GLOBETROTTER

Technically speaking...

Digging up the truth in the silly season is like trying to attach a strawberry jelly to the back of a greased pig - with a staple gun. It is a time when a news-scooper must have the technical accuracy of a lawyer, the lateral-thinking ability of a nuclear physicist and the resilience of a marathon dancer. If you cannot do the cryptic crossword in your head - without writing down a single answer - you might as well give up.

Sounds dramatic, doesn't it? But why is it so difficult?

Imagine you are an F1 journalist. What do you do? You ask someone if something is true. Let me give you an example.

You hear on the grapevine that the A Team is about to sign a sponsorship deal with Hackensack Toiletries International Inc. and is going to sign up the driver Greg Buckett.

Hello Mr. Team Manager. Do you have a moment? Normally, at this point, he walks straight past you and says "No!"

Four hours later you are waiting outside the motorhome when he emerges. You leap out from behind a potted plant and corner him.

"I have to go to a meeting," he says swiftly, backing into a corner. It'll only take a moment, you croon reassuringly.

He glances sideways. Where is the Seventh Cavalry when he needs them?

The interview begins (translations appear in brackets)...

Do you have a deal with Hackensack Toiletries International Inc.?

"No." (Of course I don't, but the team does.)

Does the team have a deal with Hackensack?

"To the best of my knowledge, the team does not have such an agreement at the moment." (I will deny I knew about the deal at the point at which you asked me).

Have you talked to Glen Buckett?

"No." (I haven't talked to Glen Buckett but I asked a man to approach him on my behalf).

Have any of your team spoken to Glen Buckett?

"No." (The man who asked him was acting as a private individual and was not representing the team in any official capacity).

Have you spoken to Glen Buckett through an intermediary?

"No." (Glen Buckett spoke to a team member - not an intermediary).

Have you instigated any approach by anyone to Glen Buckett?

"To the best of my knowledge, at this moment in time, no approach has been made by me." (Well, of course, I have).

Okay, thank you. Let's try talking to Glen Buckett...

Hello Glen.

"I'm sorry I have to go to debriefing."

It's back behind the potted plant again. Some time later, he re-emerges, is cornered, and made to speak.

Do you have a contract with the Hackensack A Team?

"No." (The team won't be called the Hackensack A Team it will be called A Team Hackensack and besides the contract is in my briefcase which is in the motorhome. I don't have it on me. The pockets in my overalls are not big enough).

Have you signed an option with the A Team?

"No." (Technically it is not an option, it is a full-blown contract).

Have you signed a contract with the A Team?

"No." (The piece of paper I don't have with me may be a contract but in court there would be hundred of loopholes will would render it useless - as all F1 contracts are if the right price is offered. Thus, in essence, it is not really a contract).

Thank you Glen. Oh, by the way, what happened to your car in the last session?

"It was an electrical problem." (A rod came through the side of the engine and knocked the alternator off."

Technically, of course, there are no lies being told.

To uncover the truth one must fight through the paddy fields of the "technical truth". It is a fascinating game, but it is exhausting and you get worn down. Sometimes you hit the wall.

"What are we doing here?" muttered a colleague in Hungary, suffering just such a burn-out. "We are reporting about a bunch of over-paid, over-sexed young men - not one of whom will find a cure for cancer."

He had a point. Formula 1 is not the real world. It is not important. When a driver mentions that he may have to take a pay cut of US$3 million, you ask yourself if perhaps his feet are not entirely on the ground. In the Saudi Arabian desert tanks are now lining up and no-one in F1 could give a damn. Oil prices are rising, the yen and the dollar have plummeted but until these changes work through the system F1 will ignore them.

It is very depressing. I hit the psychological wall at Silverstone a few weeks ago. Suddenly I had enough of the game. I hated F1. Like a bear with a sore head, I sat down at a friendly team motorhome (as opposed to the alternative hostility units) and I asked if I might have a glass of wine - to drown my sorrows in the way of true journalistic legend.

I was then introduced to a collection of other journalists from chic fashion magazines, who, I imagined, were eyeing my clothes sense in the same way as one looks at an in-flight meal on Malev airlines.

"They didn't know anything about F1," said the team's charming PR lady. "You're the specialist, tell them what it's all about. Sometimes you have to earn your free lunch."

They were quite interested and as we chatted I began to regain enthusiasm. F1 hadn't been this exciting for ages and it was getting better - and closer - all the time.

That evening I practically skipped home with joy and excitement. What a great life! What a great job!

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