GLOBETROTTER

Rebuilding Birmingham, Britain and Formula 1

I had a dirty weekend in Birmingham. The whole idea appealed to me purely because it was a ridiculous concept. I could explain that it was because my wife likes horses and the Spanish Riding School was at the National Exhibition Centre but that would really spoil the fun. The concept was everything.

I had tried to keep it secret from Mrs. S but I did have to confess that we were having an end-of-season weekend away somewhere. She naturally began to discuss likely destinations with her girlfriends and one of them asked me one evening where we were off to.

"The most unlikely place you can imagine," I smiled.

"Oh," she said without a blink. "That will be Birmingham."

Little did she know. We stayed in a beautiful hotel out in the country. In among the letterhead and room service menus on the desk I found a strange little card with the House of Commons crest on the top. "With the Compliments of Government Hospitality" it said. I was delighted, of course, and assumed that I would not have to pay the bill because the Government would look after it. It seemed only fair given the special links which exist between Grand Prix racing and the Labour Party...

I was, therefore, rather upset when it transpired that the card had not been intended for me and that I would have to pay.

Before this rude shock I discovered that Birmingham is not as nasty as people think. We all have this image of dark satanic mills and black chimneys. In fact I discovered that the center of Birmingham is really quite acceptable, having been reworked by architectural manicurists let loose with vast sums of local taxpayers' money. Birmingham's major problem is one of image.

After the last few weeks in politics anyone in F1 racing can understand that concept. Grand Prix racing has been portrayed as a world of villains, race-riggers and secret donors to political parties. F1 racing has an image problem.

But how does one solve it? We could, of course, recruit Tony Blair to rebuild the business in his "Nice Chap Next Door" image but this would take a lot of time and the work can be easily destroyed. No. That would not work.

And then it came to me in a flash of inspiration. Of course! F1 is now so big that the principal players are far too important to be messing about with a piffling little billion dollar sport. We should be running the government. All I need to do is write to Bernie Ecclestone and ask him to fund my own political party. According to the newspapers he is funding everyone else.

All the Grand Prix Party would have to do is promise to pay everyone in Britain ten pounds for their vote. The electorate is currently about 44 million people, which would mean Bernie would have to cough up 440m - a drop in the ocean in his vast wealth (according to the newspapers). Of course, Sir Bernard (as he would immediately become once the election was over) has never liked the high profile, so we would need someone else to run the party, someone with the necessary political skills to survive at Westminster. Max Mosley. Of course. He would be Prime Minister.

But who would fill the other great offices of the Grand Prix Party Government? Who would be Lord Chancellor? Lord Chancellor? What on earth does a Lord Chancellor do? The only conclusion I reached is that it is the perfect job for FIA Deputy President Cesar Torres. No-one knows what he does either...

There would be no argument over the Chancellor the Exchequer. It was made for Sir Bernard. Besides it would mean that he would be living in Number 11 Downing Street - next door to Prime Minister Mosley - which would greatly reduce their telephone bills and would mean they could have lunch together every day without people spotting them doing it. They could even sneak Jean Todt in through the back door and no-one would ever know.

I thought long and hard about a job for Todt but drew a blank. People say he is very good to work for but that is hardly a qualification for a Ministry. To give him a minor role would be an insult and it would be better to give him some quango like the Royal Mint. He could then print his own money as he currently does at Ferrari...

Ferrari would, of course, have to have some major representation. Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo has proved he is quite capable of running a car company or two so perhaps he would be well-suited to the Ministry of Transport.

More difficult would be the Home Secretary. Who is there in Formula 1 who could be trusted to run the police force? The only conclusion I could reach was that F1 race director Charlie Whiting could do the job.

The job of Foreign Minister would be much easier. I have often wondered what Foreign Ministers do except be charming, shake hands, chat about what might happen and leave everything up to civil servants to sort out. Max Mosley would be good at it but I think Peter Sauber would be better. He is charming, he likes a good lunch and a big cigar and - most importantly - he is foreign.

The thorny question of the European Union would require a new Ministry, but to find a head with sufficient political skill might be difficult. Ken Tyrrell has vast experience dealing with all different nationalities and would be the obvious choice except that he admits, quite openly, that he doesn't like the French. This is actually a good thing as the French will have nothing to do with the European Union unless there is a subsidy involved and they would require a minister of their own. Who better for Minister for French Affairs than charming Alain Prost with his good connections in high French places.

Frank Williams would be the obvious candidate for Education and Employment. He could teach everyone how to be successful on a regular basis - which few others in F1 could manage - and he certainly knows how to keep done his wage bills. There will be no star salaries in Grand Prix Party Britain...

There would be no need for a Minister for the Environment. Mosley would simply buy up several Third World countries and plant trees all over them so that Britain would become carbon neutral. Of course, the Ministry of the Environment also looks after housing but one would simply transfer this to Social Security, which would be run by Ron Dennis. He is used to dealing with big budgets and is always very careful to look after his own people. He also has lots of experience trying to set up new facilities and so could work wonders with housing projects.

Having separate ministries for Scotland and Wales seems irrelevant and competition for the Scottish Office would be unpleasant as Jackie Stewart and Tom Walkinshaw would be at one another's throats. The best thing would be for Tom to have Trade and Industry. He is, after all, a one man industrial revolution and would get the job done. I feel a new Ministry would best suit Stewart's talents. Charlie Whiting at the Home Office will not want to waste time dealing the Royal Family - as he is supposed to do - and it would be better that JYS head the Ministry of Royal Affairs - although, on second thoughts, the name might cause some embarrassment and need to be changed.

As for the Welsh and Scottish Offices the best policy would be to lump them together and call it the Ministry of Celtic Fringes and give it to the Benetton Family to control. They would take so long trying to understand what the Scots and Welsh were saying that it would keep everything nice and quiet for some years.

A similar policy would be used over that poison pill political job - Northern Ireland. No-one listens to what a Northern Ireland Secretary has to say so the job would be best suited to someone called Eddie. Either Irvine or Jordan would do.

There are no such problems with the Ministry of Health. Professor Sid Watkins is the only possible candidate for the job. He would abolish all taxation on tobacco and alcohol products and replace the lost income with vast duty on health food products. The Minister of Public Health would be Tessa Jowell. She is well-connected in motor racing and doing a good job already.

Agriculture, Food and Fisheries would have to go to Paddy McNally because every time when goes anywhere near the Paddock Club one is lost in a jungle of greenery and all one can see are chefs running about.

Defence I must admit did present a problem until I realized that the best form of defence is attack. It might be unusual and unpopular to put a German in charge of Britain's defence forces but I think Michael Schumacher has the necessary attacking nature. He can smile and kiss babies with the rest of them but is cynical enough to be a good politician.

The Heritage Department would not be easy but I think Nora Tyrrell would be good at the job. She visits art galleries while the rest of us hang about at race tracks.

And that leaves only the Ministry of Sport and that is easy because there is only one man left in F1 who understands the concept - Giancarlo Minardi.

Of course, none of this lot would have time to run the country unless Formula 1 was floated on the Stock Exchange and I am convinced that this is what the sport really needs. It would provide Grand Prix racing with the chance to portray a new image; an image of transparency. Perhaps that will convince the general public that the sport is not peopled by unscrupulous millionaires, fixing races and pouring money into political pockets and by racers who will do anything to win.

I had a dirty weekend in Birmingham. Formula 1 has been having dirty month in the British newspapers. Birmingham is trying to clean up its image. F1 would be wise to do the same...

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