GLOBETROTTER

Summer time, storms, Irvine and sunshine...

Do you remember the high summers of childhood? How the sunny afternoons were timeless and the birds sang as they darted from tree to tree. Summers when the air was filled with the warm humming of hard-working bees.

It isn't like that nowadays, is it?

For reasons that seem to have escaped everybody, summers in Europe are now disjointed affairs with a few sunny days, then torrential rain, massive and unexpected hail storms and even tornados. I am told that recently there was a tornado in Birmingham - the English one rather than the one in Alabama. I was incredulous. A few days later a hail storm in Belgium wiped out a large part of the Honda Motor Company's summer stock for the European markets. Hailstones the size of golf balls crashed down on acres of shiny new Japanese automobiles, leaving them looking as it they had been parked in Bugs Moran's garage in Chicago when Al Capone's boys went visiting on February 14 1929.

It is a little known fact that one of the mobsters slain in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre was a man called Jim Clark, although no link between him and the legendary racing driver of that name has so far come to light. Another victim was a doctor called Reinhardt Schwimmer and it is my belief that he came from an Austrian background. Probably from a town not far from Zeltweg.

Why? Because the ability to "schwim" - as they say in German - is obviously very useful in the valley of the River Mur if it has always rained like it has done in recent years. This year, in the days before the Austrian Grand Prix, there was an extraordinary amount of rain across the region. I have no idea how many inches we are talking about (they talk in liters and square metres over here) but it really was extraordinary. For many of the Formula 1 circus it was some of the hardest and most sustained rainfall that they had ever seen - even in the tropics. On the motorway from Vienna there was so much standing water on the road surface that cars coming towards you on the opposite carriageway were spraying great sheets of water into the air, across the central reservation and onto the windscreens of cars going in the opposite direction. It was a pretty daunting trip.

In the natural bowl at the A1 Ring (read Osterreichring if you have a sense of history) the water gushing off the hills created babbling brooks all over the circuit. The mud came in brown streams across the paddock and in chunks across some of the corners. Fields turned into marshes and the car parks into mud baths. It was horrible. Amazingly the Mur did not burst its banks.

And yet 24 hours later the only real sign of there having been a deluge was that the posters on the billboards on the way into the circuit had begun to peel away, the glue having been washed away. The ironic thing was that each billboard featured a huge poster of Michael Schumacher's Ferrari and the words "Good Luck Michael".

No-one had thought of taking them down after the crash at Silverstone and so Mother Nature took care of it for them.

The Schumacher fans had still turned up of course. They had spent their money on tickets and organized their holidays so they could watch the Great Schumi in action. There would be no Schumi (of the Michael variety) in Austria but the fans seemed resigned. They had beer and schnitzels and muddy campsites and that made them cheerful enough. Ten of these diehard lunatics appeared in the grandstand opposite the pits on Saturday afternoon each wearing a T-shirt with a letter of their heroes name . They even managed to line up in the correct order - although all that could be heard in the press room was a rather unkind English voice.

"Sad gits," he said as he began to work out anagrams which the 10 strange folk might combine to create.

SUCH CHARM was one suggestion but it did not seem to fit. And it wasn't just that one letter was missing.

People do funny things for their summer holidays. While most of the world is going to the beach, the F1 community embarks on its busiest period with three races in four weekends.

Michael Schumacher could not have had his accident at a worse time. Nor could Ferrari have been forced to thrust Eddie Irvine into number one status at a more delicate stage in negotiations for the future. Eddie and Ferrari have been playing games for some weeks but since Schumacher's accident attitudes seem to have hardened and before the race, the word in the Ferrari garage was that no matter what now happens Irvine will be leaving the team at the end of the year. If he wins the World Championship - which is quite possible if McLaren keep gunning for their own feet - Eddie's ego would not allow him to be number two to Schumacher in 2000. Irvine is not stupid and quickly grasped this concept.

The problem with Eddie is that he is prone to start talking loudly and it is really not in his interest to do so. Inevitably - because he has made enemies in the press corps - his comments end up in the newspapers and they did not go down well with the management at Maranello.

"It is not up to the drivers to decide the strategy," said Jean Todt.

Irvine has always said that all he ever does is to tell the truth - as he sees it. It is not relevant whether we agree with what he says or not. Let's face it F1 journalists do exactly the same thing. They tell the truth as they see it. In reality it is only an opinion until time proves it to be fact or fiction.

The problem is that people do not always like the truth. Often it hurts. But the fact is that telling the truth does no harm at all to a journalist but it can hurt a driver's career. It can be a lot more destructive than simply breaking your leg...

Having said that I like the idea of Eddie Irvine. He's a rebel. He is quotable. He's a character in a world which often seems to be rather too bland. But being a character does not mean one has to be self-destructive and there really are times when it is better just to say nothing.

This may sound odd from someone who goes on about drivers being too corporate and always saying the right things but the problem is not really that. It is a question of timing. A modern F1 driver should say the right thing when it is necessary to do so but that does not mean he has to be boring and guarded about every single thing. You get the feeling that some drivers have to go and ask the team what to say before they talk about the weather.

But on certain subjects it is right that a drivers should be gagged. When a journalist asks a Mercedes F1 driver what is his favorite car the company paying the bills does not expect the driver to say that he really likes BMWs. These men are not employed to be totally honest. They are employed to be role models, pin-ups or clothes horses, but ultimately they are there to be car salesmen. The only reason they are paid as much as they are is because car companies want to sell cars...

You may say that this sad and not like racing used to be. You are right. But Formula 1 has moved on just as chariot racing would have done if it was still around today. Ben-Hur is just not possible these days. If chariot racing had survived, the modern Ben-Hur would have a PR lady, a personal trainer and a manager with a briefcase. The sport would be troubled by drugs scandals because twisted chemical geniuses would be pumping the horses full of non-traceable substances which multiply red blood corpuscles and increase performance. The horses would probably have personal trainers as well. Chariots would be made of carbonfiber and woolly-haired aerodynamicists would have spent days in windtunnels developing wheel hub shapes.

Everything develops. Eventually somebody somewhere will look back on today as the "Good Old Days". It would be nice to think that things should never change, but Man is not like that. If we were we would still be inventing wheels.

The innocent days have gone - just like the summers of childhood - although one has to say that right now the sun is certainly shining on E Irvine...

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