GLOBETROTTER

Religion, prunes in custard suits and wasted effort

Ask a bushman in the most remote desert you can think of if he can name the three most famous motor races in the world and he will quickly reply (in Bushmani) that the Monaco Grand Prix is one; the Le Mans 24 Hours is another and the Indianapolis 500 is the third. He may not be able to tell you in which country these festivals of speed occur but he will have heard of all of them while sitting on his Mummy's knee out there in Bushmania.

He may then mutter something about being unable to understand why it is that two of the big three races of the year take place on the same day. As a Bushmani race fan it means that he has 363 days of the year looking for grubs in shrubs and only two drinking beer in front of the TV. He would prefer it if there were three days of beer drinking and 362 of grub-hunting.

No-one in motor racing ever seems to question the logic of the bushman. The Monaco GP and Indianapolis almost always clash. It has always been like that and why on earth would one want to change that.

If you think about it, however, it really is a daft state of affairs. Can you imagine the uproar you would cause in the horse racing world if you suggested that it would be a good idea to run the The Derby on the same day as the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe? Or the Melbourne Cup on the same day as the Kentucky Derby?

Imagine the cries of "Sacre Bleu!", "Eh, bah ouf!" and "Ou est mon envelop brun?" if someone proposed to the Federation Internationale des Bicyclettes Sportives (FIBS) that the Tour de France should clash with the Tour of Italy. And yet every year the Monaco Grand Prix is scheduled on the same day as the Indianapolis 500 and not a sound is heard - apart from a plaintiff wail from a distant voice in Bushmania...

There are some who argue that with famous stars such as Billy Boat, Godfrey Gondola and Denis Dinghy on the front row of the grid at Indianapolis, the race has ceased to have quite the same importance as once it did - and they have a point - but it is still a big draw because Our Man in Bushmania does not know the difference between Billy Boat and Alessandro Zanardi and it really doesn't matter to him. He wants to remember the spectacle (and the beer) and not bother with unimportant details such as who won.

The smug old folk at the FIA say that it is not important that the two events clash and they argue that having two big races on the same day is actually a good thing because race fans can indulge themselves enormously on one single day. That is a bit like saying that having two lunches on Christmas Day is a good idea. I did that once and I have to tell you that it was ghastly - and I suffered serious cold turkey...

Mind you, the FIA blazer blokes have a justification for every argument and so what they say in public has become rather irrelevant because no-one believes a word of it anyway. The FIA President Max Mosley spent some time in Monaco trying to convince the F1 media that Grand Prix racing this year is really exciting because of the suspense that builds up during the races as drivers try to think of a way of overtaking the car ahead of them without ending up in hospital or having to pay up a load of money for causing "an avoidable accident". You can avoid almost every accident if you sit in the queue until the checkered flag comes out... but it is hardly racing.

We journalists do occasionally point out that we get a lot of letters from chronic somniacs (which I presume is the opposite of an INsomniac) complaining that they turn on Grand Prix racing to wake themselves up with a few jolts of adrenaline and end up dozing on the sofa as the cars drone round and round and (sorry I had to stop to yawn).

After the recent Spanish Grand Yawn in Barcelona there were lots of letters about F1 being as interesting as driving Reliant Robins across the plains of Kansas at 33mph.

Mosley's argument that the thrill of the chase is better than the kill was an interesting one but anyone who ever studied him in action knows that when it comes to politics Max gets his biggest thrill (a manic look in his eye gives it away) as he is plunging a political knife into the exposed artery of a rival and getting ready for the final, crunching twist.

Perhaps it is understandable that F1 is a bit dull when it is run by people who like fighting with each other more than actually trying to build the sport into something bigger and better. Ah well, in defence of the FIA history teaches us that the human beings are happiest when they are fighting one another and the only folk who really achieve great things on the world scene were those who did not have to worry too much about opposition at home (Look at Tony Blair and Bill Clinton).

