GLOBETROTTER

Bimbos, blondes and bluster from bosses

A few years ago you may recall the President of the FIA was a controversial Frenchman called Jean-Marie Balestre. He had a colorful history and unusual ways of making himself understood. When talking to anyone in F1 he would rant and rave and lay down the law and yet, at the same time, he would do completely mad things which would undermine any credibility he had. These exploits included running across the race track at Silverstone after starting the race and narrowly avoiding being run down by a car which had started a long way behind the others.

At Magny-Cours - when F1 passes had become gold dust - Balestre made no friends by parading up and down, accompanied by a bimbo on roller-skates with an FIA pass. This so upset people that the Brabham fan club magazine - the much-lamented Cobra - actually issued a special Roller-skating Bimbo pass for the next Grand Prix which allowed access "to anywhere at any time".

Access to the F1 paddock is something which is always being talked about at this time of year in the run up to the British Grand Prix. The F1 world is dominated by the British teams and the pressure for passes at Silverstone is absurd. The people on the gates who used to fall for the sob stories about delivering pizza to Flavio Briatore or being Bernie Ecclestone's long lost cousin no longer work because of the swipe card machines. If you haven't got a pass, you do not get in.

In France, however, I did notice one group who had beaten the system. All they used was police uniforms and guns. It obviously worked because none of them had any passes and I did not see the paddock security men showing them to the door. One would never go as far as to suggest that dressing up as a policeman is the best way to get autographs but it does seem to work. I just hope that this revelation will not mean that when we get to Silverstone there will not be more policemen than there are beautiful people...

Actually these days it is arguable whether there are any beautiful people left in the paddock. I do not know many beautiful journalists and the team bosses all seem to be rather gnarled and limping. Benetton occasionally brings in some fashion models but most of these look pale and ill - which is apparently all the rage on the catwalks.

Fashion, however, is an issue this week in Formula 1 thanks to the arrival in the Magny-Cours paddock on the Thursday before the race of a bleached blond bloke who look like Jacques Villeneuve.

When it turned out that this was actually Jacques Villeneuve himself there was furore in the paddock. Some thought it scandalous that a top driver should behave in such a silly fashion (really there were people like that); others said it was a fine thing that we should have a top driver who was willing to make a fashion statement and that really he should have had a stud put through his tongue as well. Drivers have dyed their hair before (don't worry boys, we are not going to mention any names) but usually this was only to hide the grey bits; there were some folk who smiled smug smiles and muttered that Jacques was still young, forgetting that at 26 most people have grown out of such eccentric phases; the more deviously-minded concluded that there must be a deep psychological significance in the fact that Jacques has gone blonde after his accident in Montreal. Unhappy girls often feel the need to have their hair newly-styled when things are not going well in life. Perhaps Jacques hairdo was an outward sign of a internal crisis.

I could not care less but there are a couple of things which Jacques might like to take into account. I once knew a girl - a natural blonde - who developed the habit of dyeing her hair a darker shade because she wanted people to take her seriously. Blondes, she argued, are never given the chance to prove they are intelligent. They are simply playthings - Barbie Dolls. The color of your hair, she said, is directly proportional to your perceived level of intelligence. The only pay-off is that blondes are supposed to have more fun.

Well, I hope it works for Jacques Villeneuve because he has not been having much recently. He started the season as the strong favorite to dominate the World Championship and yet here we are, coming up to mid-season, and Michael Schumacher is ahead in the Drivers' World Championship with Ferrari leading the Constructors'. Jacques is under pressure. People are beginning to ask whether he really is as good as they thought he was. With blond hair he may be taken less seriously.

The fact that people were talking about Jacques's hairdo is in itself an indication of what F1 is becoming. It must be only a matter of time before we start getting F1 fashion specialists. For the boring old motor racing fans such things are ridiculous, particularly at a time when there are plenty of interesting things going on in the Formula 1 world - both on and off the tracks.

F1 racing is producing a pretty good show this year although the Williams team and its drivers have been squandering points at an alarming rate to allow Schumacher - who is driving at a level way beyond any of the others at the moment - the chance to get ahead. My gut feeling is that things will settle down and that Jacques and Heinz-Harald will get their act together a bit more but it will still be a good fight as Michael's early season advantage must now be clawed back.

Compared to Indy car racing I think F1 is standing up very well. A few weeks ago I finally got round to buying a satellite TV and so, between Grands Prix, I was able to watch the Indycar races in Detroit and in Portland. I had heard reports about how much better CART racing was supposed to be but I was hugely disappointed. Yes, there were the occasional passing manoeuvres but only after the pace car had been despatched every few minutes to bunch up the cars to make sure that no-one fell too far behind. It was a circus not a motor race and I concluded that left to run without interruption an Indycar race would not be very different from the average Grand Prix. I am sure that on the ovals it is a lot more exciting but on road courses there was nothing to write home about except two exciting last segments in the last laps of each of the races.

The politics of Formula 1 is also a fascinating business at the moment - not that this should matter to race fans - as Bernie Ecclestone tries to get things sorted out so that he can float his company called Formula 1 Holdings. The only thing that is really important to the fans is whether or not the flotation is a good idea. Having trawled the paddock I can report that while some people are sceptical that the float will be a success, they are all in agreement that it is exactly what F1 needs to do. The sport has passed through the buccaneering capitalist phase - engineered so brilliantly by Ecclestone - and now needs to enter a more structured corporate era, to secure the future without Ecclestone and to grow in new areas.

There are, however, team bosses who feel that Bernie is not giving them enough. They may be right but there is not much they can do about it, except trying to disrupt the planned flotation - which is, of course, self-defeating because they dare not push too hard for fear that the whole thing will collapse.

The aim therefore appears to have been to create an atmosphere of uncertainty and confusion so that the financial people get scared.

There are at least two team bosses who are telling those in the F1 media who are willing to listen that there is a big story out there somewhere and that the pressmen are simply not clever enough to work it out and, even if they could figure out whatever it is, they do not have the guts the write about it.

This is garbage. Whenever a journalists asks these people to explain what this amazing scandal may be the team bosses refuse to say, leaving the pressmen to wonder what on earth they are trying to achieve. One can only imagine that if the story exists at all it would be so damaging to the sport that it would mean that the team bosses would be blamed for causing the damage. If a journalist were to dig it up he could always take the blame instead - which is fine if you are a team boss and not much fun if you are the journalist.

I tend to follow the argument that if they think there is a scandal out there which the world should know about, then they should put up or they should shut up whingeing. Rather than muddying the waters and getting someone to do their dirty work for them, they should come out and say whatever it is they think is important.

Sadly none of them seem to have the guts to do it...

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