Jeux sans frontiers?

"Una fantastica pole position per Ferrari!" screamed the Italian commentator as the final qualifying session ended at Paul Ricard.

"...and an Englishman takes pole position," interrupted the English-speaking commentator.

"I wonder what the French commentator will say," said someone nastily. "The first pole position on a French circuit this year?"

Formula 1 likes to be international, but it still falls victim to innate patriotism. In many ways F1 is becoming a child of the New Europe. The paddock is full of "cosmopolyglots", who speak five languages and can flip from one to the next with alarming ease. Wandering about you can hear the chattering of Portuguese on the one side and the yodelling of the Finns on the other. Conversations can leap through various languages to mix into a strange mish-mash with words from different countries.

"Ca va Mafia-man, alles gut?" someone will say.

"Oh, allo Rosbif. Si, things are no so very bad."

Languages are important. For a pressman, however, the best thing you can learn is body language. Watching is extremely valuable - your eyes will often tell you more than your ears. The way someone carries themselves and their facial expressions can tell you infinitely more than anything they are willing to say.

Your ears are not particularly valuable when you work in the pitlane. Then your hands become important.

It may seem a strange thing to say but Formula 1 is a contact sport. You cannot talk because of the engine noise, thus you conduct conversation with mime and with touch. It is a language all of its own. You tap an forearm to say hello, put your arm around a shoulder if you want to speak. The intimacy created in this close proximity carries over into the paddock. Even when the noise has stopped, you will see people walking around with their arms around each other. Such gestures warn you that they are not be interrupted.

The English, who value the concept of personal space, might find it strange, but most do it nonetheless. It is the way.

United Europeans maybe, but ultimately nationalism always shines through. You cheer for your own when the chips are down. When Jean Alesi started to make an impression in Grand Prix racing he was immediately claimed by the Italians - as an Italian. His parents had moved to France from Sicily, therefore, they reckoned, Italian blood, runs through his veins.

This undercurrent of patriotism came to the surface in Paul Ricard - not because of the race - but because of the World Cup. The third place play-off match between Italy and England on Saturday night had a lot of people getting very excited.

Minardi's team manager Jaime Graziedei has an Italian name, but he is actually British by education, and by nature. Facing an evening surrounded by football-crazy Italians he called in support and invited an Englishman to share some pasta, drink a little wine and watch the game.

French television didn't show the match live so we were forced to follow the action with the help of a radio in the Minardi pit. If anything exciting occurred a mechanic would come out of the blocks like Ben Johnson on methanol and report to Giancarlo Minardi.

Conversation was thus interrupted from time to time by the sound of scampering feet. The first harbinger had Signor Minardi on his feet, waving one finger in the air and making the OK sign with his spare hand. He said only one word: "Baggio". It was one-nil.

"Ultima minuta," I growled. "Lineker." Giancarlo frowned. A few moments later the feet could be heard again. This time Minardi was quiet and it was yours truly jumping up and down and yelling "Lineker" with great enthusiasm. No-one mentioned that Platt had scored the goal... One-all.

With an evil look Giancarlo explained that friendships can only go so far and that, in Italy, football is a very serious matter. There are times when you have to have some respect. The next time we heard the feet there was confusion. No-one seemed to know who had scored. We both jumped up and cheered. Giancarlo yelled "Baggio", I yelled "Lineker".

It was actually Schillaci. Two-one.

Time was running out. The wine bottle was empty. Outside there was a screech of training shoes. Berti had scored.

Was there an English player called Bertie? Wait! The goal had been disallowed. Everyone was disappointed.

Suddenly it was all over. Italy had won. Giancarlo smiled smugly and wagged a finger in my direction. I suggested he have some respect lest I kick in the windows of his motorhome - like an 'ooligan. We laughed. It was time to tell the truth.

"Giancarlo," I admitted. "I don't give a damn about football. I only know the names of about three English players."

He smiled. It was the same for him. We had been playing games with each other...

Such moments are important in Formula 1. Most of the time people are under pressure and the games they play are very serious.

"In Grand Prix racing," said a world-weary designer, "if you are not paranoid - you don't know the whole truth."

But how do you find out the truth? You can never be sure who is telling the truth and who is not. Frank Williams has been playing the silly season futures market for many a year and he has a novel approach when asked to talk about drivers. He looks towards the sky and doesn't say a thing - watching the angels pass by - until you either get bored and leave or feel embarrassed and change the subject.

