Going to America...

For the last few years I have taken to ending my Formula 1 season by jumping on a jet on the Monday after Adelaide and flying east, across the Pacific Ocean, to the United States of America. There are several reasons for this. The first is that at the end of an F1 season I need a holiday and in America you can forget Grand Prix racing completely - because no-one knows anything about it and nor do they care. To the average American a Shoemaker (which is how it is pronounced over here) is a jockey and a Hill is something you drive up.

In the USA this is the football season - American football of course - and everyone is talking about people called Deion Sanders and Dan Marino, Troy Aikman and Emmett Smith. I guess F1 could learn something from American names: Martin Brundle and Damon Hill are not really very exciting when you hear of people like Dante Jones or Fireball Roberts. Maybe Martin should change his name to Wheelspin or Butch...

Anyway, the other reason I love going to California is because the flight is so long and you have plenty of time to think before you have to start thinking about what to write in the endless seasonal surveys which people want at this time of year.

Taking a historical perspective on a season when it is still fresh in the mind is no easy task. A little time and a little distance often help to put everything into the correct place. Like it or not, however, it is to the seasonal surveys that historians will go in the future when they want to remember what happened in 1995. This year's surveys will relate that this was the year of Michael Schumacher but, if you ask me, I think it will fade to become a sort of non-year which people will remember simply because it followed 1994 - the year when it all happened. It will be part of what will be remembered as the Michael Schumacher era. It will be a bit like the mid-1970s were with Niki Lauda. The big year was 1976. It was when Lauda had his fiery crash and James Hunt stole the title. The 1977 season is not much remembered these days. It was the same in the mid-1980s before Williams-Honda emerged ahead when Alain Prost seemed to win every race. And it was a similar story with Ayrton Senna after he had toppled Prost in 1990 and 1991. The wins merge into a cloud of Senna victories and one forgets the specifics.

There is a danger that in the future 1995 will be remembered as part of "the Renault V10 era". That is fine, because the French engine is the dominant force, but what historians may forget when they scan down the list of World Champions is that although Renault has been the dominant force since 1992, Schumacher's victory this year was not just because he had the best engine. He won races in a car which was patently inferior to the Williams.

Putting a driver into his historical perspective is very difficult. Where would Schumacher be now if Senna had lived? Try arguing that one in a bar some time. Schumacher has been lucky in that he came along when the stars of the late 1980s and early 1990s were fading out. Those really were great years for F1 because we had Senna, Prost, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet, four very different and interesting characters all peaking at the same time. It was a question of who was driving what and when. And then Piquet lost the urge; Mansell went grumpily off to Indycars; Prost called it quits and Senna died. The four spotlights looked around for somewhere to rest and they found themselves all concentrated on the one man - Michael Schumacher.

At the moment we are still living in the shadow of May 1 1994 and F1 will continue to do so until someone emerges to challenge Schumacher and put an end to his reign as King of Formula 1. Or at least until someone challenges him and beats him, to show that he is not invincible.

It is difficult to know who that challenger will be. Some feel that David Coulthard might be the man; others say Heinz-Harald Frentzen. But will they have the right equipment?

If Coulthard had his way this year he would have been driving a McLaren and where would he be now? At the end of 1994 DC wanted to join the McLaren-Mercedes combo - and it looked like a good choice - but the FIA Contract Recognition Board ruled that he had to drive for Frank Williams...

When you've spent a couple of days in California, you soon find out that you cannot avoid Country & Western music. And you quickly realize that the songs have answers for everything: how to behave if you lose your dog; if your wife runs off with a cowboy; if your truck breaks down.

I was thinking about Coulthard when the TV fired up with a song by a man in a cowboy hat called Garth Brooks - How about Garth Brundle as a name? Anyway. the song went like this:

"Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.

Remember, when you are talking to the Man Upstairs.

And just because He may not answer, doesn't mean He don't care.

Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers."

There you have it. If old G-O-D hadn't been looking after DC he wouldn't now be a race winner and the embarrassing mistakes he made at Williams this year would have just as embarrassing - but in a slower car.

Instead he had a first full season which ranks with that of Schumacher in 1992, with a single win and lots of promise and, if we are to believe Ron Dennis, McLaren will be a lot better in 1996.

You have to say that with the resources, the people and the tradition, the team HAS to be better. If it is as bad or worse, there will be blood on the floor in the pristine workshops at Woking.

