Passion, priests and Pavlov's dogs

Grid, San Marino GP 2001

Grid, San Marino GP 2001 

 © The Cahier Archive

The geese have gone north and across Europe it is Springtime. All manner of beasts and beings are crawling from hibernation and behaving amorously. The birds and the bees are busy. Hares are just as dizzy in April as they were a month ago. Flowers are pollinating frantically and even cupboards are crying out to have their winter cobwebs removed.

In the cycle of life, it is a time for planting, a time for procreation. And passion.

It must have been this Spring fever that got me the other day when I was walking around Fortnum & Mason in London (as one does). I saw a book about Ettore Bugatti and, without a second thought, I bought it. I am too embarrassed to even discuss the price. But I cannot help myself when it comes to Bugatti. As far as I am concerned "Le Patron" was the only man who has ever raised automotive design to an art form. A lot of other automobile designers have produced good-looking cars, some even justify being described as "beautiful". But none of them were artists like Bugatti. It was a genetic thing. His father Carlo was an inventor who strove to solve the problems of perpetual motion and also made exquisite furniture. Ettore's brother Rembrandt was an outstanding sculptor who specialized in works if animals. If I was a multi-millionaire I would buy them. And then, of course, there were the automobiles: those designed by Ettore and those drawn by his son Jean.

I can honestly say that in my life I have only twice fallen in love at first sight. On the first occasion I was at a party in the far from glamorous London suburb of Kilburn. I remember her name but not much more than that. On the second occasion I was in the far from glamorous industrial city of Essen in Germany and I found myself in love with a car. I was dry-mouthed, breathless. I had all the right symptoms. And there it was: the Esders Bugatti Royale Coupe de Ville, in its two-tone color scheme. I had to be dragged away. Such behavior is not really in my nature but this lump of metal was somehow special. At $10m this babe was out of my league and over the years the passion has faded. I saw the Coupe a couple of years ago at the French Grand Prix and it was like seeing an old girlfriend. There was a spark of something there but it was in the past.

Going to Imola every Spring reminds one of the unnatural feelings that exist between people and cars. Down at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari there is very real passion for anything Ferrari. You see behavior which one can only put down to love. The tifosi are completely passionate about the red cars from Maranello. It is a nationalistic thing but it is much more than that. But do not think it is just an Italian thing. The British have a thing about Jaguars which is along similar lines and the French get all coo-ey about powder-blue Bugattis. What is it about these old flames which get people going? But what triggers these passionate thoughts? Where does the magic come from?

Deconstructing passion is an impossible task.

It is not just about boys and girls and cars. It is about collecting train numbers or visiting art galleries. Or going to churches and mosques. Or making money.

There are times when passions collide and that is happening right now in Formula 1. It happened at Imola when the local bishop began mouthing off about running the San Marino Grand Prix on Easter Sunday. A holy day. The Roman Catholic Church met Formula 1 head-on. In an effort to appease the clerics it was agreed that the parish priest of Maranello Alberto Bernardoni would conduct a mass and it would be broadcast on the giant TV screens around the Imola circuit.

It is also happening in the background in F1. The paddock at Imola was chattering about the recent noise from the automobile manufacturers about starting their own racing series. This is the last thing that the sport needs. It is a competitive world out there. There was a time when Formula 1 had only to worry about other racing cars but nowadays the pressure for coverage is huge. Formula 1 has to compete with game shows, quiz programs, religions and other sports. It cannot afford to be split by internal discord. One would have thought that people in F1 would be smart enough to try to avoid the mess than exists in the United States of America where open-wheeler racing has been split down the middle for the last five years because of money and egos. The end result of all this is that everyone is losing and will continue to do so until they all get 3.5-liter normally-aspirated engines and get back together again. Eventually it will happen because the big sponsors will push them back together.

Formula 1 stands on the verge of making the same mistakes as the Americans and already teams have found that their sponsors are not happy about the chunterings of Paolo Cantarella of Fiat and his supposed allies amongst the car manufacturers. One would like to think that team bosses in F1 are smart enough not to get involved in such matters but like Professor Pavlov's dogs some of them start to drool when money is mentioned.

When you boil it down, the men after the money are the losers. Some have no passion for the sport. Others may once have had it but they have lost it in their desire to make more money.

The next few months are going to be interesting but let us hope that at the end of it all those with the passion will still be around and those without it will have gone off to sell vegetables on market stalls.

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