Pheromones, Heaven, pure paradise and favorite places

This is the time of year when members of the Formula 1 circus earn the right to be called jet-setters and globetrotters. Right now, we are living on aeroplanes. After the trip to Australia most people headed back to Europe. For some it was a rush to Silverstone, for others Rotterdam, Valencia or wherever.

I went to London, then Paris, then London and then New York. And then I flew down to Sao Paulo.

Jet-lag has ceased to be a problem (he types at 02:21) because when you get to a certain point you cannot get any more and so you grab your sleep in little cat naps when and where you can. And you survive. No matter how much sleep you get, however, there are still many hours to kill on aeroplanes. The reading material inevitably runs out and after seeing the same movies several times over (I did one flight recently when they showed six films one after another) you are left reading the Safety Instruction cards. Anything. In-flight magazines are a minor passion for me because they always seem to be filled with absurd things, usually advertisements. Maybe I am getting old, but who buys temporary tattoos? I don't see anyone in the paddock wearing them and if ever there was a place that follows fashion it is the F1 paddock.

And who buys million dollar bills? And what strange folk invest $99.50 in pheromones? I guess it is bored people like me, wondering whether these strange liquids really do turn quiet librarians into raging nymphomaniacs when you take in your overdue books with a dab of the stuff behind each ear.

On the flight down to Sao Paulo there was an advert in the in-flight magazine for a company called They were offering "new ways to enhance your romance: on-line!". Lingerie, lotions, romantic games and "remote control marital aids". My mind was all a-boggle. Were they selling telephones?

I wondered where these "romantic" folk came.

"Also available at six locations in north east Ohio," it said. I had time to kill. What is there in north east Ohio? And so out came the computer and there on a virtual map I discovered that they were talking about the glamorous industrial towns of Cleveland (which is famous for its rib roasts) and Akron (the rubber capital of America).

Funnily enough in the same magazine there was an article about what a wonderful place Cleveland is. The headline on one page was "Is this Heaven?"

Cleveland? Heaven? I blinked.

I closed the magazine with a shake of the head and then noticed the cover. It was picture of a yellow deck chair on a beach, with surfers blurred in the background in a bright blue sea. It looked very appealing. At the top of the page it said: "Sao Paulo, Flight 93, arrived 7.30am".

Back inside the magazine, my mouth now wide open in shock, I found the article about Sao Paulo under the headline "Surf City". The next page said "Pure Paradise".

But I thought that was Cleveland...

When you read the small print it was clear that the articles were trying to attract passengers to the Sao Paulo flights. Reading between the lines one was finally able to find a grain of truth. The beaches, it said quietly, were "outside Sao Paulo". About 50 miles outside actually. And because of the traffic jams that afflict the city it takes about six hours to get from the airport to the beach. Getting from the race track to downtown was never less than 90 minutes and has been known to take four hours.

It referred to the city as being "Brazil's premier urban destination". Yes, I thought, urban is good. Places with 11 million people jammed together in tower blocks and shanty towns are usually quite urban. It is "ultra-modern" it said. It didn't feel like that as we taxied in and looked at the VASP planes which had been left in a graveyard on one of the taxiways, being cannibalized for parts. You don't often see that at international airports. They usually try to make you forget that these monstrous flying machines actually come apart.

Ultra-modern was not the word that leapt to mind as the taxi banged and bounced along roads which would have made the Africans proud and then sat for hours in the never-ending traffic surrounded by acres of graffiti, sucking in that curious Sao Paulo smell: a mixture of dust from construction work, raw sewage, cooked meat and exhaust fumes.

Oh well, I said, at least the race track is a good one. Built in 1939, based on the design of a track at Roosevelt Field, just outside New York, Interlagos was a fabulous track. Outside the circuit the construction signs said that they were rebuilding the Autodromo Carlos Pace. Times have changed. Carlos Pace has been forgotten.

There are a few old lags from those days who survived and are still knocking around the F1 paddock. I was telling a man from the Prost team about the fabulous old banked first corner at Interlagos when one of them, Jacques Laffite (who won for Ligier at Interlagos in 1979) came wandering by, looking a little older than he did on that extraordinary day when the sky blue Ligier trounced the opposition for the second consecutive race.

"It is a long time ago," he said, rather wearily. "Twenty one years."

And then he smiled, as Jacques is prone to do, and added gleefully: "But we had big balls then, no?"

Oh yes, they did. Very big ones.

And then I heard that by next year the fast streak down the hill from the Senna S to the quick left-hander is going to be bulldozed away and a new wiggly section of track is going to be put in so that the people in the grandstands can see a little more of the cars and less of the speed. And the same thought kept coming back to me: why is Formula 1, the glamorous, corporate, jet-set, billionaire world still coming to this place?

Yes, there is a wonderful passion among the Brazilians for Grand Prix racing. They come to the track in their thousands (although the capacity is seriously limited). They dance and they sing in the grandstands. They have a great time. There is so much passion in fact that I am sure that most of them would travel a little further to see the racing. And out there would be space to build twice as many grandstands and perhaps, if it were down by the sea, we Europeans would give a totally different picture of what life is like in Brazil and perhaps by doing that we would help the country achieve its aim of attracting new tourists.

Brazil is an important place in F1 history and Rubens Barrichello is a popular boy but all over the world circuits are being upgraded, new ones are being built. A purge is coming in Europe. Imola will probably not survive. It does not have the space to become a modern F1 facility. The Malaysians spend millions to built their new track - and very nice it is too - and yet we still keep going back to Sao Paulo. If the Brazilians want a race why should they not have to rebuild like everyone else? Why is Silverstone being hounded out of the World Championship because it is not up to standard and yet Interlagos survives? Once there was an excuse because the track was so good but when wiggly-itis strikes, Interlagos will be just like all the other made for television tracks.

There are times when F1's curious double standards make no sense at all. There is nothing glamorous about Sao Paulo. Interlagos is not the track it once was. The only reason F1 keeps going back is money.

Somehow I cannot see Brazil investing in a new circuit. There are too many other things that still need doing, like sorting out the traffic jams.

Sao Paulo is not Surf City. It's not Paradise. Hell, it's not even Cleveland.

They are doing it all wrong.

Every year I feel a little guilty about Brazil because I am sure it is a lovely country away from the horrible city of Sao Paulo.

There is only one place I love in Brazil, to which I go with a smile.

The departure lounge.

I don't even mind that I am going to be getting on another flight...

Print Feature