The day the magazine posted me to Siberia

You learn the most wonderful things when you travel. Did you know, for example, that in the gold mining town of Patrocinio, Brazil (Population: 3000) there are seven Avon ladies?

I don't know where I read that, but I noted it down on a bit of paper and scrawled GT alongside. GT stands for Globetrotter and I have hundreds of such jottings which one day I thought I might use. I won't because this is the last Globetrotter column.

However, I am glad to say that in the finest traditions, it is being written on an aeroplane, high above the snowy wastes of Siberia. I have a glass of wine near at hand and the in-flight audio is playing what sounds like Lloyd Webber interpreted by James Last.


Why this torture? It's a long story which began in a Japanese hotel room at 0400 when, awakened by jet-lag, I turned on the TV and saw Doris Day singing Che sara sara. I have been humming it for three weeks. In desperation I devised replacement therapy and at twenty past each hour some soothing Enya comes on and I try to blow Doris out of my head. Unfortunately, Last comes first.

Over the years Globetrotter has featured many jet-lagged nights in Japanese hotels with nothing to do but read the guest manuals. 'It is forbidden to steal hotel towels please,' said one. 'If you are not a person to do such a thing please do not read this notice.'

Once I found an instruction not 'to hang from the windows' and I have even heard of a hotel which urges guests 'to take advantage of the chambermaid.' Last night in Tokyo I was in bed and felt the earth move, but it wasn't the chambermaid. It was an earthquake.

Tokyo is now far behind and Doris, Enya and I are enjoying the flight, and mulling over the long F1 season.

November 7 1993 will be remembered as the day we saw the end of the F1 electronic era. Too expensive, bad for the show. I couldn't help but notice, however, that the front-runners this year were not much different to the pre-gizmo age and that the last few races this year have proved that there is not much wrong with the F1 show.

So why is everyone going on about a crisis in F1? It is just a personal opinion, of course, but I reckon it is because the profit margins have been slashed. The cash-cow has been milked dry. The technology ban was not an economic move, but rather it was used to divide and conquer the teams so that 'the show' and hence the profits from TV and sponsorship could be improved.

On reflection I think F1 needs technology. I want to see bright F1 engineers developing systems which are relevant in this energy-conscious age. They should be working on zero emissions, regenerative braking systems (using brake heat to power auxiliaries) and so on. Gas-guzzling 3.5-liter engines are not very 'green'.

Even as Ayrton was doing his thing on the streets of Adelaide, up in Darwin the third World Solar Challenge was kicking silently off. Six years ago I was in Australia for the very first Solar Challenge and I am amazed both by the progress that has been made since and by the fact that even the best solar panels today - dreamed up, would you believe by Professor Martin Green - are only 21% efficient.

This year's Solar Challenge boasted factory teams from Honda, Nissan and Toyota and from engineering schools ranging from MIT in the US to Biel in Switzerland. There were also local amateurs, like the Mitcham Girls High School entry.

It never ceases to amaze me what Australian schoolgirls get up to. The other day I saw a band called Girlfriend on TV. They were singing in Japanese and could best be described as 'New Kylies on the Brock'.

Girlfriend symbolizes a new vogue in Australia. Everyone is looking to Asia to make a buck. On the Monday after the GP, when most F1 folk were nursing sore heads (or tired Australian schoolgirls), a Business Asia convention opened in Adelaide. There are, so they say, a billion new consumers in Asia and, while everyone knows about the economic miracle of Japan, there are China, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines all coming on song.

F1 racing is rushing to grab a slice of the action. We will soon be racing much more in Asia - which rather backs up my point about F1 chasing money. Why else would go to Qatar?

Personally, I think Vietnam is the place to go. In the week before Adelaide the World Bank agreed gigantic loans for Vietnam with an aim to double the national income by 2000. The development of tourism and overseas investment are the priority. F1 is the perfect marketing tool to promote tourism and Vietnam would be a good way for F1 to absorb the massive Japanese overload of interest in the sport. Land is cheap and there are even western hotels in Ho Chi Minh City left over from unhappier days when there were a lot more American 'visitors' than there are today.

But my advice to Bernie Ecclestone is to give the old Saigon a wide berth, because when he arrives by chopper - particularly if it is a Bell Huey Cobra - at the Mekong Speedway, there's bound to be some disaffected Charlie sitting in a paddy field with a rusty old missile.

There are some in F1 who think - but will never say - that Bernie deserves a rocket up the bottom line, that he is the biggest profit-taker in F1. He undoubtedly is, but I like to think that somewhere beneath the Ecclestone crust there beats the heart of a racer.

The way I see it, F1 needs to involve a lot less money, because its undeniable success has attracted some serious flakes and villains. When I started reporting F1 I read the sport pages. Now I read the business and take a quick look at crime to see if I know anyone.

Many years ago one of AUTOSPORT's great Grand Prix reporters Pete Lyons quit because he said he had seen the inside of F1 and he didn't like what he saw. I have often thought that one day I would go the same way, but now I feel different. The F1 press - we who live the race fans' dreams - have a responsibility to stand up and say what we think and not jump on the golden bandwagon or turn and run away. Perhaps it is pointless, but once in a blue moon, maybe something will come from a cry of protest before the whole sport is sold down the Mekong River.

A blue moon, incidentally, is when there are two full moons in the same month... There was one in Adelaide.

Print Feature