GLOBETROTTER

Fake Welshmen, Darwin Awards, insanity and stupidity in the F1 paddock

Tino Belli says he is a Welshman, but I have never believed him. Years ago Belli used to work for the Larrousse F1 team (while pretending to be Welsh) but more recently he has been in America making piles of money and convincing people that if Dario Franchitti can be a Scotsman there is no reason why Tino Belli cannot be Welsh. If he worked in Formula 3000 I am sure Tino would use the example of Brian Smith - who sounds like he comes from a dreary suburb of London but is actually an Argentine who speaks not one word of English.

But the major reason I don't believe Belli is because every year he sends out the results of the latest Darwin Awards to e-mail addresses all over the world and, somehow or other, I always end up with a copy. The stories are so absurd that our fake Welsh friend must be making them up.

The Darwin Awards were created to reward those who help to ensure that human intelligence is kept at a decent level by killing themselves in the dumbest possible way. They are, if you like, the Oscars of Stupidity.

The ultimate Darwin Award winner was the man who in 1996 attached a booster rocket from a Boeing B52 Stratofortress to the top of his Chevrolet. No-one knows what he was thinking when he hit a cliff 150ft. above the road he had been travelling on - at an estimated 750mph...

For some reason, the automobile seems to bring out the worst in those who seek to win a Darwin - although they rarely seem to know they are candidates. This year was no exception, despite the best efforts of idiotic sledgers, marksmen and thieves. One of the runners-up this year was a fellow in California who decided to go sledging with pals at three o'clock one morning. Not having a sledge available they removed some of the yellow foam protection which the ski lift operator had put around the base of the lift towers in an attempt to protect errant skiers. Our hero whizzed down the mountain and straight into the tower from where he had removed the protection... He did not survive.

Another runner-up was a man from St. Louis, Missouri, who stole a hot dog from a store by ramming it into his mouth and walking out without paying. Alas his getaway failed when he collapsed and died on the pavement, having choked to death on the stolen sausage...

A Spanish poacher was another runner-up having shot a huge stag he spotted standing above him on an overhanging rock. He was a good shot and the stag was killed instantly. It fell... and, oops, one flattened poacher.

The winners, however, had to rely on the good old fashioned automobile to do themselves in. John Pernicky and Sal Hawkins - gentlemen of the great state of Washington, had downed 18 beers between them when they decided that they wanted to go a concert. They had no tickets but decided to climb over the wall at the local amphitheater to get in. They reversed their pick-up truck up to a nine foot fence and Pernicky hopped over - without looking. He fell about 25 ft. before his shorts became caught up in the branches of a tree. He had broken his arm but, suspended in mid-air, decided that he would have a soft landing on a bush below him. He managed to get out a pocketknife and cut through his shorts. He landed - with a yelp - in a large holly bush. This was very painful and it did not help that in the course of the fall he had managed to stab himself in the thigh with his pocketknife. Up above Hawkins decided that his pal needed help and threw down a rope. Pernicky attached one end to himself and Hawkins attached the other end to the pick-up truck...

Then he rushed to the cab, climbed in, and drove it backwards through the fence and down the cliff. Alas, Hawkins was ejected from the cab and killed. The police arrived to clear up the mess and were somewhat surprised when they moved the pick-up truck to find a dead man, half-naked with a rope around his waist and a knife in his thigh, squashed beneath the vehicle...

There was a time - before the Darwin Awards came along - when I thought Grand Prix drivers were bonkers. Nowadays I think they are a fairly sane bunch of people. If anything the team bosses are a madder bunch than the men in the helmets. Ron Dennis is insane about cleanliness (and admits it). Eddie Jordan is completely - but rather charmingly - barking, a fact that only emerges when you look at the silly pairs of glasses he wears and the daft beards he grows. We will gloss quickly over the likes of Rocco Benetton, Craig Pollock, Tom Walkinshaw and Jackie Stewart (Sorry JYS, it's the trousers that give you away).

Normally, the sanest and most sensible team boss has always been Frank Williams - which is probably why he is a "Sir" and the rest of them are "Mr". In recent weeks, however, I have been hearing all kinds of people mumbling that Frank has gone barmy because he intends to sign up a 19-year-old racing driver who only finished third in the British Formula 3 series last year... The only person I have heard supporting Frank is Sir Stirling Moss (and it is obvious that these knights must stick together).

Well, I think Frank is right. Jenson Button is a star in the making and really great talents only come along once in a blue moon. There is always a chance that the driver will fall on his face - remember Stefano Modena? But when you are in Frank's situation you have nothing to lose. The Williams-BMW combination is not going to a huge success this year. The engine is just not good enough but having a new star will keep the team in the newspapers and on TV.

I am all for a bit of change in F1. The current mob are so hopelessly overshadowed by Michael Schumacher that we need new blood. It is great to have Jaguar in F1 and we all expect a lot from Honda. Toyota is out there and BMW too. It has all the makings of an exciting season.

And yet, there are some changes which cannot be explained. This year the F1 paddock will be missing something. There will be another generation of silly double-decker gin palaces but the paddock will lack its heart. "Mum and Dad" will not be there.

Stuart and Di Spires have been running motorhomes in F1 since 1978. In that time they have looked after VIPs, drivers, mechanics and journalists. If you have a problem "Mum and Dad" were always there to help. It did not matter whether you were the chairman of the Ford Motor Company or a terrified young reporter, there was always somewhere where you felt welcomed by down-to-earth sensible people. The folk at the Ford Motor Company - who have retained Stuart and Di for the last 10 years - knew that they had an incredible asset as the F1 paddock became a less and less friendly place.

But - when Jaguar came wandering in to F1 like drunks on the way to a concert - some twerp with a clipboard decided that the paddock no longer needed parents. With a stroke of a biro Jaguar has demolished the goodwill of hundreds of people.

Perhaps there should be an award for extreme stupidity in Formula 1 racing...

Print Feature