The really clever folk use such opportunities to put out ideas and stories. They use the gossip networks to their advantage. If a driver wants to be considered for a drive or announce that he might be on the market he tells someone. Nothing accelerates faster than an F1 rumor.

At the CIA training schools they have technical terms for such activities: "black propaganda" and "disinformation". There are two great exponents of disinformation to be found in and around F1 - Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley. They are deft players and they rarely work without a high degree of "deniability".

They are forever floating ideas and gauging reactions with off-the-cuff comments. They know the F1 rumor system and they know how to play it.

There is one thing annoying Bernie at the present moment - America. It has bugged him sufficiently for him to feel the need to write an article in this magazine on the subject. F1 is not working in the US. Bernie cannot find a good venue. There is next to no interest among the American media and the public.

At the same time CART is rattling sabres, threatening to move abroad to Japan, Brazil and Australia. That is a threat to F1 worldwide.

Make no mistake, everyone may be smiling and being nice to each other on the surface, but there is a quiet war going on.

The art of a good military campaign is to have good information. Groucho Marx was wrong when he said there was no such thing as military intelligence. You look at your enemy, analyze the strengths and weaknesses and then you attack.

CART is a strong series. It is growing, with the level of professionalism increasing all the time. It does, however, have weak points: teams are rejecting customer cars and beginning to build their own machinery. Some are merging, others are folding.

At the same time the Indycar series has a lot of old timer drivers at the front. There are only really two young drivers of note: Michael Andretti and Al Unser Jr. They are the future of CART.

Strange, is it not, that suddenly there are rumors that both Michael and Little Al are being courted by F1 teams? That must worry the CART men.

If you were a CIA instructor you would call this "destabilization".

CART's strongest card is the Indianapolis 500. It is the biggest and one of the most important motor races in the world.

"If it weren't for Indianapolis Motor Speedway," says AJ Foyt, "you really wouldn't have a good championship circuit. You'd have a lot of road courses, but it would be more or less like F1. Indianapolis makes it Championship Automobile Racing."

Now, look at the details. The Indianapolis 500 is not a CART race. It is organized by Indianapolis Motor Speedway on behalf of USAC - and it is sanctioned by the FIA.

Over the years CART and Indianapolis have had many a rough ride. Might it not be ripe for the theory of "divide and conquer"?

At the same time Indy would be a superb venue to launch F1 onto the American scene in a very big way. The Grand Prix technical bods might not like the idea, but the sponsors would be in seventh heaven. Money talks.

Interesting information? But what do you do with it? You invite the president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and his director of marketing to Europe to watch a couple of Grands Prix - just a friendly gesture. You know that the rumor mill will spot them and gossip will start. By the time it gets across to the USA, it will have become a spectacular threat and the CART men will feel a chill as your shadow passes over them. Without using nasty words you are making a very clear point: If you keep messing about trying to expand outside the US, we will rip your heart out.

Everything you have just read could be fanciful, but - right or wrong - it is serving a purpose. The media are being used - but we are bound to report what we see and hear. There is no evidence that F1 will ever go to Indy. You cannot prove a word of the idea and it is easily denied. CART, however, will understand the message. If it is more than a message they will be running around in panic - like headless chickens.

Such Machiavellian schemes are what ultimately wear people down and burn them out in F1. Winning is everything. Finishing second is not honorable - it is losing. To win in this world you must do what it takes - and then deny you did it.

F1 has heaps of disinformation, industrial espionage, head-hunting and bartering, but there is also good old-fashioned head-down conflict.

The tire men are in a state of open warfare - Pirelli had good qualifiers at the start of the season and Goodyear was in some trouble. They Americans are fighting back. The man who typifies this attitude, for me, is former US Marine fighter pilot Lee Gaug, the leader of Goodyear's F1 assault team.

Lee is up-front and tough in everything but you suspect that beneath the exterior is a nice guy. For some reason which I am unable to explain, whenever I see him, striding around the paddock with his pipe clenched between his teeth, I have this image of Popeye, armed with a can of spinach in one hand and an M60 machine-gun in the other, riding the skis of a helicopter and screaming: "Come and get it you goddamned communist pinko faggot Pirelli-users!"

I would hate to be in Pirelli's shoes. Goodyear has bounced back, like an avenging angel, and the Italians are on the run.

Come hell or high water, you have to be successful in F1. Are there any rules to the game? Not at this time of year. Hell, it wouldn't be much fun if it was done any other way...

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