Tom and Jerry, chicken nuggets and toy cars...

Paddock, Malaysian GP 2000

Paddock, Malaysian GP 2000 

 © Inside F1, Inc.

When I was a kid I loved Tom & Jerry cartoons. There are probably a few Masai warriors and wandering Aborigines (or should I say "Indigenous Australians"?) who have not encountered Tom & Jerry but there are not many in the world. The concept was simple. Two completely incompatible individuals (Tom the Cat and Jerry the Mouse) lived in the same house. The cartoons consisted of the battles they fought. They devised the most bizarre ways of hurting one another. They flattened, poisoned, minced, electrocuted, stretched, blew up and generally abused one another beyond the realms of possibility but no matter how awful their demise they would pop back into recognizable animal form and resume the fighting.

The whole process was accompanied by the necessary music to fit the mood of the moment.

If I was a sociologist (and thank goodness I am not) I would probably suggest at this point that Tom & Jerry is simply an extension of the old Punch & Judy Show which used to be found at fairs and fetes across the world. People like to laugh at the misfortunes of others. Oddly - and probably significantly - the only language that has a word for this concept is German. They call it "schadenfreude".

Everyone likes to laugh at someone else's expense. And thus Formula 1's own version of Tom & Jerry is very popular in the paddock. It is called The Max and Ron Show and in essence is no different at all to the more famous cat and mouse. The two individuals involved are completely incompatible and spend their lives attacking one another.

The Max & Ron Show has been going on for years. Some will tell you that the fight dates back to 1969 when they first met in a Formula 1 paddock and had a dispute over how to use knives and forks. I have no idea if that story is true and nor do I care. Such personality clashes have little place in the modern world of Formula 1 and I feel very strongly that as Max Mosley and Ron Dennis throw knives at one another they are in danger of damaging the sport that they both love.

Both men have a lot to be respected for. In their individual ways they have achieved great things and yet they allow themselves to be drawn into this silly feud which does nothing for the credibility of either. It keeps the F1 media amused (which is not hard). Max has a lovely writing style and his insults are beautifully-crafted. His threats are as smooth as silk.

Dennis, on the other hand, is rather more clumsy in the way he expresses himself but the passion burns stronger and you can feel the fury bubbling just below the surface. It is like watching a black mamba fighting with a wounded lion.

The letters that they fire between them, leaked to the press or simply issued in press release form, adopt a formal tone, using excessive politeness to hide their mutual distaste. They treat the F1 media like fools and blame the press for misrepresenting them whenever it suits them to do so. But when they want help they are suddenly very pleasant company. In fact, they are usually very pleasant company. It is just that they cannot abide one another.

What they fail to understand while they are using and abusing the press is that most of the men and women in the Media Center at a Grand Prix do not give a toss what they are saying or doing. It is a few column inches. The only people who write seriously about the feud are those in the specialist press and as we are often told in F1 the opinions of this small group are not relevant because the only people who really matter are the beautiful people of television who have the power to beam thrusting and incisive coverage to every corner of the globe. Usually, however, the real issues involved are far too complicated to be explained in a sound bite and so they are glossed over.

To my mind, The Ron & Max Show is an irrelevance. They are cartoon characters who seem to have missed the point that the Formula 1 show is about the drivers and not about them. Their games are not important.

So what is important in F1?

The sport? Fair play? A good show? Yes, all of them.

But the most important thing of all, is a good image. It is all in the presentation. Gloss is boss. Formula 1's attraction is glamour and there is nothing glamorous about two people (who are not even competing) hitting each other over the head with frying pans. It's just silly.

The other thing that is vital for the future of the sport is the creation of a strong commercial structure which will be needed one day when Bernie Ecclestone does not come to work. The current structure would crumble into a civil war between the main competitors.

The sport has to realize that it is not about McLaren versus Ferrari or the FIA but rather about F1 versus every other leisure activity. The battle in the years ahead will be for people's attention. If F1 cannot hold on to them, the sport will suffer.

Ecclestone has had the vision to take F1 from being a sport of very limited and local appeal to being a prestigious global form of entertainment with an audience of billions. He has done it using television and the result of this has been massive commercial success for all those involved. Bernie has taken the biggest slice of the pie but everyone has had their crumbs.

For me, the most important thing in the last few weeks in F1 has not been Michael Schumacher's "historic" World Championship victory in Suzuka. No, what was most important was the fact that all over Europe kids went into McDonalds hamburger restaurants and when they ordered their "Happy Meals" the free toy that came with the chicken nuggets and the French Fries was a model Formula 1 car. One week there were Ferraris on offer, the next it was Williamses, then McLarens and then Jordans.

It was all down to a cross-marketing deal between the McDonalds Corporation and the huge American toy company Mattel. McDonalds wants people to eat more food (and judging by the size of the average American the company is doing very well) and Mattel wants to sell more toys. By giving away a series of toys as free gifts both companies gained an enormous amount of business. Kids know that the free gift changes once a week and so they bully their parents into returning to McDonalds until they have a full set of cars.

The McDonalds-Mattel Formula 1 promotion lasted for a month and in that time 21 million F1 cars were handed out. It is amazing the power of such a promotion. There are millions of new F1 fans out there as a result.

The frightening thing is that I discovered about the McDonalds F1 promotion by walking into one of the restaurants and buying a Happy Meal for my son. You would have thought that someone in Formula 1 might have thought to tell us what was going on. But no, they are too busy worrying about what Max has said about Ron and vice-versa.

Ron is always going on about the FIA favoring Ferrari. Well, I think that one should pay a little bit of attention to a statistic which came to light the other day. I discovered that the name of the company which sells the most toy cars in the world. Would you like to guess? Mattel? No way. Matchbox? Hot Wheels? Actually they are both Mattel brands.

Do you give up?

Well, the answer is Shell. They have sold 25 million Ferrari models through their 48,000 forecourt shops around the world.

Ferrari is the biggest brand in Formula 1 by far. By miles. It will take years for anyone else to catch up.

So, let's get serious Max and Ron. The time has come to stop throwing sponges at each other. It is time to push the sport further into the High Street and get some more fans. It is time to sort out a system of central marketing for F1 so that fans can buy what they want to buy in a single store. The big American sports already do that. They are clever. They make billions every year from merchandising. Millions of people say that baseball, football or basketball results play an important part in their lives.

It may be weird but it is a reality.

The side-effect of all this growth is that the team bosses would become richer and richer. And so would the governing body and so Max and Ron could one day buy their own islands and battleships. They could even have private armies and bombard one another with more than abuse.

And everyone else could get on with the sport and give The Max and Ron Show the attention it deserves.


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