Naked ladies, skinning cats the Professor and Superswede

The other day, at some unearthly hour of the morning, I was getting ready to go to the Hungaroring when I threw back the curtains in the hotel room to see what the weather had in store for the day - and I found myself gawping at a naked lady in the apartment building opposite the hotel.

The Hungarians seem to be very relaxed about exposing themselves, which is one reason why the Formula 1 circus likes to come to Budapest. The ladies do not over-encumber themselves on hot sunny days which is very often what the weather is like in mid August when the Grand Prix circus trolls into town.

I cannot remember where it was I read it, but it seems that not wearing a lot of clothes is not new in Hungary. In 1938, for example, an attractive young woman was walking down a street in Budapest when for no obvious reason she stopped, removed every stitch of her clothing and began directing traffic. She was eventually taken away by the local constabulary but had no recollection of the event when questioned later.

Such stories never cease to amaze me because it shows the power of the human brain and what can happen when it fuses. The brain really is a remarkable device and, it seems to me, a much under-used resource. All too often people are so busy rushing around trying to be in the right place at the right time that they never stop, think and look at what jargon-mongers refer to as "the bigger picture".

There is no shortage of brain power in the Formula 1 paddock but sometimes one gets the feeling that it is not being focussed in the right directions. Some of the most successful people are those who take a step back and look at problems from different angles. There are more than one way of skinning a cat.

While rival team have been parachuting men into the McLaren garage, disguised as tourists, in an effort to discover the secrets of the MP4/13 I have come to the conclusion that the car is so much better than all the others because designer Adrian Newey was given a nice long holiday by Williams after he decided to leave the team to join McLaren. During his months at rest he was able to think philosophically about the design of the car he was going to produce at McLaren. All the other F1 designers were rushing about, fitting in the design process while working out the day-to-day problems of their existing cars. The result is a car which was streets ahead of all the others.

Some of McLaren's rivals have, however, improved dramatically in recent months and this has led to a great deal of energy - and hot air - being expended in the F1 paddock on the question of electronic systems. The rules state that a driver must drive a car "alone and unaided" and, because the rules is so loosely-worded, this has been open to interpretation.

In recent weeks accusations have been flying about - almost all off the record - which suggest that this team or that team is not merely interpreting the rules in a creative way but that the team is actually setting out to circumnavigate the rules.

I have even heard stories of teams challenging the FIA to find an illegal system on a car because they are utterly confident that such things can - and are - being completely hidden by their rivals.

The problem for everyone is that there is no evidence to prove anything and a team cannot be condemned on "smoking gun" evidence. The governing body says it has the ability to catch anyone who is cheating but no-one seems to believe that.

On the question of interpretation there are other problems because logical arguments have pinned the FIA down into some absurd corners. Drivers must drive alone and unaided but if a driver is not using a system at a certain moment if there anything wrong with changing the set-up of that system.

Let me give you an example, when a driver is not pushing on the brake pedal the teams might argue that he is not "driving" the brake system. The regulations, therefore, should allow brakes to be programed to perform different tasks so that different things happen in different corners. At the moment he pushes on the pedal he is driving alone and unaided. It is just that the system is not the same as it was in the previous corner.

What is clear is that because of the way in which the rules have been written the FIA is no longer able to control all the electronic systems which are being used. The governing body has brought this situation on itself and there is - as ever - no sympathy whatsoever in the paddock for the folk at the FIA.

One is rarely able to say nice things about the FIA these days, because of the slap-happy and arrogant way in which the sport is sometimes run, but one should remember some of the good things that the governing body has achieved as well.

Ricardo Rosset would be dead if his accident in practice at Hockenheim had happened five years ago, but thanks to the FIA-pioneered cockpit surround material - a sort of plastic squishy stuff you use for packing around electrical goods you want to move from place to place - his life was saved. The plastic absorbed the impact when Rosset's helmet hit the side of the cockpit and Ricardo avoided breaking his neck...

For this one must thank the members of the FIA Advisory Expert Group which has pushed ahead research on safety issues.

The group is still going strong, looking for ways to save drivers in big accidents. They have not managed to answer all the questions - the effectiveness of sand traps (or the lack of it) has so far eluded even scientific studies into the dynamics of gravel - but they have done a remarkable job.

The leading light in the research is neurosurgeon Professor Sidney Watkins, who has been at every Grand Prix since 1978. His commonsense approach and willingness to speak his mind has made him a respected figure in F1 circles. In many respects "The Prof" - as he is known to everyone in the paddock - is like the F1 village doctor, supplying aspirins and peace of mind to all and sundry. While he is deadly serious about his safety work he takes a more relaxed view about life in the paddock and rarely tells F1 people to do what is best for them. He knows it is pointless and, besides, he loves to smoke good cigars and is an active member of the unusually named Formula One Cigar Und Pipe Smokers (FOCUPS) club. He also drinks whisky in liberal doses and recommends that everyone should take one Aspirin a day...

It was not long after "The Prof" started attending Grand Prix that the sport lost one of its top drivers of the day - Ronnie Peterson - who died in hospital in Milan after a crash at Monza in September 1978. Peterson had broken both his legs in a huge first lap shunt at Monza but he should never have died.

It is coming up to the 20th anniversary of the death of "Superswede" and there are many people in the F1 paddock who remember him with great fondness. In that time Grand Prix racing has changed beyond recognition. That summer Peterson spent a lot of time sitting behind his Lotus team mate Mario Andretti, obeying team orders. No-one complained. Andretti had done the development work on the Lotus are the World Championship was his reward. There was no fuss. No local heroes in Australia stirring up trouble.

The younger generations, of course, are blind to history and this was graphically illustrated recently when Ronnie's daughter turned up at a race and was asked by one of the stars of today what her father is doing...

I was not around motor racing in the days of Ronnie Peterson but he was still a great influence on me because his death sparked a question which I have been trying to answer ever since.

I started watching F1 in the summer of 1977 and thought it was great fun as there were lots of crashes with the wild young men of the day Didier Pironi and Riccardo Patrese. It was good entertainment on a Sunday afternoon after the black and white cowboy movie was over.

The night of Peterson's accident I remember scanning the radio waves of Europe trying to find out what had happened because the TV had not given many details. The next morning I heard he was dead and I asked the question: "Why do these guys race?"

And that was the beginning of my career in motor sport. I wanted to understand the mind of the racing driver. Twenty years later I have made some progress in that study but the conclusion I reached some years ago is that there are no patterns of behavior at all. People race because they want to win; to prove they are better than everyone else - but what motivates them to do it? Some of them are just mad; some have inferiority complexes, some have superiority complexes; some do it to escape from mundane living; some because they are risk-junkies; some because they are rich and bored.

There are even some who do it because wearing Nomex and carrying a racing helmet is a very effective way of making yourself attractive to women.

No wonder they all love Budapest...

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