Jottings from the jetstream

The Editor likes personal columns to have a theme running through them. That's easy for him to say. When you are travelling all the time, life becomes a series of unconnected interludes rather than one neatly flowing story. That's life.

After Phoenix and Brazil there was a break of almost two months, but since San Marino it has been action all the way: Monaco, Montreal, Mexico. The last weeks have been packed full of travel. With a race meeting every nine days with oceans to cross and frequent flier schemes ringing up miles like telephone numbers.

Grand Prix people are used to travelling. Each and every one has lied to immigration officials about being "a tourist", each has heard the awful words: "Your baggage is in Santiago". Each knows that sinking feeling when you find yourself sitting next to a strange Middle Eastern gentleman wearing a doily on his head, sharpening a knife, and muttering about Salman Rushdie. The really unlucky ones have spent 17 hours sitting on a plane surrounded by an American High School singing group.

Formula 1 folk often travel together - there are only so many planes to a specific city on a specific day - and these flights are often rather rowdy. For the mid-summer European races, there are FOCA charters - planes filled entirely with the circus - on which entire cabins have joined in the motions of the safety instruction demonstrations, reducing stewardesses to the hysterical laughter.

On the way to Montreal on the top deck of a British Airways Jumbo there developed a party in the corridor. It grew to around 20 people before the steward began to get grumpy and the other passengers curious.

"We go to Mexico next," we told him as we disembarked.

"Oh good," he said, "we don't fly there."

When in Europe the F1 circus produces a better class of Bedouin. Tents and camper vans have finally been completely driven out of the paddock to be replaced by a whole new string of custom-built motorhomes.

What do they cost?

"US$208,000," said someone who really should know. That, in case you are interested, is a Formula 3 budget if you take your own sandwiches along.

A few years ago the two-tone grey FOCA bus was the state-of-the-art, the envy of the paddock. Today, dare I suggest, it is beginning to look a little shoddy alongside some of the other gin palaces.

The oddest of these is the Monteverdi Onyx bus. Which is exactly that. A bus, an old double decker from which you expect Cliff Richard to emerge at any moment, singing "Summer Holiday".

But then the Monteverdi team is something of a law unto itself. Some say it is a shame that it is torn apart, but then they are probably not paying for the team.

Peter Monteverdi is paying -- and his efforts to stop this hemorrhaging of dollars have caused pain to the team.

Twenty-nine years ago, if you wandered around the Formula Junior paddock at Monaco you would have found Ken Tyrrell running Cooper-Austins, Bernie Ecclestone driving an Elva, and driver/designer Monteverdi tinkering with a device called an MBM. After this Monteverdi built his own F1 car and only barely survived driving this machine through the trees at Hockenheim -- as Jim Clark did later.

Monteverdi recovered, he quit racing, buried the remains of his car in the foundations of a showroom in Binningen and he began building his own road car designs. When he tired of this he turned the place into a museum and at 55 he came back to F1.

Monteverdi says what he thinks and acts as he pleases. When you listen to him talk it is like being present when fire was discovered. He re-invents the English language as he goes, making Gerhard Berger's idiosyncratic use of the language sound like the BBC World Service.

"I think the important thing to say today is to look in front," he says, "forget the backside. Some of the Swiss papers have written that Monteverdi has pushed out some people from Onyx. This is absolutely not correct, we give each people a chance to stay with us but people must follow a little the direction of my person."

The enthusiasm with which he talks is a very real enthusiasm. He wants Onyx to succeed, but to his mind this means it must be moved from Fontwell and the race team reconstituted in Switzerland. The only problem is that almost none of the mechanics want to move to Switzerland.

"You cannot do this business unless you love F1," he says. "I have my feet on the floor -- but you must accept that Fontwell is a bad situation. It costs #20,000 per month. Someone who signed this 25-year contract must have been crazy. We have a small factory in Littlehampton. When we make a small reduction in cars and we bring the team to Switzerland and move to Littlehampton we have saved a lot of money."

Whatever the case, the middle of the season is no time to consider a team move.

When you are sitting in an armchair looking on in amazement at the what you see as the destruction of a perfectly good race team, it is good to remember that the bills are not landing on your desk. Monteverdi's way of going racing just now may seem insane. It is probably better than going bust.

But if Monteverdi is struggling without sponsorship, the level of money available in F1 generally is higher than ever. Throw money at a problem -- get the right people -- and it will go away. Ferrari has learned the lesson and Benetton is in the process of doing the same.

But F1 remains a place for the lunatic. Your average analyst would have kittens as he wandered through the paddock.