The other valuable lesson is that trying to run an international organization is a very difficult thing to do. Look at the Christian church for example. They started out with one basic religion and somehow or other there was a fight and there were two religions and these went on sub-dividing because some people liked worshipping on Tuesdays and others like having four wives and wearing purple headbands. And then there were Orthodox Tuesday Worshippers and reformists (who were Tuesdayists but wanted to worship on Wednesdays) and so it went on until there were three different Popes (Rome, Avignon and answers on postcard please...)

The religious principle of fragmentation can quite easily be applied to motor racing. The only other thing we have in common is that we all work Sundays (apart from the Tuesdayists of course).

In the sport the Europeans believe in Formula 1 and the Americans believe in Indycars. The only problem is that in America: half of the motor racing congregation are believers in CART and the other half believe in Tony George and the IRL.

From time to time in the F1 paddock you hear conversations about whether CART or IRL are winning the battle in the United States of America. It is a rather silly argument because the real winner is NASCAR stock car racing and if the people involved in CART and IRL would stop floating around the skies of North America in baskets suspended beneath their egos the sport would be better off...

The CART-IRL dispute reminds me of the first aerial dogfight in history which, oddly enough, involved two American pilots. It was November 1913 when the two planes met in the skies above Northern Mexico. The two pilots were mercenaries in the fight for the control of Mexico. Phil Rader was flying for President Adolfo de la Huerta and Dean Lamb was on the pay-roll of rebel General Venustiano Carranza of the Constitutionalist Revolution movement.

The two aces wheeled around in the sky for a while shooting at one another with pistols - there is no record of any shots hitting either plane - and then waved goodbye to one another and flew home to pick up their pesos. It was a pointless exercise...

There are signs in Monaco that if we are not careful we could have similar silly trouble in Formula 1 in the months ahead unless Bernie Ecclestone can head off the bandits at the pass gate. Ecclestone has done a remarkable job keeping the teams together in F1 so that the sport can grow. In history lessons the teachers always say that the best form of government is a benevolent dictatorship and on the whole Bernie is fairly benevolent - and always very generous when it comes to giving out money: "One for you, five for me..."

It is depressing to note that Bernard's brilliance has attracted to the sport the kind of people who know nothing of the passion and the tradition of motor racing and who treat the game as if it were a money market. They get their kicks from trading people and machines as if they were pork bellies or orange juice futures.

These people are easy to spot because they spend too much time in the sun and too many hours mixing with the international jetset and so when they arrive in the F1 paddock they stand out because they look like prunes in custard-colored suits.

Monaco is the capital city of prunes in custard-colored suits and while I love to watch the racers on the streets I also hope that one day we can stop coming to Monaco so we will not have to deal with these people. You don't see them so much on wet days at Donington...

Apart from bad weather the only protection one has from these people is if the sport can be floated on the Stock Exchanges so that the prunes in custard-colored suits cannot get their sticky fingers on the loot generated and will go off and trade in orange juice futures or white slavery.

Ecclestone knows that flotation is the key both for the sport and for himself ("One for you, a billion for me") and he is gradually getting there although there are signs that the buccaneers are putting together a resistance movement to try to stop that happening. I have no doubt that Bernie will win but I do wish that Professor Alfred Adler the psychoanalyst was alive to visit the F1 paddock. He would have such fun looking for examples for his theories about inferiority problems. He would quickly be able to tell what motivates the people who play these games and would no doubt expound over a glass of white or two at the Ford motorhome all about how egocentric striving for power is the result of overcompensation for inferiority feelings resulting from physical defects, humble beginnings, neglect during childhood or whatever...

Racing has always been an activity filled with people with such motivation but they have always shared the common passion of the sport and there has been a code of conduct which they all understood. A handshake meant a deal.

The commodities traders have a different set of rules. The winner of their game is not the man on the podium but the one with the biggest white yacht; the most expensive watch; the ultimate trophy wife; the smallest mobile phone and, of course, the deepest suntan.

What would a bushman make of it all?

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