GLOBETROTTER

Autumn, walking the dogs, and time and motion studies

There was a time a few years ago when I used to report about touring car racing. And I always missed the autumn. As soon as the European racing season was over I would jump on a plane and fly to the Antipodes to watch hairy-chested tin-top heroes at Bathurst, Wellington, Calder, Macau and Fuji. One year, I remember, I spent 10 weeks on the Pacific Rim, going from race to race, churning out the weekly news and the odd feature to be sent down the wires to London. Otherwise I was hanging out in Sydney, Hong Kong, Tokyo and even Fiji "resting", like an actress between jobs, It was a lovely life for a young man without ties.

When I grew up and moved into Grand Prix racing we used to have an abbreviated version of the same end-of-term jaunt. We would fly to Japan in the middle of October and once the race at Suzuka was out of the way would stampede to the beaches of Queensland or to little-known Pacific Islands where drivers could hide in the company of women who were not always their wives...

And then we would turn up in Adelaide, looking tanned and healthy for the World Championship decider.

After that was over a lot of people would take a week or two off before going back to Europe and get a real end-of-season holiday. The only slight drawback in this was that one would leave at the end of the summer and arrive back at Heathrow in the deep mid-winter with frosty winds moaning around Terminal 3 and you would have a cold before you even left the building...

In recent years that has gone but we have been whisked about from race to race, usually ending up in the Log Cabin at Suzuka, a bar of ill-repute but many a good story.

But suddenly this year we have a month between the last two races. It is a glitch in the system but one which has meant that we can go home and appreciate the autumn a little. It has been years since I have done that. I must admit I have enjoyed myself wandering around the garden, throwing sticks for dogs - I have one called Max but the one named Bernie had to go because he caused too much trouble. It is a great way to think. I have delighted in being pelted by rain drops and have watched happily as the leaves turn brown and fall from the trees.

While all this is an interesting experience - getting back into the medieval cycles of life - it does seem rather a daft thing to be doing when there is a World Championship to be settled. It just does not seem to be a very professional way of organizing the sport... We have got everyone worked up into a lather about "Schumi versus Mika" and then we all take a month off and do the gardening.

And when you ask who is to blame Bernie Ecclestone says it is down to Max Mosley and Max Mosley says it is down to Bernie Ecclestone and you end up going round and round in circles, cussing and spitting at the absurdity of it all.

Most people in the sport do not bother with such things. They are given the calendar and like laboratory mice they immediately start running on the treadmill, picking up the phones and booking circuits for testing, flights to and from races and tests and endless numbers of hotels. If Bernie (or Max) leave a few spare days between races a test will immediately be organized.

I have come to the conclusion in recent months that testing is bad for the sport. It is expensive, tiring for those who have to do it and it makes the racing very much more predictable. Almost all the teams now spend huge amounts to test and all make progress with the cars which means that nothing much changes the grid order from the start of the year.

The other thing is that testing makes the cars boringly reliable. A few years ago cars would retire with mechanical failures but nowadays this rarely happens - except in the case of Stewart and Arrows. There are crashes and there is finger-trouble but everything else has been tested so much that it is mend-bendingly reliable.

If testing changes nothing and makes the racing predictable, surely it is a bad thing. Would it not be better for everyone if the teams turned up at the race track with a limited amount of time to set up a car? Surely this would produce surprises from time to time.

F1 team bosses do not think in this way. They are too busy trying to beat (or destroy) one another that the idea of working together for the good of the sport rarely comes into it.

I have often wondered what would happen if Bernie and Max brought in some management consultants to analyze the way the sport operates and come up with ways of making it more efficient. What would these time and motion men conclude about our strange sport? You know, those boring little twerps who wander around factories with clipboards and stopwatches and work out what is being done right and what is being done wrong.

I reckon that the first thing they would conclude is that the boring little twerps who wander around pitlanes with clipboards and stopwatches are very silly people and are wasting a lot of opportunities.

