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Down and out in Sao Paulo

One must always try to arrive in Brazil in a positive frame of mind. To begin in a state of pessimism is to end up on the window ledge.

"Sao Paulo is a wonderful city," said one well-known F1 personality. "It's a lovely place... to leave."

Oh, so true. Even as Ayrton Senna was climbing wearily onto the podium, after what was one of his greatest race victories, all around the paddock people with suitcases in hand, were dashing about trying to get out of Brazil. It was a second Brazilian GP and, it is with a sense of resignation that I must report that Ron Dennis won that as well. A helicopter to the airport, a private jet to Rio and out on the 6pm plane -- just three hours after the race ended.

Bernie Ecclestone was at the drivers' briefing before the race, pointing out to the drivers that the podium had to be quick as satellite link time to Europe was on a tight deadline. Did the drivers know how to get to the podium?

"Just follow Ron and Ayrton," he quipped.

After Phoenix and Brazil one wonders what the opposition can do. How about systematically bribing every member of the McLaren staff to leave? It wouldn't work. This winter saw a sizeable turnaround in engineering staff at McLaren: race engineers Tim Wright and Gordon Kimball both left and aerodynamicist Mike Gascoyne is now working for Tyrrell. In their places have come Henri Durand (the aerodynamicist from Ferrari) and engineers James Robinson (from Arrows) and Steve Hallam (from Lotus). And the team still works.

I wonder if Ron has ever tried walking on water. Sao Paulo would be a good place to try. One night we braved the traffic to have dinner downtown. At the end of the meal we went to find a taxi and discovered 100 people crammed in the doorway, trying to do exactly the same. It was raining pet shops outside, but you can only get so wet. Well that is what I thought. I forded streams and battled through raging torrents. I had no clue where I was going. I would have sold my mother for a taxi, and when I got one he ripped me off as only a Brazilian cabbie can - and I thanked him. I just wanted to go home and drink myself to death. In Brazil this is easy. They have a sugar cane concoction called caninha. You either drink it, or run cars on it. It works for both.

Our hire car was running out of alcohol on Sunday morning as we tried to get into the circuit, shortly after dawn. As we drove past the gates of the track a policeman tried to show us the one-way system -- off in the opposite direction to the track. We stopped to have a chat with a policeman, to explain the predicament. We waved our arms and shouted a lot and then Wilson Fittipaldi showed up and waved his arms and shouted a lot. The nice thing about the Brazilians is that they believe chaos to be normal, so if you keep pushing they shrug and let you do what you like.

Well, almost always. The Lotus team had an alarming time at three o'clock Sunday morning as they tried to go to their hotel. They were directed the wrong way down a dual carriageway by a policeman and met a police car coming the other way which, naturally, directed them back from whence they had come. The policeman there duly shouted at them when they tried to go the other way. It all ended up with a pair of Lotus folk, hands in the air and legs spread, being frisked by gun-toting policemen.

Still, there were heartening moments in all this chaos. Eric Van de Poele, not yet anaesthetized to the ways of F1, was smiling after he failed to pre-qualify. Why?

'I enjoy being here so much you just can't imagine.' What in Brazil? 'No, in Formula 1.' It was nice to hear.

After the race Thierry Boutsen was laughing about his afternoon.

'I made a good start, but the gearbox was stiff and the engine was down on power,' he reported. 'Then I started to lose the clutch, so I pitted early for new tires while I still had a little clutch. Then the brake pedal started to go down, so I had no confidence in the brakes and my tires lost all their temperature. Then the oil light came and the engine went on to 10-cylinders. And the drink bottle went wrong... Still, it was good, Riccardo is doing well in the Williams. That is good for me. It shows people that I was not such a bad driver last year with Williams!'

There was logic in that somewhere.

Last year seems a long time ago. Then Phoenix was dull, Interlagos fun. This year it was the opposite.

This season had begun so well. Arriving at Sky Harbor Airport, emerging from the baggage collection area and stepping out into the cool of the Arizona evening, we spied a white Lincoln limousine stretched out along the sidewalk, like a starlet on the casting couch. There were no taxis in sight. Oh, what the hell! With four people aboard, it cost the same as a cab anyway. Inside there was a television, dimmer switches and the kind of carpeting which causes gerbils to don pith helmets and go shopping for machetes.

After such an ostentatious start one was inclined to be favorable to the race. To be objective, it strikes me that F1 is slowly beginning to catch on in Arizona. There seems to be little point in shifting off to Dallas. A strong house has solid foundations. A caravan is just a caravan.

Sometimes it is hard to be objective. After the US Grand Prix I hurried to the Larrousse pit to shake Gerard Larrousse by the hand. The one point for sixth place was the perfect answer to FISA's bizarre actions against them. I found, much to my delight, a queue of people doing much the same.

Still, FISA will be FISA. No sooner had the Larrousse scandal been compromised away than we had FISA President Jean-Marie Balestre threatening to ban any company involved in the Indycar race at Surfers Paradise in Australia. If he did that what would turn up for the Monaco GP?

Taken to its logical and legal extreme, it would mean no Goodyear tires, no Cosworth, Judd nor Ilmor engines. The Ferraris would be gone (Alfa Romeo is a FIAT-owned company, as is Ferrari).

F1 and Indycar racing have a number of common suppliers in carbon fibre, much technical support is shared and race suits makers supply both series. So, what would we have at Monaco? Twenty-six naked racing drivers sitting car-less on the grid. There would be a few Pirelli tires, the odd bit of suspension and the occasional gearbox casing -- without internals.

That would be an impressive sight for the sponsors.

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