GLOBETROTTER

Soap operas, nasty surprises and political science in F1...

There are those who say that Formula 1 is boring; that it is not like it was in the good old days when everyone wore a cloth cap and ate fish on Fridays.

I disagree because even when there is not much happening on the race track (Imola being a good example) there is always something going on in the paddock. The sport has the same addictive effect as one of those never-ending soap operas which are screened every evening in Britain about people who live in the same street or on the same square. Whether one understands the concept or not is really not the issue. All we know is that every night millions of people watch this and go to work the following day to discuss what happened to Madge Blenkinsop and who might be the father of Nora Wombat's baby.

It is the same kind of fascination which glues one to TV screens whenever there is an election taking place. Results come in, people talk about them but you cannot tear yourself away just in case you miss something amazing - like a politician telling the truth.

The other evening I was watching the results of the first round of the French presidential elections (I know it's sad, isn't it?) and I was sure that I had heard a communist politician telling his supporters to vote for the republicans. It is at moments like this that you need a rewind button on the TV just to make sure that you have not lost your marbles.

No, he really did say it. What was going on?

For those of you unfortunate enough to have missed this great excitement, I should explain that the 41.1m people allowed to vote in France (of which I am not one. I am only allowed to pay taxes) went to the polls on Sunday. France has a marvelously complicated electoral system which is supposed to ensure that the will of the people is translated into a fair election result.

There is none of this rudimentary "first past the post" stuff that they use in Britain or America. If the French system worked on that basis then the new president would be a man called Monsieur Abstention, who polled a remarkable 28.40% of the electorate, having motivated around 11.7m people not to vote at all.

This was well clear of the incumbent President Jacques Chirac who could muster just 5.6m votes - less than half of the number of people who did not bother to vote but 19.8% of those that did.

Behind Chirac and therefore going through to the second round run-off with him was the ultra-nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen. He believes in doing unpleasant things to immigrants but was the only candidate to bother to address the issues that are worrying the population and as a result he collected 4.8m votes (many of them from people who were voting in protest and did not really want to see him win at all). The Socialists, who seem to think they are a big and important political force, finished a less than impressive third with a pathetic 4.6m votes.

The message was that the population do not think much of the political classes, who are seen as a bunch of corrupt slimebags who all went to school together and will do anything to perpetuate their own survival. This disenchantment was perhaps best highlighted by the fact that an amazing 1.2m voted for the Hunting, Shooting and Fishing Party which wants to preserve all things natural by allowing men with guns to shoot at them.

Whatever the details, the result was a nasty surprise for France (not to mention the whole of Europe) and the Socialists were soon on the streets showing their love of democracy by throwing things at policemen and proclaiming that they are ashamed to be French.

There will now follow 14 days of national self-flagellation and then Le Pen will be massacred in the second round.

The point in all this (yes, there is one) is that no political system really works as it should do. People will always find a way to screw things up. Adolf Hitler did not need to seize power in Germany in 1933, he was part of a coalition and managed to maneuver himself into power.

It is a fundamental flaw of systems of proportional representation that too many different opinions are given a voice and the result is all too often a fragile coalition and so weak leadership. One needs only to look at Italian politics to see that. Since the Republic was established in 1946 there have been 35 Prime Ministers - or about one every 18 months.

The most effective form of government is always that which has no opposition. Dictators make things happen. The problem, of course, is that they have a tendency to think they can rule the world and do dumb things like invading Russia.

The principles in political science are not that different to the management theories in Grand Prix racing. Successful teams are not run by committees. There has to be a boss to whom everyone has to answer. There may develop complicated management structures between the man at the top and the people on the shop floor but the chain of command is clear.

The dabbling in the sport of car companies has often in the past been a failure because this basic concept has been overlooked. It is a lesson that it took many years for Ferrari to learn. Renault's efforts in the early 1980s suffered from political battles but the company learned from its mistakes and came back to win big time in the early 1990s. The current program seems admirably clear of political interference and hopefully will remain so if the government changes.

Toyota seems to have grasped the concept while Jaguar Racing has been learning the hard way in the course of the last couple of years.

And now it seems Eddie Jordan has woken up to political science and has come back to his factory at Silverstone, riding a white charger with a sword in his hand. He has cut down his loyal lieutenants and says that he will now run the company himself.

Off you go Eddie, just don't try invading Russia!

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