula 1. The governing body could never kill that...

The FISA President Jean-Marie Balestre has been trying hard, causing a few splutters by apparently insinuating in an open letter to the Honda Motor Company that Honda is not treating both McLaren drivers equally in the chase for the 1988 World Championship title. The implication was that Ayrton Senna was getting a better deal than (Frenchman) Alain Prost.

Such a suggestion must have been deeply insulting to the Japanese way of thinking. Few gaijing (foreigners) have ever understood the Japanese way, and I would not claim to be one of them, but it was easy to see that Balestre's comments showed a total lack of understanding and were an affront to Japanese dignity. The Japanese will not show the hurt, nor will they attack Balestre for he is an important figure and should not lose face.

If you ever get lost in Tokyo and ask a local for directions, you have to be very careful how you phrase the question. If you point (which is rude anyway) and say: "Is it this way?" He will probably say "Yes" even if he knows it to be the wrong direction. It will save you from being seen to lose face.

There is some logic in all this but honour is not a concept that the governing body is often able to grasp. Humiliating Honda in public was not a clever step for Balestre, a man who publicly states that the Japanese manufacturers are all coming into Formula 1 to help supply engines.

Still, perhaps Jean-Marie is aware that Max is in Japan and will smooth the waters as he, the President, walks on them while the band plays stirring music.

The fact that Balestre telephoned Suzuka from Paris after the race to insist that Alain Prost's gearbox be checked lest someone had inserted a gremlin before the race, did little for the President's flagging credibility. Not a very honourable suggestion and one which McLaren - rather than Honda - would have found less than amusing.

The McLaren and Honda men would no doubt agree with Oscar Wilde's assertion that, "One should always play fairly when one has the winning cards." They have had the winning cards - and the winning cars - all season.

On the same day that Ayrton Senna was winning the World Championship and seeing all his dreams realized at Suzuka, 13,000 followers of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon were married in a mass wedding at Seoul in South Korea. The couples were all done up in the right gear and, after a rousing Hallelujah Chorus, there was a picnic to follow.

Sounds lovely doesn't it? Well, except for the fact that the ceremony was held in a massive warehouse owned by Moon's soft drinks company and, throughout the ceremony, translators chattered away in Japanese and Korean, just to make sure everyone knew what they were really doing.

And, wait for it, most of the couples had only met the day before and some did not even share a common language with their new partner - who had been chosen for them by Moon.

The high point of the proceedings was when the leader of the Japanese Moon movement told the couples that one day the drink produced in the very factory were they now stood would outsell Coca-Cola. They cheered.

Reading the story in The Japan Times I found myself feeling uneasy. I recognized the same emotion I had when I watched the McLaren hierarchy celebrating victory at Suzuka.

In the McLaren team, everyone must bow down to a great God called "The Company". This is not a race team. It is a business. It is very professional. Even a little stylish, but utterly and completely unemotional and lacking in humour.

The mechanics and engineers are happy to win because it means extra money for each point scored, but they never seem to enjoy what they are doing. "Whistle while you work" is not a song played often in the McLaren pit.

I am sorry but for me motor racing is an emotional activity and I cannot help but think that for McLaren that magic has been lost. I still get a thrill out of seeing someone cross the line and punch the air with joy.

I like to think that when McLaren boss Ron Dennis and his men go home, they lock themselves in the bathroom and, after checking that no-one is watching, let out whoops of joy and do victory dances.

"The curse of commercialism is the ruin of every sport and the degeneracy of motor racing as a sport is due to the financial issues now involved in each race - the immense value of victory and the commercial disaster of defeat."

An apt modern description of what has happened to Formula 1 in recent times you may think.

Well, no. Actually the quote comes from a book by racing driver Charles Jarrott, which was published in 1906.

Perhaps it has always been this way...

If it has no-one told Ayrton Senna. He enjoyed victory at Suzuka. If he lives to be 100 and wins five more World Championships, he will never again feel as he did when he saw the checkered flag in Suzuka.

All the tension which has been inside him for years burst forth and I swear that on the television close-up of that victory lap I could see tears in his eyes.

Let us hope that, now he has achieved what he set out to do, he will become a better ambassador for the sport of motor racing and lighten up a little bit.

There were signs that he might. After the race Ayrton talked to the press about his religious views. Not unnaturally, the cynical media men had a field day with this. "I found God in the barriers at Monte Carlo" was almost as good as the Country & Western pastiche: "I found Jesus in a dustbin in Kentucky".

Whatever else was said, it proved that Senna is human. Some were beginning to doubt it. Maybe he will grow to be a great champion, as well as a great driver.

Another man who did not hide his excitement at Suzuka was Emanuele Pirro, the McLaren team test driver. While Prost and Senna received the cheers, Pirro sat behind the pits, smiling broadly. This year "EP" has completed 8,000 miles of McLaren testing at Suzuka - more miles than most Grand Prix drivers do in their careers. On the Tuesday after the race Pirro was back in action while the F1 circus was on its way to Adelaide.

Formula 1 has forgotten Pirro. He lives, tests and races in Japan. He doesn't attend Grands Prix and pester team managers because he is always racing somewhere else. It is pleasant to believe that his day will come.

Look at it this way, team managers: he speaks several languages, he is presentable, he hasn't been found out by the gutter press and has done 8,000 miles testing in a state of the art Grand Prix car - which happens to be beating your machines right now.

Hell, even the CIA would hire him...

...they probably have Mosley already.

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