Glorious "victories" and crimes against humanity

Mark Webber, Monaco GP 2002

Mark Webber, Monaco GP 2002 

 © The Cahier Archive

I like Minardi. I have always liked Minardi. I think Giancarlo Minardi is a (very quiet) madman. I think Gabriele Rumi was the same. And I have to say that I think Paul Stoddart sometimes need to go off to a darkened room and put his head in a refrigerator.

But that is not the point. These men looked on Minardi as I look on Minardi, as more than just a racing team. All the Formula 1 teams have their brand images (whether those in charge understand the concept or not). Ferrari is the tradition and the glamour of the sport. McLaren is about efficiency and professionalism. Williams is gloriously human but successful. They are the racers. In the midfield the brands become rather more confused but down at the back Minardi has a clear role, built up over 17 years of failure.

When you look at the numbers involved one has to admit that the history of Minardi is pretty much of a disaster - second only to Arrows in terms of its failure to produce results. The team came to F1 in 1985 and has contested 278 Grands Prix without winning one, without taking one pole position and without setting a single fastest lap.

Arrows started in 1978 and in its 379 Grands Prix has delivered exactly one pole position, no wins and no fastest laps.

The difference between the two is one of image alone: Minardi is the underdog, Arrows the underachiever. These reputations have developed over the years because of the people involved and Giancarlo Minardi has always been, first and foremost, a fan of racing.

The thing about Minardi is that it has, for whatever reason, developed a mythology all of its own. In every crowd you will find a Minardi flag. There is no team, with the possible exception of Ferrari, which inspires the same kind of following as Minardi because the world likes underdogs - people who battle against the odds.

The British are particularly fond of people who survive ludicrous situations. And one needs only to look at military history to see how some of Britain's greatest military defeats have been turned into "victories".

Rorke's Drift, an insignificant supply station in the Zulu War of 1879, witnessed a gruesome defeat for the British when 4000 Zulus took on 139 British soldiers. The result was that the Zulus attacked time and time again and lost hundreds of warriors while the British, hiding behind biscuit boxes and running out of ammunition, held on until the Zulus departed (aware that British reinforcements were arriving). The result was that a total of 11 men were awarded the Victoria Cross, making this the highest number ever awarded for a single engagement in British military history.

Dunkirk, when the British and French armies were driven into the sea by the invading German forces in 1940, quickly became a great escape when a fleet of little ships came across the Channel and plucked the plucky warriors from the jaws of Fate. And Arnhem, an operation in which a Parachute Division was dropped far too far behind enemy lines and into the arms of two Panzer Divisions, is remembered now as a great moment in history.

The British are not the only ones who like such stories. You need only to read Asterix cartoon books to see the same concept with a bunch of hairy Gauls beating up the entire Roman Empire. And almost as fictional were the exploits of the French Resistance.

The Americans remember the defence of Corregidor against overwhelming odds.

There are many more examples and it is not just war. Sport is the same. Everyone was happy (except the French) when France was beaten in the World Cup by Senegal. That is just the way it is.

Motor racing is no different.

In my filing cabinet are a number of copies of a magnificently eccentric publication called "Sempre Minardi - The Magazine of the West Lavington Association of Minardi Enthusiasts".

It does not help matters that (in the finest English traditions) there are two West Lavingtons: one in Wiltshire and one 70 miles away in Sussex. The latter is a hamlet boasting around 300 residents. Once there was a railway station but now there are simply four roads with quaint names: Highstanding Lane, Oaklands Lane, Church Road and so on.

It is famous only because Richard Cobden, the earliest advocate of Free Trade, is buried in the churchyard.

Sempre Minardi features everything you ever wanted to know about Minardi (and more) and if you read it you will find it has an Italian correspondent, a Portuguese correspondent, and even a US West Editor. It is produced (in color) and distributed free of charge and there are even special supplements.

One can only imagine that Giancarlo Minardi would shrug his shoulders in amazement that he could have created such passion in one small English village but then Minardi has created passion all over the world.

Things have changed a bit since Paul Stoddart took over the team, but not much. Giancarlo Minardi is still around, still looking world-weary but benevolent. Perhaps for him Melbourne 2002 was not the greatest achievement of the team for he can remember that great day at Silverstone in 1989 when the team needed to score points to avoid falling into that death-trap called pre-qualifying. Pierluigi Martini and Luis Sala (both legendary figures in West Lavington) came home fifth and sixth and when the team flew home that night to Bologna Airport they were greeted by wildly celebrating Minardi fans while the Ferrari men (who had managed second place) slunk away into the night.

But the rejoicing everywhere after Melbourne this year should not be forgotten. On my flight from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur this year I got talking to the man sitting next to me on the plane (I always get the men, never the pretty girls) and he said that he was happy that Mark Webber had won the race because Minardi deserved it after all these years trying...

And I didn't feel the need to tell him that actually it was not quite like that.

Minardi is all about dreams and about the passion to achieve them - and it does not matter if it is Stoddart or Rumi or Minardi himself. Minardi is the team for the fans and it would be a crime if that was forgotten because of a squalid fight over TV money.

No-one has a divine right to exist in Grand Prix racing, but it seems to me that Minardi has a pretty good claim on the money it needs. To drive the team out of Formula 1 over this issue would be a crime against humanity and I would happily go to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and give evidence on behalf of Minardi against anyone who perpetrated such an act...

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