GLOBETROTTER

On Greens, Reds and F1 Masochists

There is nothing wrong with some ecologists that a good crucifixion couldn't fix.

Woah! That'll get the greenies reading.

But, before you all start reaching for your recycled paper, let me say that I am all in favor of finding alternative fuels, saving the rain forests and protecting the ozone layer but I think a lot of ecologists go too far. The Italian Grand Prix is now under threat because a few of these beardy-weirdies are complaining about a few trees that need to be chopped down at Monza so that run-off areas can be enlarged, even though the authorities promised to plant twice as many new trees.

Hell, I remember as few years ago when a Monza 1000km sportscar race was stopped because a tree fell on the track in a storm. I didn't hear the ecologists threatening to sue Mother Nature.

What I would like to know is why these mean green people are not canvassing the local authorities to get spectators to ride to the Autodromo on bicycles. That would cut down on air pollution.

But, of course, the problem has been complicated by Italian automobile politicians who are trying to use the dispute for political ends. Frankly, I hope the protected trees fall on their heads.

It is important for Formula 1 that we go to Monza this year. Italy is one of the centers of world motor racing and Ferrari is its national team. Ferrari's return to competitiveness is something to celebrate.

Sure, it is good to see a new team like Benetton taking on the big names; it is good to see Williams fighting back after the death of Ayrton Senna; but best of all, it is good to see Ferrari returning to the top.

A lot of people forget that Ferrari is Formula 1's greatest asset. If you ask a man in darkest Africa what he knows about Formula 1 he will most likely say just one word: "Ferrari".

No other team in F1 excites the same kind of passion as does a Ferrari. It is a team for which every driver in the paddock would love to drive. It is F1's link with history.

In qualifying at Silverstone the new 043 gave everyone an idea of what to expect when it is ready to race. As far as I am concerned pole for the British GP should have been Gerhard Berger's. He was held up by Mika Hakkinen on his best lap and he then made a pig's ear of his final run by glancing a barrier when he left the pitlane.

Gerhard's engineers came to Berger afterwards, wanting to kill him.

"OK, OK, I f**ked up," he admitted sheepishly. A few minutes later I asked a Ferrari insider why Jean Alesi had spun off in qualifying.

"You mean that other w**ker?" he replied diplomatically.

Drivers were not the flavour of the month in the Ferrari motorhome on Saturday afternoon but, to give them credit, both Gerhard and Jean are both great characters and - in recent weeks - F1 has needed character. So many of the new generation of "professional" racers think that being professional means not answering any questions in case they upset somebody.

This tendency reached titanic proportions at Magny-Cours where several drivers refused to say which was their favorite circuit - in case they upset other tracks. God save us from professionalism. No-one said that great sportsmen must be great personalities but it helps if they have something behind their eyes and between their ears.

Thankfully, F1 does have one or two good old-fashioned racers. Damon Hill is really coming into his own these days. To such an extent that he recently admitted that his dream was to go to the moon. And why not!

Another man who is coming out of his shell is Ukyo Katayama who has the daft ambition of wanting to climb Mount Everest without oxygen and without sherpas.

Ukyo, incidentally, intends to do just that when his racing career is over. He is, he explained, incredibly competitive and aggressive. This used to get him into trouble when he was young but he found sport to be a good outlet for this energy. He was a fine athlete, running competitive marathons and four-minute miles. But his running stopped when he had a motorcycle accident. He is also a karate expert (I'll be nicer next time I criticize him) and, on top of all this, he came back to racing after breaking his neck and both legs in a Formule Renault crash at Clermont Ferrand.

This happened because Ukyo had chosen a very odd route for his racing career. Most ambitious youngsters head for England to learn how to race. Ukyo went to France. Why? He looked sheepish for a moment.

"I thought Paris was in Engrand," he said with a shrug. "But it didn't matter if I go to Engrand or Flance, I didn't speak either ranguage. I spoke only Japanese."

I came to the conclusion that Ukyo was a masochist - a view confirmed when he admitted that his favorite music is Japanese pop.

Masochism is quite popular in F1 and, to be honest, I'm a bit worried about Flavio Briatore. It isn't because he runs a team and says he isn't interested in motor racing - which seems the only possible motivation for going through all the grief necessary - but rather because he spends too much time in the sun. I think the Benetton boss is doing himself irreparable damage - and it is only going to get worse.

Why? Because Flavio is competitive and he has just signed up another competitive man to be the boss of Benetton II - Ligier. Cesare Fiorio, the man they call "Hollywood" because he always has great sunglasses and maintains an almost African dark tan.

My worry is that Briorio and Fiatore will end up competing to see which can keep up the best suntan. And that means that they will both end up taking too many ultra-violet rays and will end up spending their old age looking like leathery old prunes.

And that's not a nice thing to happen to anyone. I wonder if the ecologists could take time off from worrying about a few tress at Monza and do something about it?

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