GLOBETROTTER

Contacting the President and hanging team bosses

On the first day of the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola there was much talk about the problems of travelling around in Europe these days.

"Do you remember the good old days during the Gulf War," mumbled one of my colleagues. "It was wonderful. No-one was travelling. The planes were empty. The airlines were desperate and tickets were cheap. It was really brilliant then."

It is not the case now. It seems now that more and more people are travelling. There are too few slots at airports. Air traffic control cannot cope. One delayed plane leads to another and another and every single plane in Europe seems to operate at least one hour behind schedule.

"What we need," said a frustrated soul when we arrived in Milan on Thursday - Bologna was completely booked out - "is that nice Mr. Clinton in Washington to stop getting into trouble with all those ladies and to go back to bashing Saddam Hussein. A few tanks in the desert and everyone would decide to stay home again. Life would be a lot easier."

Yes, that is all very well, but you cannot just walk into the White House and ask the President to start a war. How does one get through to Clinton?

"Dress up in a frock?" muttered an evil soul.

Such manoeuvres are probably not necessary, however, because everyone seems to have a Website these day. They say that Queen Elizabeth II surfs the net from Buckingham Palace (which conjures up some interesting images) and I expect that if you know where to find him you can find Old Bill Clinton. He's probably on www.President.com or some such cyber address.

It is really amazing what you can do with the Internet. If you feel the need to chat to a Palestinian extremist all you have to do is tap www.hizbollah.org and you can. A friend tells me that there are all kinds of rather fruity web-sites which advertise such delightful things as "hot naked celebrities" and "nude college girls". I must have a look some time...

If you are interested in motor racing there are so I am told around 1000 different web-sites about the sport. I've even got one somewhere although I haven't quite managed to upload anything interesting into it as yet...

Trawling through the F1 sites is about as exciting as watching porridge set. A large number of them are "chats sites" on which people with no idea about motor racing give their opinions. There are official team sites full of official team information which makes setting porridge look like really racy stuff. If you want to die of boredom you can always try www.FIA.com and learn all about the governing body of the sport. If you want a good laugh you can try www.Stout.Demon.Co.UK and you can read about the sport in "astonishing Bernierama".

Now you would think that the cutting-edge marketing departments of F1 would have brilliant web-sites with flashing knobs and buttons and dancing girls but in fact it seems to me that all the really bright electronics people are employed by the teams to design systems to confuse the FIA, rather than natty web sites to sell the sport to the computer nerds of the world.

While I am sure that the FIA detective boffins have a good understanding of what the byte-bandits are doing, I get the very distinct feeling that the FIA bosses do not really understand all these electronic things and are rather scared by them. The result is that whenever any team does something clever they ban it, just in case they let something slip through the net which turns out to open the floodgates for all the other banned systems.

And it is not just the FIA. While McLaren is very keen to embrace new technologies some of its rivals are rather less enthusiastic, complaining that new ideas cost far too much money. Given that there are a handful of F1 team bosses on the Sunday Times richest people in Britain list and that they think nothing of daft ideas like flying fire extinguishers around Europe in private jets, this argument is less than convincing.

Back in the old days when England ruled the waves there was a group of textile workers in the Nottingham area who took to smashing up new machinery because they felt - quite rightly - that machines were doing them out of their jobs. They were led by a rather mystical Robin Hood kind of figure called Ned Ludd - known to his friends as "King" - and soon the machine-breakers became known as Luddites.

They did not last long. Some were sent to Australia and some were hanged but for some reason the name remained in the English language. Anyone who is violently opposed to technical change is a Luddite and you have to say that in the F1 paddock these days there are a lot of Luddites about. For a sport which is supposed to be at the pinnacle of technology, F1 is beginning to look very dated, when you consider what the aerospace, defence and automotive industries are coming to grips with these days.

The team with the loudest Luddite views has always been Ferrari. Back in the mid-1980s when the FIA was considering a new formula for 3.5-liter V8 engines only, Ferrari - which had always build V12s - went so far as to build an Indycar in an effort to convince the governing body that it would leave F1 if the V12s were banned. The FIA backed down. Ferrari went on building V12 engines and everyone else concluded that V10s were the thing to have and beat Ferrari a lot. Eventually Ferrari gave up V12s and built a V10.

Ferrari was behind all the political in-fighting in Brazil recently because it felt various McLaren systems were illegal and should be banned. McLaren was way ahead and Ferrari - which, according to Maranello corporate waffle, is supposed to win the World Championship this year - was off the pace... even with Michael Schumacher driving.

The FIA - which understands that when Ferraris win the sport grows - decided that the Italians were right and all McLaren's brilliant systems were banned. I am not convinced that this was a wise move, particularly when F1 is struggling to produce a good show.

It has been a lot of years since Grand Prix racing had the opportunity to really benefit the motor industry. To date the sport has not given a damn about that because there was always plenty of money coming in from the increasingly restricted tobacco companies. F1 has drifted from its roots and it seems to me rather a dangerous root to take.

You can argue that some of the McLaren systems have no relevance for the car companies but it is just not logical to ban regenerative braking systems.

What is a regenerative braking system? Well, you use energy generated by the braking system and store it for a short period in lightweight capacitors. These power electric motors which run the auxiliary engine pumps at certain times each lap. Engine pumps soak up something like 40 horsepower from an engine so, in effect, when the electric motors take over a driver can suddenly get a load more power and that means that overtaking is much easier than normal.

The systems cannot currently generate enough electrical energy to run the auxiliary pumps all the time but research and development into this would improve the breed very quickly and would be of particular interest to car manufacturers which are all working like crazy to come up electrical generation and storage systems for hybrid cars, so as to cut down nasty emissions and improve fuel efficiency.

Ferrari is not the kind of company which is going to build hybrid cars for earth-loving vegetarians when there are still people out there who want to buy ostentatious gas-guzzling supercars. The Italians would prefer to spend all their money on Michael Schumacher.

The other Luddites in the paddock argue that research into alternative power systems and hybrid petrol/electrical engines would be far too expensive for them to consider. They seem to ignore the fact that at car shows all over the world such vehicles are already appearing and most of the major F1 teams are supported by car companies which already have some of the technology necessary.

Ferrari is important to F1. It is by far the best known of all the racing teams and the famous Prancing Horse logo is one of the world's strongest brand images. There are more Ferrari fans than there are supporters for any other team but just because Ferrari does not want something to happen is not a good enough excuse for F1 to turn its back on a wonderful opportunity to improve racing and generate a better relationship with the motor industry.

The FIA seems keener to placate Ferrari and throw away the opportunity rather than leap at the chance and tell Ferrari to like it or lump it. Ferrari can always threaten to race in America or some such silly idea but when you think about it, most of the magic of the Ferrari name is about Grand Prix racing and the company needs F1 as much as F1 needs Ferrari.

Would it not be better to transport the F1 Luddites to Australia or to hang them - just like in the good old days...

Print Feature