GLOBETROTTER

He who pays the piper calls the tune...

The other day I was reading somewhere that Queen Victoria was terrified of bishops. This seems rather strange as most of the bishops I ever encountered were perfectly lovely people. Eccentric perhaps, but never very nasty.

It seems that Victoria's problem dated back to when she was a toddler when she was so frightened by the imposing white wigs which the bishops used to sport that she hated being in their presence for the rest of her life. By the time she was on the English throne it was no longer acceptable to burn them and so she just had to quake quietly whenever the men in purple came to call.

I have to confess that in the last few months I have started to develop a fear of members of the FIA World Council. I suppose one would call it "blazerophobia". There is no logic in this feeling because most of the members I have encountered over the years seem rather like bishops, rather mild-mannered and the sort of people one might meet at a golf club or a Rotary Club function. What scares me about the men in blazers is that they represent the only check that exists on the power of the FIA President and his chums.

This is not to suggest that the President Mosley is a megalomaniac - although I have heard it said in the press room on occasion - but rather because he might become one.

Mosley has very cleverly worked the sport into a situation where it is firmly under his control and that of his paymaster Bernie Ecclestone.

There is an old English proverb which ruminates that "he who pays the piper calls the tune". The FIA gets a nice slice of the F1 money pie and so everyone is happy. In the course of life one learns that more often than not it is money that talks louder than logic, principle or philosophy. The ultimate power always lies with the person who has the biggest cheque book and so people in F1 often think that it is Bernie who runs the sport. There is an element of truth in that but without Mosley's charm and political guile Bernie would not be in the situation he currently enjoys.

I prefer to think of them as a double-act: like Laurel and Hardy, Wallace and Gromit, Tom and Jerry.

Up against Bernie and Max the World Council has proved itself to be a toothless body which merely rubber stamps what they are told to rubber stamp. They are being used and they know it but it a comfortable arrangement and easier than trying to challenge the system. Having said that, having someone in control of a business like motor racing is not always a bad thing. I do not see anything wrong with a strong FIA President. There are so many egos running rampant in the sport that it takes a dictator to get anything done. A benevolent dictatorship is generally a good thing but there comes a point in any such career at which powerful people lose sight of the right objectives. When that happens it is only a matter of time before somebody sharpens up a knife and sticks it into the King's back. Mosley did it to his predecessor Jean-Marie Balestre and, if he is not careful, someone is going to do it to him.

It would probably be better if the World Council was a little more feisty and made the occasional stand rather than some of the daft decisions that are made.

A good case in point is the recent announcement that teams are no longer going to be allowed to use team orders. These have existed since the start of the sport and were originally based on the very simple principle that he who pays the piper calls the tune. The men who owned the cars were rich. Sometimes they loaned out cars to others but they did not want to be beaten and so the men in the other cars accepted that they would give way if the boss wanted to come through. There is nothing wrong with that principle. It is merely accepting reality. Later on team bosses - the men who pay the pipers - took over and called the shots. They are many sound reasons why they should be allowed to do it. Sometimes they need to promise such things to a driver in order to secure his services, sometimes a big sponsor wants a certain driver to win, sometimes it is a way of paying back a driver's loyalty - a good principle for nurturing team spirit.

As long as the drivers are paid they can be swayed to do what they are told to do. The only exceptions are the men who pay to drive and in my experience the very rich tend not to be the very fast. They have too much lose to take the risks necessary.

The decision by the FIA World Council to try to stamp out team orders is a ridiculous decision and a wrong one. Racing to a team tactic - as Ferrari did brilliantly last year in Suzuka for example - is a way in which the sport can be made more interesting. On that occasion, if you need reminding, Michael Schumacher needed to win the race. Jacques Villeneuve needed to keep Michael behind him and so Ferrari used Eddie Irvine to hurtle to the front - Schumacher helping the Ulsterman make one particular manoeuvre by backing off at the right moment. Now Eddie could have stayed out in the lead if Michael had failed to get past Villeneuve during the pit stops but Schumacher did what was necessary and emerged ahead. Irvine let him pass and then blocked Villeneuve for the rest of the afternoon. The result was a very interesting race but was full of "acts prejudicial to the interests of any competition".

As usual, however, the FIA has covered itself because the announcement is phrased in such a way as to make the application of the idea totally arbitrary and what it really means is that if the FIA needs to juggle the situation in the World Championship to guarantee an exciting showdown, it has a means of influencing events if it chooses to do so.

It will not, of course, stamp out team orders. All that will now happen is that the execution of those orders will have to done in a less obvious fashion. In future a driver who has been ordered to let his team mate through will not be able to say "I let him through" but will now be forced to say: "I made a mistake and he got past me".

Out of the cars drivers are ultimately puppets in the hands of the team bosses. They are told what to say and if they want to keep their jobs that is what they say. In recent years Williams has adopted the policy that the fastest driver becomes the team leader and that team orders are only operated if it becomes necessary to win championships. Otherwise it is left the drivers to be responsible and not crash into one another.

So what has been achieved by the anti-team orders statement by the FIA? A paint job. The governing body has made out that it would like to see fair competition. Rah-rah-rah, bring on the cheer leaders.

How one can take such a decision seriously when it comes from the same body that last autumn decided that Michael Schumacher should not be punished for obviously trying to drive Jacques Villeneuve off the road in the European Grand Prix at Jerez is beyond my comprehension.

They must think that motor racing spectators are morons.

Frankly, it would be more honest if they adopted the American method of controlling the competition by putting out a pace car whenever a driver gets too far ahead.

While there is nothing wrong with logic being based loosely on the pursuit of money it seems to me that the FIA World Council is now too docile. The Formula 1 calendar is daft but every year the World Council rubber-stamps the dates it is given. No-one ever gets up and says: "Um, isn't it silly to have a race in Australia all by itself. Why don't you put Melbourne together with Japan at the end of the year like it used to be."

The answer, of course, is that Melbourne paid so much money to Bernie Ecclestone to be the season-opener that F1 could not say no... and, as we have already determined, he who pays the piper calls the tune.

It would be so much better for the sport to have a series of "tours" during the year in Asia, Latin America, North America and so on. These make economic sense for the teams, single races do not. The fact that the whole F1 circus has just been around the world in eight days going to Melbourne just does not make sense - unless you are looking at the account books.

Things do need to be changed but I guess that when you are playing power games as Bernie and Max now are it is inevitable that such mundane matters are easily forgotten.

We can all say "If I was in control it would be different", but we cannot judge whether we would begin to think in a warped fashion as well. It may be that the problem will never be solved because the worthy and the logical do not inherit the earth. They sometimes get to borrow it for a while, but it is never very long before a "revolution" turns full circle. It is a savage irony that every system which is overthrown is soon replaced by one that is as bad or worse as the original.

And if you want proof for the theory think only of the French Revolution in which an absolute monarch Louis XVI was replaced by an absolute dictator Napoleon Bonaparte. In England Charles I was booted out in favor of Cromwell and in Russia Nicholas II gave way to Lenin.

The only answer I can think of is very simple. FIA Presidents and their deputies should be limited to two terms in office. This would ensure new blood and new ideas and might give the pipers the chance to play what they want to play...

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