GLOBETROTTER

How green is our valley?

The governing body should hire my friend Jane. She lives in France, speaks three languages fluently - and is completely off the pace of life. She owns and loves a clapped-out old Peugeot which has an engine which is close to death.

"Is that the rattly thing behind the dashboard?" she asks with a touching innocence.

From time to time Jane's Peugeot has to be pulled out of a ditch into which she has somehow managed to drive it. I used to wonder how she did it but one day over the Christmas holidays she showed me.

Jane has a tendency to lose her eyeglasses. This means that in order to see to drive she had to wear her prescription dark glasses. We were driving at night...

In such a situation you do not anticipate approaching disasters, you merely deal with them as they happen. I suppose you would call it fire-fighting behind the wheel. It was interesting and now I come to think of it, it reminds me a little of the way the governing body of world motor sport works.

Jane has something else in common with the FIA. Logic is not her strong point. The other morning I was woken at five thirty by George the Cat playing the piano. This may sound odd but it is true. The little beast decided to jump up and down on the keyboard.

George is a girl cat but she does not know it because Jane keeps telling her that she is a he. To Jane's logic this means that George will not get pregnant. The amazing things is that it has worked fine so far.

The same cannot be said for the governing body of the sport. They have just told the fuel companies involved in F1 that they (the fuel companies) agree with the new regulations - which assuredly they do not. Shell and Mobil had kittens when they heard this...

I do not give the governing body a hard time just for fun. I love motor racing and I think that often the governing body does a lousy job.

By the time you read this column it may all be irrelevant. War may have broken out in the Gulf and who knows what will have happened to the oil fields of Kuwait. They may have been blown sky-high, polluting the atmosphere for years to come. As I write armies are sitting out there in the desert staring at each other, chewing gum and listening to stirring messages on their radios.

I read a stirring message the other day on a sticker on the wall in the London Underground: "No war in the Gulf for cheap oil," it said. "Ride bicycles for peace."

It made me laugh. It is nice to know that there are still some innocents left in this world. What with Formula 1 excitements, awards dinners and what have you, I was a latecomer to the Gulf crisis. It never struck me that it could be important enough to warrant a war. It's funny how often we do not see things which perhaps we should.

The Autosport International Show in Birmingham featured a technical congress which delivered a similar message. It dredged up the green issues in motor racing. For many racing people, the greens are badge-wearing, nut-cutlet-nibblers who put stickers on walls in underground stations. All over Europe, however, the sport is gradually being reined in. In some countries the motor sporting authorities are taking steps to stay ahead of the criticisms - the RAC MSA is doing a neat, low-key job introducing lead-free petrol - but internationally blindness prevails.

The F1 fuel brews have attracted much interest in the last year. It is hard to ignore them. They smell horrible and dark rumors have circulated about evil cancer-inducing additives. The trouble is that just because something is smelly does not mean it is bad for you. Besides, trying to find a petrochemist who understands F1 fuels - and is not biased - is impossible, so you cannot prove anything anyway.

I have given up believing oil companies: one says one thing, another says something totally different. All claim that their fuel is perfectly safe and wonderful, and add darkly that other companies are not such good guys.

At the Autosport Awards gala I was cornered by one top fuel man who spent a considerable time trying to convince me that his company did everything by the book. They tested all their fuels on rats, sprayed them, painted them, gave them cancer. Their fuel, he argued, was utterly in line with European law.

I looked at him aghast when he explained that certain of his rivals did not kill enough rats and were therefore the villains. I was left with the impression of a man who lives in a very sick world.

At Birmingham I was much more impressed by Gus Reed of BP. He made an impassioned and very believable defence of the oil companies. Whatever the case, as Ford's Walter Hayes pointed out, the F1 fuels of today have very little relevance to road fuels, and they are extremely expensive. They are immensely wasteful and perfect ammunition for green campaigners.

"The total amount of pollution caused by racing cars is very small," argued Keith Duckworth. "It is a political problem. We need to look at renewable fuels and get rid of crazy development in special fuels."

But the fuel companies need guidelines from the governing body of the sport to introduce more sensible rules.

"The governing bodies might consider the formation of a committee to look at the opportunities of bringing motor sport into harmony with the environment," argued a man from Castrol. "This should make recommendations for effective rules and regulations. These, of course, have to be policed effectively. It is important to present the sport in the best possible way."

If anything I was surprised by the degree to which the racing folk were willing to compromise. They wanted to get rid of the silly fuels and toe the line. I think that racing folk may be surprised to discover that the environmentalists are also sensible folk.

My friend Celia works for the Friends of the Earth. She is perfectly sane and does not wear badges. The FOTE, she told me, would probably be happy for races to happen - if the 100,000 people who went to watch them did not get there by car.

After one particularly vocal session on green issues during the technical congress, one racing engineer muttered that the best thing was to have no spectators at the tracks.

"Put it all on television," he said. "We can all stay home and kill ourselves with cholesterol instead."

However it is to be done motor racing must put its house in order. Ultimately the responsibility for that must rest with the governing body.

Still, what does it matter in the real world? We should never forget that motor racing is a game for spoilt rich boys with expensive toys. One F1 journalist friend and colleague called up before Christmas and told me that he was tired of reporting about the sport. He wanted to become a serious journalist, get a proper job.

"I've booked a flight to Saudi Arabia," he said.

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