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Clausewitz, total sport and the reds in peril

You can call me crazy but I love to collect strange and wonderful books. I don't really care about the subject matter as long as the books are interesting. And so it is that the bookshelves at home (when they are finished) will house a selection of curious volumes about such obtuse subjects as the exploration of little-known African rivers, the travels of refined young ladies in the Middle East in the last century, chronicles of the Black Death and investigations into the secret services in the reign of Charles II.

These books are not easy to find but if you know the right booksellers and do not mind waiting a bit you can get the most wonderful things. There is always a fair amount of excitement when each new package arrives and one has to wrestle with sticky tape and polystyrene muesli to find out what is in the big brown box this month.

This unpacking ritual was gone through in the days leading up to the Italian GP and I found myself merrily clutching "The Mad Princes of Renaissance Germany" in one hand and Carl Von Clausewitz's "On War" in the other.

The latter book, published in the 1830s, is still regarded as the bible of military strategy. Clausewitz was the first general to advocate "total war". Before "On War" rival armies would march around looking splendid until they bumped into one another. The Generals would then play tactical games for a few hours - like a big game of chess - during which lots of unimportant troops would be blasted into oblivion or hacked to pieces. Eventually someone would make a breakthrough and the battle would be won or lost.

Clausewitz argued that while all this was very pretty to watch and very sporting, if one really wanted to win a war one must attack not just the opposing armies but also a rival's resources and people. If a country has no will to fight or no factories to make weapons armies become useless.

The ideas of Clausewitz were then developed by the likes of General William Sherman in the American Civil War, who sent his troops through Georgia, destroying everything in their path. Gradually the strategies developed towards such refined tactics as saturation bombing of cities, the use of saboteurs, propaganda, disinformation and deception.

It was a very significant book but one which, unknown to most people, is actually unfinished. One can only assume that the reason no-one knows this is because the book is so dull that no-one has ever reached the end of it.

Nowadays, so they say, sport has replaced war. This is often cited as being a good thing. One must suppose that it is better that the youth of different nations throw balls at one another rather than hand grenades.

Unfortunately, as sport has become war so the theories of war have permeated through the sport. There has developed what might be termed a concept of "total sport". Maybe someone will eventually write a long and boring book called "On Sport".

The fact is that today winning is all that matters and it does not seem to matter to some people how you achieve victory. If it is necessary to inject yourself with monkey hormones it seems that there are cyclists, runners and swimmers who are willing to do it. If winning a motor race involves driving someone off the road then there are drivers who will volunteer. It has been happening for the last 10 years.

If the FIA had any backbone at all it would have stamped out such behavior and banned a few drivers from the sport. Instead the governing body lets the bad guys off the hook and comes up with toothless excuses which admit that an action was "deliberate" but was not "premeditated".

In other words, playing bumper cars is perfectly acceptable - even for repeat offences - because it is good for TV ratings.

Boxing is not a sport for which I have much time but I do know that depriving Mike Tyson of his licence gave the sport a hint of credibility. He may be the best boxer out there but biting off chunks of a rival's ear is really not acceptable behavior.

All this is bad enough but in the last couple of years we have seen the rise of refined versions of Clausewitz's theories applied to motor racing. There have been cases of sabotage, tons of propaganda, clouds of disinformation and deception. All we need now is saturation bombing of the opposition...

At the Belgian Grand Prix we saw another poor example of this sort of thing. Michael Schumacher made a mistake in the spray and crashed into the back of David Coulthard's McLaren, which he was clumsily trying to lap. Michael was upset and went storming off to the McLaren pit without thinking. It made a lovely scene for the global TV audiences.

To anybody with a brain - and there are apparently some people in F1 paddock who do not boast such qualifications - it was very clear that Schumacher had no-one to blame but himself. Michael and Ferrari team boss Jean Todt are both highly intelligent individuals and so it cannot have been a lack of brainpower which motivated the post-race attacks on the integrity of Coulthard and McLaren.

One can only assume that by making a big fuss Ferrari was trying to promote the belief that Schumacher had been taken out of the race deliberately. The Ferrari fans certainly believed it... but people in F1 did not. If the team had shut up about it after that it would have been a wise move but instead out came a statement with a load of self-righteous garbage citing evidence which simply did not exist. Based on previous experience one would think that Ferrari would have had much better evidence of McLaren evil-doing if it listened to the tape recordings it makes of McLaren's radio transmissions. I am reliably informed that these prove conclusively that David did not cause the crash. They did not support the Ferrari case so they were ignored.

Schumacher later admitted - under torture in the press room at Monza - that he might have over-reacted. Ferrari boss Jean Todt refused to withdraw his team's unfair comments about McLaren.

There is only one possible explanation for all this silliness and that is that by attacking McLaren and Coulthard Ferrari was trying to bring pressure to bear on McLaren and at the same time give Ferrari an argument to bring forward at the end of the year just in case the team loses the World Championship.

This may be the way in which some of the people in F1 think the game should be played these days but thankfully there are still enough sporting people around to make it the exception rather than the rule. It seems to me that the people at McLaren are seen to be a more sporting bunch than the current Ferrari management.

"There was one very pleasing thing about Spa," said a McLaren man at Monza. "Almost everyone came out and said that McLaren would never have done such a thing."

He had a point. While there is not exactly a great love felt for McLaren in the F1 paddock there is a certain amount of warmth towards the team which does not seem to be felt for Ferrari in its current guise.

And that is sad because of all the F1 teams Ferrari has the most to lose in image terms. At the moment the flaming red cars with the prancing horse logo enjoy a curious mystical status. It takes a very strong kind of magic to get thousands of people to stand for hours in the pouring rain to see the cars hurtle by. Getting mixed up in the sordid games of total sport does nothing for Ferrari's image.

The only way to change that image is to get rid of the current management and put in another lot to see if they can do a better job both politically and technically.

When he launched the Ferrari F310 in January Jean Todt was being brave: "I will state openly today," he said, "that our only goal must be to win the World Championship. After four years of restructuring, now we have to deliver."

At the time we cynical journalists smiled and noted down the comment, ready to regurgitate the quote when Ferrari once again failed to deliver.

For the first few months the F310 was a complete disaster and it was not until a new rear end was stuck on that the car began to perform and then we witnessed a revival of epic proportions. It involved crazy amounts of hard work at Maranello and one cannot even begin to think what it has cost in financial terms.

When you get such dramatic leaps in performance while other teams struggle to make up a tenth here and a tenth there, there are always rumors. If you listen to the talk in the paddock these days you will go home thinking that Machiavelli is an electronics engineer at Maranello. If you listen to the folk at Maranello they will tell you that the evil forces are at work in Woking.

Who knows? No-one can prove anything but I guess that if there is a story to be told one day the secrets of today will cease to be important and someone will start talking and the whole story will come tumbling out. And I guess that one of my colleagues will probably produce an interesting book on the subject...

... I think I had better order that one for my strange and wonderful book collection.

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