GLOBETROTTER

A vision of village life years from now

We are in the post-race press conference in Barcelona. Nigel Mansell is at the microphone. He is being asked a question. The room is hushed. Tape recorders and television cameras are whirring.

"We are now at the point after four very strong wins, four pole positions," says the questioner. "You do have an advantage, quite a substantial advantage. That is the reality of the situation, isn't it? You play it down, I am not quite sure why, and I'm..."

Nigel interrupts: "Is he on the same planet as we are, or what?"

There is a rustle as people look up. Something interesting is happening.

"Well, you say that," says the journalist - a tenacious one this. "Why do you say that? Why do you make out as if they are just right behind your shoulder. They are not. It is a runaway. I am not saying about the difficulty of your drive..."

"Can I ask you a question?" says Mansell. "Are you serious? Because if you are serious, you should see a psychiatrist. He (and he indicates Michael Schumacher) just drove his socks off to get within 4.5 seconds. And I was driving as quickly as I could. If you are insinuating I wasn't..."

"No, I wasn't..."

"...then you are full of it..."

"...there was no comment on your driving..." says the journalist.

"I think we had better get another question," says Nigel, "because..." and then he made a statement about the journalist which was probably actionable. You could hear the jaws hitting the floor right through the press room. Journalists, used to dealing with litigious F1 types, could not believe their ears.

"You shouldn't really say that, Nigel," replied the journalist.

"Why is that, my friend?" replied Nigel, being patronizing - and obviously not understanding the laws of defamation.

"Because you are accusing me of something."

"Well, I am here, because you are stupid."

"Good,' replied the journalist. 'Keep going..."

Ah, another little cameo of F1 life.

A few minutes later, back in the hubbub of the press room, everyone is arguing over the laws of slander. Other journalists are already hammering away at their keyboards, knocking out stories about how Nigel is under pressure and not behaving as normal and how significant it is for the world championship that "Our Nige" had a bacon sandwich for breakfast rather than rabbit food.

You hear a lot of rubbish in press offices.

Writing about Grand Prix racing is a bit like being the editor of a parish magazine. The only difference is that the village keeps moving location. Wherever it goes it retains the petty jealousies and individual characters. A bit like Under Milk Wood on speed.

There is Sid Watkins, the kindly village doctor; and Bernie Ecclestone the mayor. There are travel agents, car parking attendants and gamekeepers. Postman Pat must be there somewhere.

The largest group in this village - as in most villages - are the curtain-twitchers. Gossips who gather under motorhome awnings and tittle-tattle about who is doing what to whom, when, where, with what, why and do their mothers know?

Like all good gossip only about 15% of it is true and being the editor of the parish magazine, you have to sift through and work it out. That is where being an F1 journalist is difficult. Because you do not always get told the truth. People love telling secrets - unless they are their own.

To be honest, a lot of F1 folk are very straight and correct in their dealings. Some are very plausible. The rest should take their holidays in Gascony, in the little village of Moncrabeau where they have an annual liars' championship and crown a Liar King. Gascons are famous for being economical with the truth, but contestants come from all round the world to tell whopping porkie pies.

There is some doubt at to whether politicians are allowed to take part in this contest because of their professional status.

In F1 there are a handful of world-class liars who tell you a lie if you ask them the time and try use the media to spread rumors which they know will whip up trouble for their competitors. In really unintelligent cases they do the same to disrupt things within their own teams - to divide and conquer - and win nothing at all.

Others run away from questions leaving the pressmen, running after helicopters and getting very annoyed. Not so the president of FISA Max Mosley. He never stops talking - it is, I believe a qualification for the job. In Barcelona Max excelled even his own high standards. Those transcribing the full press conference, should be finishing their work around the time you get to read this.

It was fascinating and it ended - finally - with a longtime F1 press man getting up and saying,

"Congratulations Mr. President, you have just set a new world record. You answered all the questions."

It was nice to hear be able to report that Mosley is talking openly about F1 going to Indianapolis. It makes perfect sense, but suggestions that such a thing is possible are greeted with howls of derision from America and F1. It is good to see that lack of vision is an international disease in motor racing.

When you step back and look at Indycar racing and F1, it is quite clear that neither is making the most of the opportunities available. If motor racing in general hired a management consultant to look at its efficiency, the resulting report would be damning indeed.

Boxing is worse. How many world heavyweight boxing champions are there? There are simply too many cooks, fighting over the broth. It's a waste of time trying to keep up.

F1 going to Indy is change. People do not like it. They feel threatened. It is quite possible, purely a question of time, careful integration and a broad minded-approach. Sorting out how it could be done is the work of an afternoon of talks if, around the table, there are a bunch of clear-sighted people with a vision for the future.

Vision. There is the all-important word. Imagine a World Championship which goes from the streets of Monaco to the speedway on Indianapolis's 16th Street, from the streets of New York City to the grandeur of Monza or Spa. A real world championship with American teams, drivers and technologies, integrated with the best Europe and Japan have to offer.

That would be a better World Championship for everyone. It would generate more sponsorship, more money, attract more coverage, cause more gossip, give drivers more journalists to abuse and journalists more drivers to annoy. It might even enable the liars to tell more lies.

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