GLOBETROTTER

The day they taped my head to a table...

When I was down in Monte Carlo for the Motorsport Business Conference, I developed a pain in my neck. After grinning and being brave for a day or so, I realized that I had a problem and so when I got home to Paris I went one morning to see the doctor. He took slightly under three seconds to say: "Go to the hospital" and then cheerfully charged me a rather hefty fee.

I went to the hospital and after I had sat around for a while and baffled a few junior doctors I was seen by someone who seemed to know what he was talking about. I was told not to eat anything and to present myself to another hospital. I knew what that meant. I was going to have a rendezvous with a knife.

By the mid-afternoon I found myself lying on in an operating theatre with a pretty nurse, giggling as she tank-taped my head to the table. She thought it was rather funny that I had mentioned that I never had my head taped to a table before.

At some point after that they knocked me out and chopped bits out of my neck and then, after a very pleasant dreamy phase, I found myself stuck in a dull hospital room with a hole in my neck, a tube in my arm and nothing to read. The mobile phone battery faded quickly away and that was it. I disappeared off the face of the earth. I was a prisoner. I cannot say that I really wanted to get up and walk out but for some reason the clinic in which I found myself had no books and the TV was not working. And so I lay there for a couple of days with little more to do than to think.

Thinking is good. But it is something that is often a luxury in the fast-moving world of Formula 1. The pressure is always on to move forward when at times it would be better to stop awhile and ponder.

Fools, so they say, rush in where angels fear to tread.

Formula 1 people will tell you that if you want a proverb you can always find one which says what you want it to say. And they will add that "he who hesitates is lost". They are right if the thought process takes too long but the more I think about it, the more I believe that the process of thought is what produces the best results. Too often in Formula 1 decisions are made in haste and regretted later. There are many people who have no knowledge of the mistakes made by others in the past. We learn from our mistakes, they say (proverbially) but I have always wondered why they should not learn from the mistakes of others as well. Those who ignore history (yes, another proverb) are condemned to repeat it.

In my experience there are only a few people on this earth with laser-beam intellect to grasp complex issues in split seconds. The rest of us bumble through and then try to justify whatever it is we have done.

When all else fails we say: "It was the right decision at the time".

I am always impressed when I see someone who is wise enough to take a step back and really think something through. In Honda mythology it is said that the company founder Soichiro Honda spent an entire year thinking before he established the company which now bears his name. Honda had sold his propeller-making business in 1945 for the enormous sum of $800,000 and with Japan in ruins the best thing for him to do was to buy a large drum of sake and have a think, entertain friends and then get things going again when life began to settle down. That period of thought resulted in his decision to fit small war-surplus engines to bicycles to create an inexpensive form of transportation for the austere post-war world.

In the modern era, one can point to several people in the sport who have taken time out and had a good think about where they are going: Max Mosley spent several years doing very little before embarking on his successful career with the FIA; Ron Dennis and Frank Williams are successful because they are thinking about their teams ALL the time. Others are diverted by fame and by fortune.

One thing which has always impressed me about David Richards is that while others of his generation are rushing around making their millions and getting on the television he always seems to have the time to stand back and consider a problem in its entirety. And having analyzed what is the best course of action he knows which way to move.

A lot of people in F1 will tell you that Richards is overrated because he did very little during his time in charge of Benetton a few years ago but I think that they are missing the point. Richards was observing and analyzing, not just the team but Formula 1 itself. He may not have achieved a great deal but he came away knowing how the sport should be approached. His decision to take over rallying was accompanied by a similar period of thought about where that sport will go in the future and his vision, revealed to the world at the Motorsport Business Conference, was impressive. He had addressed issues which other series, notably Formula 1 and CART, have preferred to ignore.

Now, I feel, is a time when those involved in the sport need to be thinking a little more than they are. Formula 1 has grown up as a society in which, to borrow an English proverb, "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush". You take what is there and do not waste time investing for the future. This has served all the F1 team bosses well. They are all wealthy men. But is their behavior in the best interests of the sport?

I do not think so.

The Greeks have a proverb which says it all.

"A society," they say, "grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."

Formula 1 is grand but it is not yet great...

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