They would conclude that testing is a completely worthless pastime but that it is maintained because the team bosses do not want to be pinned down by new regulations. They are worried that their power is being encroached upon. What silly people!

I sometimes wonder if the time and motion men would not conclude that team bosses in some of the F1 operations are actually entirely superfluous to the job being done and are better left playing golf in their tax havens.

The only sensible defence I have heard for testing is that it provides the opportunity to get rid of hundreds of VIP guests who would otherwise block up the paddock at races and demand more passes than there are passes available.

I am sure that the time and motion men would say that testing should only be allowed with new cars because there is a need to check out safety questions as some designers are incapable of building cars which do not break their suspensions first time out. Testing should then stop.

Bernie has long argued that it would be much wiser to use the money which is wasted on testing to put on more races. If one is going to spend the money one might as well use it in a way which brings a financial reward. The big teams would still want to test, no doubt, but they would have to do this by creating all manner of Heath Robinson-like devices back at their factories. They might even stumble upon something which - heaven forbid - might be useful for the motor industry.

Ecclestone has already suggested that there should be 20 four-day Grand Prix meetings with Thursday and Friday used for testing. This would mean that teams could use the days to trundle their VIPs through the paddock. There would then be qualifying on Saturday and the race on Sunday. This would keep everyone happy. The race promoters would be able to pull in more people as they do in Australia and other advanced races which are already four-day meetings; hotels will be able to charge their iniquitous five-night minimum rates and all the local restaurants will get an extra night of heavy trade.

Ecclestone will get more income and a share of this would be passed on the teams. The fans - who are always at the bottom of the list - would get more racing.

Some folk - like journalists - would complain that there was more work to do but careful construction of the calendar would mean that with back-to-back races in various places could make the season seem no longer than it currently is and really clever planning would give us all a month off in August so that everyone can spend some time with their families during the holiday season.

Why not? It is just a question of planning.

I think this is where the time and motion men would have the most impact on the sport. They would start asking questions about money which is being wasted. Why do 2000 members of the F1 travelling circus not get together and organize more charter flights? Why do teams not get together and buy aeroplanes? The freight is already centralized why is not the travel as well? If F1 had its own planes these could fly in and out of the closest airports delivering things when they are needed: freight and TV equipment in the days before the races, followed by mechanics, followed by press and marketing people, followed by VIPs and vice versa when the race is over.

It would have to be cheaper than the current system.

Surely, with everyone being robbed silly by hoteliers around the world, would it not be more logical for F1 to build its own hotels at the race tracks to take a large percentage of the circus when it comes to town. These would be cheaper and could be operated as going concerns as they would inevitably attract punters if they were properly marketed. If they were linked to attractions at the race tracks they could be full all the time. They could also act as merchandising outlets for F1 gear.

The time and motion men would be horrified by the motorhomes. They costs absurd amounts of money and there are two or three per team. Assuming that this would be a saving of $15m in total, what is wrong with race tracks building nice permanent facilities above and behind the pits. If teams wanted to have Sir Norman Foster or some other architect to build them something glamorous they can do it. Each team could also have independent access to the upper floors of these areas so that VIPs could be ferried in and out with the need of passes. They could have cafes overlooking a central well at the bottom of which the pit crews work. They can have roof terraces and interview rooms and proper restaurants for their people. Bernie could have similar facilities for his Paddock Club people. It would all save money in the long-term.

Similarly all the wiring and telephones and so on which takes so much time to install could become permanent at each facility so that the TV facilities could be set up and taken down in a matter of hours rather than days.

At the moment the F1 circus behaves like a very expensive bunch of Bedouins and no-one has had the vision to see that one can move from one house to another rather than lugging tents around with you. It would be much nicer - particularly when it rains - and the phones and the electricity would always work.

There could even be a box so that the time and motion men could travel with the circus and come up with even more ideas.

I must go and walk the dogs...

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