Living for the day and the survival of the fittest

Jim Clark, Colin Chapman, British GP 1962

Jim Clark, Colin Chapman, British GP 1962 

 © The Cahier Archive

As a lifelong reader of National Geographic magazine, a publication which I hold responsible for some important things in my life (the urge to travel, the first naked breasts, etc.), I was under the opinion that Beirut is not a lovely place. In the 19th century apparently it was simply gorgeous. The city was part of what the Little Englanders called The Grand Tour which took hundreds of genteel English ladies (with parasols) and fey gentlemen trekking around the Levant (as the Middle East was then known) with their sketchbooks and water colors. They came home with something to talk about at dinner parties.

Lady Herbert's description of Beirut in her book "Cradle Lands" made it sound like an enchanting place. Even up until the late 1960s Beirut was the kind of town to which James Bond used to go to play the roulette wheel. In 1975 however Lebanon fell into civil war and Beirut became a place where confused clans slaughtered one another, presidents were blown into little pieces and gunmen would spend the morning in the office then nip down to The Green Line for a bit of a gun battle over lunch before returning to work in the afternoon. Beirut became a symbol for strife and bloodshed.

The war ended 12 years ago but Beirut is still thought of as a war zone despite the fact that the Lebanese have been trying very hard to rebuild not just the broken buildings but also the city's reputation as a playground for the idle rich.

Beirut came up in conversation the other day. If the truth be told it was someone else's conversation to which I was idly listening in to while having lunch by myself in Geneva. One of the great skills of being a globetrotter is learning how to eat by oneself in public. It sounds easy but it takes a few years before one is confident enough to sit there without a book to hide behind, not worrying if the world thinks you are a sad and lonely person. Nowadays I quite enjoy it because it gives one the chance to observe the world in all its glory and all the idiosyncrasies of the people who pass you by. It is, however, beyond human nature not to end up listening to the conversations around you.

I was enjoying a very fine pizza and a few glasses of Merlot, which was so smooth that it could have presented game shows, when I found myself tuned in to a man who sounded like he came from the East End of London but turned out to have lived until recently in Beirut. He was extolling the virtues of the city.

"The fing is," he said. "Everyone finks that Beirut is an 'orrible place because of the war and all that. But there's not much violence vese days and the people live each day as it comes 'cos they never knew what tomorrow would bring nand so vey have a lot of fun.

"And vat," he added, "is 'ow I try to lead my life. I take every day as it comes and I 'ave a good time. I don't worry about tomorrow until tomorrow."

My mind wandered back to a schoolmaster from my youth who would always quote the same piece of the Bible when small boys got into flaps. Matthew 6, Verse 34: "Sufficient unto the day is the evil therefore" or to put it another way: do not worry about tomorrow until tomorrow comes. Live for the day.

It is a philosophy I have heard many times in the wonderful world of Formula 1, a world in which people have always lived every day as if it is their last and not worried about tomorrow nor about yesterday.

The moment a race is over, the minds always turn to the next event.

Living for the moment is probably the greatest strength of the sport - and at the same time its greatest weakness. Nowadays, in order to be successful you have to plan years ahead. You have to be prepared. The sport is no longer one in which you can fly by the seat of your pants and muddle through.

Probably the greatest exponent of the original philosophy was the founder of Team Lotus Colin Chapman. He operated everything close to the edge (including his financing!). His cars were built to give maximum performance for the entire race and then fall to pieces as they crossed the finish line, a bit like the Oldsmobile in the Blues Brothers movie which delivers the heroes to their final destination and then falls into a thousand pieces on the pavement.

I was reminded of Chapman the other day when I was chatting on the phone and fiddling with a Jaguar R2 keyring which was given to me last season. For no apparent reason it fell apart in my hands and keys cascaded everywhere. The evil souls will say that this was symptomatic of everything at Jaguar Racing, but I preferred to think that it was a triumph of design: the R2 has passed into history. The key ring's job was done. Perhaps it was even designed to fall apart.

There are not many men like Chapman left in F1 these days and there is an argument that such people are an endangered species. I have always believed that the success or failure of a Formula 1 team is ultimately decided by the man who is in control but in recent years the rise of the big corporations and the development of some very talented managers has meant that the role of team principal has in some cases become irrelevant. They pose on the pitwall, play politics and are occasionally allowed into meetings of potential sponsors to impress the wide-eyed newcomers. Some of them have even ceased to be the inspirational leaders that once they were and it is not uncommon in racing teams for the men on the shop floor (and even the middle management) to say "Haven't seen him for months" when there is reference made to their boss.

If the current trend continues I can imagine that The National Geographic will soon be writing about the F1 Team Principal having become a species on the verge of extinction as big business and efficient managers squeeze out the "wild cat" characters.

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