It may be in 12 months from now that Ronzo will have revived the Woking Empire and will be shoving down the throats of his critics. It may be that Ferrari will actually manage to get the whole thing together (I doubt it). It may be that Benetton, Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger will work as a team and Benetton will go on winning. And you would be mad to discount Hill in a Williams-Renault - unless of course the dominant combination in F1 for the last four years suddenly forgets how to do the job properly.

You may even have see a surprise or two from one or two of the smaller operations - notably Sauber, Jordan and Tyrrell - which may not be far from being major contenders when the new chassis-engine combinations are all finished.

For F1, however, I think the most important thing is how Jacques Villeneuve does in the rough-and-tumble of F1. Personally, I hope the guy flies. The name Villeneuve is worth its weight in gold to race promoters. Damon Hill is the son of former double World Champion Graham Hill but Jacques Villeneuve is the son of a Ferrari legend, a man who embodied the thrill and romanticism of the sport. And let's face it, F1 is sold on dreams, legends and romantic ideas.

With success, Villeneuve's contribution to F1 could be greater than that of his father. He does not have the same style but if he starts to win races, he will help Grand Prix racing prise open the door to the North American market and make the World Championship, a real global series. How can you have a World Championship without a race in the United States? I guess it's like World Series baseball. You can be World Champions from San Francisco to Boston and from Houston to Minneapolis but - with the exception of a few nutty baseball freaks in Japan and the Caribbean - no-one in the world gives a damn who wins the World Series.

One of Bernie Ecclestone's greatest achievements for F1 is that he has globalized the sport; his greatest failure is that he has not succeeded in getting F1 established in the United States of America. Bernie loves to annoy Americans with outrageous comments about how parochial they are, but the truth is that he knows that he wants to be in the USA. He wants top American drivers and teams for the USA. He wants to be able to show Americans that F1 is not merely boasting that it has the best racers in the world.

Now F1 has the Indycar Champion with the right approach to make it in F1. He is in the right place and has the right attitude.

Bernie is no fool. He knows that now is the perfect time to be launching F1 into the American mainstream market. Indycar racing is busy trying to split itself apart as the CART team bosses and the Indy Racing League go head-to-head in a civil war. According to a recent survey - and contrary to popular belief - around 25% of the US population is interested in Indycar racing and there are 15 million people who consider themselves to be serious Indycar fans, either attending races or watching the races on television. That market is up for grabs.

Americans are really into "sharing" with one another.

"I'd really like to share this with you," they say.

Well, I reckon it's about time Bernie got down to sharing F1 with the folks in America. There's never been a better time to go charging in. He's certainly been trying hard in recent months, talking with both Las Vegas and Disneyworld in Florida. Both are sound commercial propositions which could be very profitable for the venues if the right deal can be struck. Bernie has always argued that American promoters are not willing to pay his price. You can understand it because they have a world of other choices available for less money.

The only conclusion, therefore, is for Bernie to drop his price and grab a big slice of the action while the Indycar boys have their hands full slaughtering one another.

While he's at it, I think he should convince the FIA World Council that there should be Superlicence legislation so that no-one can be an F1 driver unless they have a great nickname. F1 has a Contract Recognition Board made up of lawyers in Switzerland. It needs a Nickname Recognition Board so that F1 can wow the world with the exploits of "Mad Mike" Schumacher, "Demon" Hill, "Iceman" Coulthard and "Big Mac" Berger. F1 needs "Mean Gene" Alesi, "Unsteady Eddie" Irvine and Jacques "the Quebec Kid" Villeneuve.

Nicknames are important to turn the foreign-sounding F1 names into characters. NASCAR learned that years ago with Dale "Ironhead" Earnhardt, Richard "The King" Petty and Bill "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" Elliott.

Baseball players, football stars - remember "The Refrigerator" - and even the coaches have nicknames. So do country & western singers and even Mafia dons. Why is it that F1 team bosses cannot have names like "Joe Bananas" or "Frankie Nose"?

Just imagine, Bernie could be "The Big Man"; Flavio, "the Bronx Mugger" (but only if he wears his hat backwards on all occasions). Ron Dennis could be "The Teflon Don" and Eddie Jordan could rejoice in the name of "Irish Eddie". I guess Jackie Oliver - Jackie O - would have to start wearing 1960s sunglasses and beehive hairdos...

Now that is how to sell a sport!

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