Long shots, big shots and should-be shots

A friend of mine has a quite remarkable bet on the 1992 FIA Formula 1 World Championship.

While every man and his dog is putting their life savings on Nigel Mansell - for whom the odds must be ridiculous by now - this gentleman has adopted a more unusual policy. He has put money on Alain Prost.

Now, as regular readers of this magazine will know, Monsieur Prost has not sat in an F1 car since a brief encounter with the Ligier team back in the early hours of this year. He has since started a career as a television personality - a sort of French Terry Wogan with a charming accent, eyes like a St. Bernard and a wonky nose. The French station TF1 is clearly not stupid, every housewife from here to Prats de Mollo la Preste (Yes, it does exist, it's on the Franco-Spanish border) will be tuning in, while ironing, to coo maternally over sweet little Alain.

The logic behind my friend's bet is quite simple. The odds of Prost winning the title are long enough to make the Guinness Book of Records - something over 1000 to 1 - and five quid thrown away is no great sacrifice. It may be a long shot, but there is always the possibility that Nigel will have the title stolen from him once again - even by Alain.

There is no doubt that Mansell is on course for the World Championship, although you won't catch him actually admitting it. Good Lord no. 'Don't bargain for fish which are still in the water,' says the Indian proverb. That would be tempting fate and, although racing drivers hate to admit that they are superstitious in case the gutter press comes up with 'Nige goes barmy on mumbo-jumbo' headlines, most drivers do have some peculiar little habits - particularly, I should add quickly, with regard to superstition. Any discussion of other peculiar little habits could lead to serious legal action.

What I am trying to say is that, Nigel knows very well that anything could happen. If it hadn't been for that tire going bang in Adelaide... etc.

For all we know he could be out playing golf, when someone with the same golfing skill as I possess tees off, lets go of the club by accident and brains 'Our Hero' with a five iron.

Perhaps his attention will be drawn by some autograph-hunting fan and he will fall into a lake or a bunker.

And what happens then, if Nigel is unable to race? The Williams team will whip out its Filofax and have a quick dash through the 'Drivers Available' section. This will take only around 48 hours as every man, woman and child with a racing licence will have expressed an interest in standing in for Nigel.

The most obvious candidate would be Ambassador Prost, who would probably accept only a couple of million quid to pop out of retirement and win his fourth title.

When you look at it like that, backing Prost doesn't seem such a stupid idea. Funny old game, isn't it?

Actually it's not. Humour - and the sense of the same - is sometimes lacking in F1 circles. These are the kind of people who only laugh at their own jokes. It is all so serious and 'professional' (which means you pay someone to do the job you should be doing yourself) that when you sit down and explain that F1 is about 26 lunatics - most of them horribly spoiled overgrown children - going round in circles, few people within the business seem to understand that the funniest thing about the whole deal is that huge corporations have been convinced to spend millions of dollars supporting it.

Being a journalist in F1 is, without question, one of the great jobs. You travel around the globe and mix it with the fast and loose folk of F1, with their fancy women and Lear jets. It must all seem impossibly glamorous to those who spend their days staring out of dreary office windows.

It isn't always milk and cookies. There are times when each and every one of us gets fed up and forgets how green our valley is. We think of settling down with our families - if we still have them - to do something a little less labour-intensive - like breeding rabbits.

At the San Marino GP, I had one of these crises of purpose. Did I really need all the grief, the egos, the missing moral codes?

It was such a shame for Imola is one of the most exhilarating races, a good circuit, a mad crowd, Italy. It makes the mouth water and yet, there I was, down in the dumps. What caused this sudden low pressure on the emotional weather map?

The answer is often the same - the lies. A lot of F1 folk are very straight and correct in their dealings. Some are very plausible. The rest are not and should take their holidays in the little village of Moncrabeau in Gascony where there is an annual competition to crown a King Liar. There is some doubt at to whether politicians are allowed to take part in this contest because of their professional status, but the worst kind of F1 person would easily be a contender for the kingdom, able to fimblefamble with the best of them. They lie as they breathe and don't even know they are doing it any longer. This I call the F1 Syndrome. Some people never catch it, but I have lost several friends to it over the years and each time I walk away, without looking back. F1 does terrible things to people. They may grow to be mammothly rich and powerful. They may feel proud and important for what they achieve, but as the years tick over they start to realize that they have nothing left - except people just like themselves.

Such stories always leave me sad and angry - and spoil the enjoyment of an occasional Grand Prix.

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