GLOBETROTTER

Chimpanzees, pasta and death by chocolate

There is a mathematical theory which states that if you put an immortal chimpanzee in front of a reliable typewriter, eventually Man's first cousin will randomly type the complete works of William Shakespeare.

On the way he may come up with a few Formula 1 exclusives for the Daily Mirror - but more likely will provide several hundred Hungarian menus before he gets down to the really hard literary stuff.

Hungarian menus are pretty difficult to understand. I was always taught that words needed at least one vowel and so I find the Hungarian language a little more difficult to swallow than the Hungarian food, which is really very nice when you can work out how to order it. It is not just a question of making sense of the vowel-less words, you must then also make yourself heard over the inevitable gipsy bands.

These are more than a tradition in Hungary. They are an industry, employing almost as many people as the McLaren marketing department. The lead fiddler in such an organization (the gipsy band not the McLaren marketing department) always has a moustache like Groucho Marx and eyes like Harpo, begging the listener to dip his hand into his pocket, and save a hundred poor orphan fiddle players who have grown up unhappy and poor. It is a sort of a protection racket. If you pay them enough money they will go away and stop annoying you.

There is no point in trying to catch them out because these are professionals. The other year Ukyo Katayama was out to dinner with one of my colleagues and when the band leader asked if there was any request he would like to make, he decided he would get rid of them by asking for a popular Japanese song. Twenty minutes later - and $30 lighter - Ukyo was forced to admit that there is probably no song in the entire world which they do not know.

Still, eating goose liver and listening "Roll out the barrel" played by a gipsy band is better than listening to a gipsy band and eating goulash - the only dish available in the good old days of Communism - although I am sure that most doctors would argue that goose liver is really not good for you.

Mind you, can you trust doctors? On the plane on the way to Budapest I was reading a fascinating article about chocolate and the fact that some medical folk are now claiming that chocolate can help to prevent heart attacks as it contains tiny amounts of phenol, which stop the arteries clogging up. I find this hard to believe as eating massive amounts of chocolate seems to produce a larger kind of person and these folk seem more prone to heart attacks and such. When you see the folk vying for the record to be the oldest people alive - following the death recently of the French lady who was born when Napoleon was still strutting about - they all seem remarkably thin.

The article also revealed that the British people eat more chocolate per head than any other nation in Europe, munching their way through an average of 140 bars of chocolate each year. This astounding statistic is apparently due to the fact that there is in chocolate some strange chemical with a very long name which causes the body to release exciting enzymes which speed up the heart rate and increase the blood pressure. This gives the chocoholic a burst of aphrodisiac sensation which later gives way to a sensation of well-being and a pleasant drowsiness. The article went on to say that in a recent survey three out of four American women said they actually prefer chocolate to sex. Personally, I do not see what is wrong with both at the same time...

I don't think that Hungarian girls have the same love of chocolate. It seemed to me that they like lots of goose-liver and a sizeable percentage give the impression of being rather keen on horizontal jogging.

In the old days of motor racing this would have made Hungary a very popular place indeed with the drivers - but in these days when F1 stars are clean-cut boys, most of whom are too busy and too concentrated for nocturnal adventures on a race weekend.

It is sad to have to report that they are probably right because lap times do not generally improve if the driver is knackered from bonking all night before the race.

Maintaining peak fitness has become a very scientific business. Once upon a time team bosses were far too busy trying to find a way of saving weight on the cars or of squeezing more horsepower from their engines that they did not see the need to improve the performance of the driver. But as the margins tightened the team bosses began to look for every possible way to improve the package - and "human engineering" became an issue. They discovered that a little money spent on medical research could bring a bigger improvement in lap times than any amount of expensive research into exotic materials or electronics.

Suddenly "personal trainers" appeared in the F1 paddock, slapping the wrists of drivers who had the urge to snack on sweeties or gloriously unhealthy bacon sandwiches. These earnest gurus were employed to devise training programs, regulate diets and help to prepare drivers, both mentally and physically, so they would perform to the absolute maximum.

All this means that nowadays the average racer gets to eat muesli, honey, yoghurt, pasta and fruit. They have to drink unpleasant mixtures of high-energy drinks packed full of complex carbohydrate polymers and other such gunk.

Drivers would probably prefer to eat chocolate. It produces high blood sugar levels which gives them energy. The only drawback is that the human body has such a good defence system that within a few minutes it begins to produce insulin which has the effect of calming the body down and eventually sends you off to sleep, which is not what the average racing driver wants to happen as he sits on the grid waiting for the starting lights to go out.

The funny drinks do not do this. They are absorbed by the body at the same rate as water and as they contain lots of calories they create instant energy without the drawbacks of other sugary substances. This also helps the process of carbohydrate-loading. This is a well-proven system for creating a reserve of energy by pre-stocking the muscles with something called glycogen, which changes into blood sugar when it is needed.

I always have this rather alarming mental picture of athletes lying on the floor while a big fat Italian chef shovels pasta into their mouths. In fact it means that for three days before the event drivers have to eat as much pasta, rice and potatoes as possible and if all goes to plan they will be able to increase their endurance by around 35%. It works with marathon runner and as a survey a few years ago by researchers at University College of the University of London discovered that racing stars were as fit, if not fitter, than long distance marathon runners it makes sense for them to follow the theory.

They might not enjoy it as much as they would if they were eating goose liver and chocolate (not at the same time), but they are more competitive animals as a result.

Still you have to feel sorry for the poor chaps. They don't get chocolate and they don't get sex. All they get is lots of adrenaline, lots of wild-haired engineering boffins whispering in their ears, lots of sponsors and their wives and lots of money.

You can argue that it is a dangerous business - which of course it is - but there are times when one has to say that F1 really has become remarkably safe.

In the same newspaper which told me of the excitements of chocolate, I also found a report about four firefighters from Reggio Emilia falling off a mountain in the Dolomites. The same day another three climbers had taken a dive on the other side of the peak and an eighth person was missing. Eight dead in a day is not really big news in the Alps as the total of fallen climbers in the last month stands at 40.

It struck me as absurd that Formula 1 is forced to be so paranoid and politically-correct about death while The Grim Reaper is allowed to run riot in the Alps.

When I mentioned this to an Austrian in the paddock in Budapest, he shrugged and said that 40 was not so bad but if you added in all the skiers who go straight into trees, pedestrians or snowplows the death toll in the mountains goes into hundreds every season. And no-one seems to mind.

In a way this a problem for Grand Prix racing because for whatever reason it is seen as being dangerous and there is a massive outcry when something unpleasant occurs. Olivier Panis's accident in Montreal immediately kick-started the "Oh my God it's a dangerous sport and should be banned" industry.

It is absurd to hear such things. There is nothing wrong with motor racing being dangerous. If it was not dangerous no-one would watch it because it would not have the same thrill.

I dare say that if you put an immortal chimpanzee in front of a reliable calculator, it would eventually work out that more people are killed every year by chocolate than by motor racing.

But what a way to go...

Print Feature