After Montreal the choice for the GP folk was varied: disappear off to Detroit to see Indycars; to Cancoun for some sunshine; to England to work on increasing stress; to Le Mans for a few extra quid or, for the more logical, to New York for a few days off. If normal F1 living is crazy, Noo Yoik is the perfect place for a holiday, for if God had meant there to be a town of lunatics he invented the five boroughs.

Where else in the world can you find an exhibition called "Doghouse", in which 12 sober architects had been given the task of designing purpose-built houses for dogs...

The most important words in a New York summer, however, are "Play Ball". Central Park was full of soft ball games, from fashionable 59th Street, where the fielders wear pearls, up to Harlem where even the spectators carry baseball bats.

Down on the Lower East Side, there is a dingy little bar. It is the kind of joint where you could die like Dylan Thomas, with a signed photograph of Humphrey Bogart on the wall. Madonna used to be a waitress here.

Madonna is rarely out of the headlines and a couple of weeks ago her new movie Dick Tracy opened to massive promotion and a "disappointing" first weekend which netted only US$22 million.

A few days ago another blockbuster opened, Days of Thunder, a motor racing movie, which has been produced by the same gang as Top Gun and which threatens to do for NASCAR what The Italian Job did for the Mini.

New York was dotted with billboards promoting the film. The news was painted on the side of buses.

Motor racing movies have never been particularly successful at the box office, but Paramount decided that the time was right to try again. The company must be pretty confident for the investment in the movie was huge. Tom Cruise has been paid US$7 million to star. No expense was spared. Paramount bought in excess of 25 NASCAR chassis to film racing scenes. The producers paid NASCAR a huge sum to be allowed to run their own team of camera cars, driven by professionals.

The team was ultimately sold on to Paul Newman to add to his stable of CART and TransAm teams and the result of Paramount's endeavours will be opening in Britain on August 10.

Paul Newman, actor, vendor of very good spaghetti sauce, race driver and team owner did well at the Detroit Grand Prix: Michael Andretti won the main event in his Newman/Haas Lola and Scott Sharp won the TransAm race in his Newman/Sharp Oldsmobile.

Commentating on the is action for ABC television was David Hobbs, missing Le Mans for the first time in many a year and remarking that Michael Andretti's winnings for the afternoon was more than he had earned in his a career.

Detroit barely deserved a mention in the sports pages on Monday. The firing of the manager of the Yankees baseball team had seven pages in The News but Detroit had nothing. Le Mans? You have to be joking.

The result of the Le Mans 24 Hours could not be found. USA Today, the best US paper for sport, had a meagre 13 lines underneath a larger report of the Detroit. That was all.

Further details did not emerge until Tuesday lunchtime when Rene Dreyfus pushed a copy of L'Equipe in my direction.

"It is unbelievable," he said. "You just cannot find out anything about the race in the American press."

Rene is the last survivor the great racing drivers of the 1920s and 1930s. He won the second Monaco GP way back in 1930 -- before my father was born -- and who, since 1940, has been living in the United States.

Rene spent 35 years running a series of restaurants in the city -- the most notable of these being the Chanteclair, which for many years was the unofficial motor racing meeting point in New York.

"There may have been a day in which no-one involved in racing visited the restaurant," he said, "but I don't recall one."

The Chanteclair was on East 49th Street and, in the fifties and sixties, you could be sitting there and in would walk Neubauer, Revson, Foyt, Andretti, Clark, Stewart, whoever was in town.

The walls were covered in autographed photographs of the great and famous of the racing world. Rene closed the restaurant some years ago and today lives in quiet retirement in Forest Hills, able to walk the streets of New York, a sprightly old man unrecognized in the seething masses. Winning Monaco doesn't make you famous in New York, you have to hit a home run at Yankee Stadium.

A day later it was Mexico City and football mania -- mainly among the South American racing press. The media center saw an ongoing battle to switch all the television sets from the Olivetti/Longines timing to World Cup football.

FISA Press Delegate Francesco Longanesi Cattani fought a constant battle to keep the screens tuned to the correct channels.

Francesco was an international yachtsman before becoming an aide to Prince Rainier of Monaco. Then, for some reason, he took on the task of looking after the F1 press. A brave man indeed. I'll wager he wishes sometimes he was standing on the upturned keel of a yacht out on the Fastnet race rather than having to deal with an irate Italian without credentials.

The Brazilian press have little mercy. Whenever they spotted Longanesi in the media center they would leap in the air and cry, with suitable enthusiasm, "Go-o-o-o-a-a-a-l!"

Football or no, we saw a great race in Mexico. And then it was back onto the planes and off into the stratosphere. Back to the recurring theme...

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