GLOBETROTTER

Bug TV, the Diniz Method and the mole at Benetton

Good morning readers. And if it isn't morning when you are reading this, just remember that somewhere in the world out there there are people getting up and going to work without even knowing that they doing it at the wrong time of day.

The Japanese Grand Prix is all about confused time zones and that most horrible of all F1 diseases - Jet-Lag. You cannot appreciate its joys until you have woken at 03:15 and sat in front of a television set in your hotel room (which is the size of a small wardrobe), watching Bug TV, a nightly program showing strange insects close up and in slow motion. The commentary is not very helpful.

After the excitement of such things you then fall asleep and fail to wake up when you should do and, inevitably, later the same day, when you need to be awake, you find yourself half asleep.

One day this year when I was in Tokyo I somehow contrived to wake up for my 11:00 meeting at 13:15. The problems of Jet-Lag are the reason that the Grand Prix drivers go to Japan a few days early, in order to acclimatize to the time differences and thus give their best when finally they climb into a Grand Prix car. As there is not a lot to do at Suzuka and there are large numbers of F1 sponsors based in Tokyo the teams take advantage of this to insist that drivers visit sponsors, to kiss babies, open garden fetes and all those things that drivers have to do these days. In between these functions they are shepherded about by team minders, which is a good idea as most of the drivers are incapable of doing anything without getting lost.

When they are not struggling with transportation problems the drivers whizz along to Akihabara - which is an entire district given over to electronics shops. In these vast emporia they buy the latest electronic toys to impress their colleagues and return with feature film-making kit which they can hold in the palm of their hand and mobile telephones which are so small that one could easily slip them into a sock.

They also like to get in a little bit of nightlife and tend to take advice from some of their number who served their time as racing exiles in Japan. They seem to know all the places to go and they somehow know where to find the many skinny western models who work in Japan. These girls are so thin that they cannot lift their own wallets and so desperate for western male company that they will sit and willingly listen to F1 racers talking about how good they are...

At the appointed time - Thursday morning before the Japanese GP - the drivers are taken to Tokyo Station from where they catch one of the famous Shinkansen Bullet Trains across Japan to Nagoya. The other passengers are somewhat confused to find themselves sitting with these racing demi-gods, which means that they tend to become bubble-eyed and make strange cooing noises.

In Nagoya there is an amusing interlude when everyone bound for Suzuka switches from the Shinkansen to the rather less glamorous Kintetsu Limited Express. The aim is to get to the seaside town of Shiroko, which is only a cab-ride away from the Suzuka Circuit Hotel.

If you travel down to Suzuka on the Thursday morning before the Grand Prix you are guaranteed to meet at least one racing driver with all his new toys, despite the fact that there are something like 10 Bullet Trains an hour.

Travelling in close proximity with racing drivers can be a very dangerous business. You have to be aware that these are not normal people. Perhaps it is the risks they have to take or just a generally rebellious nature, but one way of the other they tend to have less respect for convention and things which are acceptable in polite society.

This year we found ourselves in the company of none other than the World Champion Damon Hill and his Arrows team-mate Pedro Diniz. They had bought a tiny video recorder in Akihabara and were in the process of making a film about their travels in Japan. There would have been a certain amount of camera-shake but the film will certainly be interesting - even though I doubt it will ever be shown in public. The technologically-minded heroes did not flinch from trying out new filming techniques and Hill came up with a novel sweeping shot, running through the carriage just above the heads of the passengers until he arrived at a grinning Diniz. There will be lots of open Japanese mouths visible when the film is eventually shown. It must be hard to accept that the World Champion is there making a film...

If the passengers were bemused that was nothing to the reaction of the train driver when Pedro decided that the documentary should include a visit to the cab, filmed by Damon Hill. Pedro is one of those amiable nutters who can get away with murder and do not bother to do such things as knock. As the two drivers disappeared into the cab, the train slowed appreciably. Later Hill confessed that this was because the driver appears to have thought that the train was being hijacked by swarthy South American terrorists. Pedro is pretty dark-skinned - a touch too much sun probably - and on this trip Damon was cultivating a rather dark image with black clothes, dark glasses, lots of stubble and a big guitar case. He looked, if the truth be told, like Che Guevara without the beret.

The train driver survived the shock and after a while Pedro and Damon emerged waffling about how the train was run with a "two pedal systems". This was quite restrained, actually, because a couple of years ago when I travelled to Suzuka on the same train as Heinz-Harald Frentzen, I have this disconcerting memory of HH trying to take over the controls from an empty cab halfway through the train. It was the random pressing of buttons which really unnerved me.

When eventually we arrived at Shiroko Station, I got up to get off and by chance caught Diniz's eye and waved goodbye. I knew they were supposed to be getting off at the same stop and assumed that they would begin to collect up their bags, guitars, film cameras and travelling companions. They did nothing of the sort and I had to return to point out that if they wanted to go to Osaka it would be nice but the race track they were looking for was actually at this station.

It all became very complicated when we bumped into a ticket collector on the platform and he began to point out that feeding money randomly into machines and pushing buttons did not necessarily mean that we had the correct tickets.

"We need a ticket?" said Pedro with some surprise. "Mine's still on the train."

Being a raving lunatic he naturally jumped back on the train to look for the bit of cardboard while the rest of us waved out arms and stuck our feet in the door to stop the train departing with Pedro on board.

Having achieved this all Damon and Pedro had to do was cross a bridge, descend stairs, navigate past a few serious race fans and jump into a taxi and disappear towards the circuit.

"You have to see the Diniz patented method of taking suitcases downstairs," Damon chirped. "Come on Pedro, show them how its done."

I looked down the stairs in a panic. Where there any little old ladies trudging upwards, who would be bowled over when Diniz threw his suitcase. In fact, the Diniz Method is rather scientific. He had obviously spent a little time finding a suitcase with the correct coefficient of friction in relation to the propulsion. This meant that when he let go of the suitcase it descended slowly - almost regally - making a horrible noise as it ran across each new step. For the last flight of stairs Pedro decided that he should ride the suitcase down and so arrived at the bottom in a less than decorous fashion, causing great excitement among the female fans who were waiting to photograph the passing F1 heroes. It is not just the drivers. Even team bosses get the treatment - although not many of them are willing to travel on trains when a sponsor can pay for a helicopter...

The Japanese GP was the first race without Flavio Briatore. It would be unkind to point out that Flavio was not missed at all and his name was rarely mentioned in the paddock. Before we forget him forever I feel I must let him in on a little secret I have been keeping for the last eight years.

When he was first in charge at Benetton everything that happened at Benetton was immediately leaked to the worthy weekly racing magazine Autosport. It drove Flavio and his cohorts completely crazy and there was witch-hunt after witch-hunt as the team tried to find the mole. They never did.

And you know why?

Because Flavio himself was the mole - and he didn't even know it.

At the time I was working for Autosport and sharing my apartment in London with a young lady who had the good fortune to be the press officer of Benetton Formula. She was very discreet about what happened at the office - but we felt it best that we did not tell anyone of the arrangement in case someone felt there was a conflict of interest involved.

Flavio was obviously impressed by her efficiency because he was always on the phone. A couple of times I answered when he rang and politely informed him that she was not there, but could I take a message?

When neither of us was home - which was the norm - he would ring up and leave a message about what was going on at Benetton on the answerphone. I would return from Autosport, take out my notebook and press the replay button.

It would have been churlish not to have told the world...

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