Quiz shows, Monster trucks and the Bolshoi Ballet...

Michael Schumacher, Ralf Schumacher, Canadian GP 2001

Michael Schumacher, Ralf Schumacher, Canadian GP 2001 

 © The Cahier Archive

And so to the off-season. And the chance for a rest away from the percolated thinking of the Formula 1 paddock. A chance to do the paperwork, fight law suits, see the family and stay in bed on a Sunday morning. Wow! There is still plenty of writing to be done because now is the time when the history books are written but it is nice to get a bit of time off for bad behavior.

And that, I suppose, is why I found myself watching an afternoon quiz show the other day. What is the capital city of Benin? Who wrote Elgar's Nimrod? Who or what is a Tarte Tatin? That sort of thing. It was not one of those easy quizzes where you get four choices. You have to be able to do more than guess. And thus it was that up came the question: "Name the two brothers who made history in Canada this year by finishing first and second in a Formula 1 Grand Prix?"

"Michael," said the quizzee. "Michael and... um... err..."

The buzzer went or the bell rang and the ever-so-sincere quiz host burst into a gush of sympathy: "Ralph!" he crowed. If one could make verbal spelling mistakes he would have done it because he cared as little for the questions as he did for the show itself. He was really only there for the salary.

It was nonetheless a reminder because while those in F1 spend their lives discussing whether Ralf should be Williams No 1 the rest of the world cannot even remember his name. And he won three GPs this year.

No, motor racing is not the center of the Universe. It has to compete on any weekend with God, with Allah, with fishing, with golf, with walking the dog, amateur dramatics, Monster Trucks and a zillion other forms of leisure activity.

The reason I mention Monster Trucks is that the other day I went with my seven-year-old son to watch these beasts in action at the Stade de France in Paris. This vast edifice is where France won the World Cup a few years ago and if you listen carefully you can still hear the chants echoing up in the beams. Or at least you can until the Monster Trucks come out after which all you can hear is people buzzing with excitement and laughing. It was fun.

And sitting there, chomping on a large hot dog, I found myself wondering whether this was a better show than a Grand Prix. It was a lot cheaper and a lot less of a hassle.

The Kid and I took 20 minutes to get there from downtown Paris. We had five hours of (virtually non-stop) entertainment. It took us about half an hour to get home and it cost 40: thirty for me and 10 for him. The place was heaving with people. I am not an expert at crowd-estimation but I reckon there had to be 60,000 people. Compared to the new prices announced for the British GP this was a very good deal. Formula 1 people like to say that the show is unique in the world, like the Bolshoi Ballet. Well, the Monster Trucks came all the way from the Good Ol' US of A (a fact I discovered when the driver of one tried to speak French. "Bon Joo-er. Have a nice day y'all hear nah") and I had never seen anything like them before.

However, when I analyzed the event, it could be boiled down into a glorified motocross meeting. I have never been a big fan of mud-plugging bikers but it was quite entertaining to see them flying through the air, trying to impale themselves on their handlebars. I saw several crashes and thought the man dead but on each occasions but the riders got up, hobbled around for a bit and then got back on the bikes and rode off.

There was one rider called David Vuillemin who was clearly head and shoulders above the rest in terms of talent so the result was never really in question.

They were supported by a stunt man who could do wheelies which were beyond vertical and other daft things like riding along a beam an inch or two wide (he fell off). There were also freestyle bikers who launched themselves into the air and then in mid-flight jumped off their bikes did double back-flips with half a twist and somehow got back on the bike with everything in the right place before they landed.

And then we moved on to the heavy artillery with the Monster Trucks themselves. I had always felt that putting big wheels, several engines and a ludicrous suspension of a pick-up truck was a pretty silly thing to do, but The Kid was so excited that he was jumping up and down like a man on a pneumatic drill. And when these monsters drove over the top of other cars, scrunching them beneath their might wheels (each one of which costs way more than a boring old F1 tire) he nearly set the world high jump record for the Under Eights.

In fact he kicked over his Coca-Cola...

The only thing which got him as interested all evening were the Pom-Pom Girls, a politically-correct set of cheerleaders (if such a thing is possible) who ranged in skin color from dark black through Caribbean honey to Russian winter white. They knew how to wiggle and kick (and one or two of them gave the impression that they could scratch and bite as well) and on the way home the small boy expressed the belief that the skinny blonde one had been the most attractive, leaving a proud father thinking that his son has a good eye for a kid his age.

The high point for the show as far as I was concerned was the jet car. The ideas of putting a jet-car in a stadium was worthy of a Nobel Prize for Physics (although certainly not for Peace). Just by blipping the throttle of this beast the driver had the grandstands shaking. The shock waves were like small bombs going off. It was very impressive. It had, so the commentator screamed, 15 times more powerful than a Formula 1 car!

It is the vogue to criticize the F1 show at the moment. This is usually done by people who have forgotten just how impressive the F1 machines are.

Even so, when you look at ticket prices for Silverstone you do wonder whether flying to Moscow to watch the Bolshoi might not be better value... Certainly the Monster Trucks of Paris were.

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