The day the shelf fell down

These recent weeks have been wonderful for those in F1 who do not have to go off testing all the time - and actually very few do. After a non-stop stream of races every 10 days (or less) since the end of June, F1 folk have actually been able to go home for a few days to see how much the kids have grown up and, perhaps, to tackle the piles of paperwork on our desks.

It never ceases to amaze me what one can find on one's desk. At the moment I can see a milk jug with a dead rose poking out of the top. There's a Black and Decker drill (still connected to the mains). An ever so useful map of the long defunct Chimay racing circuit in Belgium. There's an entry ticket to Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria. A very rare $2 dollar bill. A variety of silly business cards - notably the Desert Storm Car Service of Brooklyn, New York and the Stinking Rose garlic restaurant of San Francisco. There are, as always, hundreds of Renault press releases. There are on this occasion a few race programs - what a shame they are all the same these days - and there are a load of media information packs from teams and from races.

In one I found a very silly article about what three items a selection of F1 folk would take with them to a desert island. It was very revealing. The first thing it showed is that F1 people either cannot count or are greedy. Michael Schumacher, for example, wanted to take his wife, his dogs (plural) and a letterbox (Presumably to give the dogs something on which to pee). Martin Brundle wanted his wife, his children (two at the last count), a three iron and some golf balls, a computer with flight simulator and a selection of magazines - each with weekly subscriptions. Three items?

Martin's future employer Eddie Jordan went even further: he wanted his family (a veritable busload of children), his music (a lorryload) and some grog (knowing Jordan, a tanker load).

Jackie Oliver was positively restrained in comparison: his three items were a mobile phone, a fax machine, a pen and paper. Eh?

Mobile phones were much in demand: Flavio Briatore wanting only this and a bottle of suntan lotion (Need we say more). Tom Walkinshaw wanted a phone, one FOCA pass (because he says he is bound to need it) and a plane. Tom always has big ideas. His idea of a desert island is clearly a big larger than most folk.

Ferrari boss Jean Todt wanted nothing but a phone - so he could call for help, while Mika Salo had little faith in technology, asking for a mobile phone and two spare batteries.

If it wasn't the phones it was other gadgets: Giancarlo Minardi wanted a helicopter, although it has to be said that he did specify that this was to take him hone when he was tired of his other two demands: the actress Carrie Otis and food.

The two Sauber drivers proved themselves to be men of simple tastes: Heinz-Harald Frentzen asking for his girlfriend Tanja (a large number of people in the F1 paddock would agree with that choice), a comfortable bed and food. Jean-Christophe Boullion asked for his new wife Alexandra, fishing tackle and a boat to go home in.

Ken Tyrrell's choice was my favorite. He asked nothing more than Winston Churchill's "History of the English Speaking People", a tape of Chris Barber jazz and a photo of his wife Nora.

I don't have the "History of the English Speaking People" on my desk at the moment, but there are books everywhere - because the bookshelf fell down the other day - hence the Black & Decker drill. I was showered with CART media guides from the late 1980s; books of Japanese custom and etiquette and odd dictionaries for which I have a strange passion.

As I picked them up and put them in piles I stumbled upon "Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure and Preposterous words". And it reminded me of Eddie Irvine. Why? Because Eddie decided the other day to use his first exposure to the glare of Ferrari-style publicity to tell the F1 press corps that he had never met a journalist who knew anything about motor racing.

But why bother with all these unusual, obscure and preposterous words? What is the point? Why bite the hand that feeds you? Why crawl over broken glass if you can travel by helicopter? F1 is a difficult enough business without making things hard for yourself. To insult the men who judge you - whether you respect their opinions or not - is just not intelligent. You would have thought that last year's three-race ban from the FIA would have taught Eddie that one should be polite to people, even if you think they are a load of wombats.

Mrs. Byrne's dictionary reminded me of another brilliant driver from across the Irish Sea, a bloke by the name of Tommy Byrne. Tommy was a great talent. He won the British Formula 3 Championship of 1982 at a canter, beating the likes of Roberto Moreno and Martin Brundle and had a McLaren F1 test before making his F1 debut for Theodore at the Austrian GP. Tommy was very quick but he respected no-one and was cocky as hell. When Austrian TV asked him how he felt to be making his F1 debut in a field which included the great Niki Lauda, he replied: "Niki who?"

The F1 establishment took one look at him and turned up its nose. Talent was all very well, but who needs a smart-arse? And so Byrne went to Europe and then to America and more recently to Mexico. He lives comfortably in Florida with his family and he says he's happy. But at night, when the demons come, I think he might sometimes wonder what might have been if he'd kept his mouth shut and talked with his driving instead.

For all this, Irvine's comments mean very little. The serious pressmen will not judge him on what he says but rather on what he does in his Ferrari. The brilliant are rarely well-rounded individuals and so if Eddie is brilliant he will ultimately confound the critics. Image is not important if you are winning - and Michael Schumacher is showing that.

"Well," a leading F1 character said to me after the European GP. "You have to say that the little shit was brilliant this afternoon. Don't you?"

You do. You have to say that Michael Schumacher has been mighty this year and apart from one silly anonymous letter to the FIA, there has been not one hint of any unfair advantage over the opposition. There have been a number of extremely suspect manoeuvres whenever Damon Hill is around. Every time Hill has to pass Schumacher you get the feeling it will end in tears because Schumacher has nothing to lose if they both crash and he seems to be willing to take Damon off if necessary. In my opinion Michael's driving at Spa deserved the punishment it got and I think he got away lightly with the shunt at Silverstone, not to mention one very nasty chop on Hill at the Nurburgring.

Either he doesn't understand that there must be limits - in which case he is going to die young one day - or he knows what is right and what is wrong and has chosen to intimidate Hill and try to scare him off.

I think that Damon has behaved impeccably all year in the face of this behavior, but he has also made a lot of mistakes which he cannot afford: to consider just the recent events one has to say that he blew the Estoril start and then left the door open for Schumacher to dive through when he needed to keep the German behind him. At the Nurburgring he blew the start again (in his defence he was on the dirty side of the track). He get his cool when Schumacher was doing everything to unsettle him and then pulled off a lovely pass which the German could do nothing to stop. A couple of corners later Damon nearly went off and let Michael back ahead. You cannot win championships making mistakes like that.

Consider Eddie Irvine alongside Michael Schumacher. This year Eddie has made quite a few mistakes in races. He has outqualified Rubens Barrichello 9:5 but when you compare fastest race laps Barrichello beats Eddie 9:5 and has collected 11 points to Irvine's seven.

I am sure that no-one will need reminding that Michael Schumacher is at his most dangerous in racing, but is a mean qualifier as well. Beating him will not be easy. If I were Eddie I would be frantically learning Italian - as I am quite sure Schumacher already is - because the more you can communicate in the team the more they will love you. The press does not matter - but speaking Italian would help nonetheless. When he was at Ferrari Nigel Mansell tried to give the impression that he spoke Italian, but I never heard him say more than "Ciao!" and "sono multo contento".

In my experience the more languages you speak the better off you are and I guess that is why when the shelf fell down I found "The Esperanto Teacher" and "The Book of Pidgin English" in my lap.

I blush to admit that I also picked "The Dictionary of the Tebele and Shuna Languages" off the floor.

That may not sound very useful, but as I was leafing through it I found some words of advice in Tebele which Eddie might care to think about when he considers his future with Schumacher.

"Ugu-fa! Lowo umuntu u dhlule bonke abanye nejubane lake."

Danger! That person surpasses all the rest in his swiftness...

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