GLOBETROTTER

Madness and Doris the Talking Taxi...

If you have come here to read about the latest changes in the Formula 1 regulations, you have come to the wrong place. Enough newsprint is being expended on this little revolution and this column is better-suited to discussions of other forms of excitement.

And yet, when all is said and done the theme is actually the same: money warps the brain.

Max Mosley and his FIA bods have finally taken steps to bring some logic back to the sport and this should be applauded but for me the problem of money warping the brain was best highlighted 40 years ago when Hollywood made the film "It's a mad, mad mad world" which was the story of what happens after a road accident victim, played by Jimmy Durante, revealed the existence of a hidden treasure. The rest of the movie was an insane treasure hunt involving many of the most famous comedy names in cinematic history.

In recent times I have had the feeling that a sequel to the film should be made with a couple more "mads" thrown in because people seem to get stranger and stranger. I cannot tell you exactly when I started to think this way but it may have been when I was reading about the Brazilian priest who was caught smuggling 11 kgs of cocaine and told the cops that he made $30,000 on each drug run and that he had done it four times already because he wanted to raise money to fund the day care center in one of Sao Paulo's poor urban neighborhoods.

The car world has always been a little odder than most and so it should really not have been a surprise when I read that a German had converted his Volkswagen Beetle into a seagoing vessel by fitting it with a propeller and a bilge pump and had driven it around Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong to show that it could be done.

Nor should I have been amazed when some car designers at Isuzu had created a concept car which could be transformed into a Japanese tea room with everything folding away to leave a bamboo-floored open space. The "Zen" was designed to allow Japanese businessmen to unwind between their meetings.

After that it seemed to me that anything was possible and it did not surprise me at all to learn that the pretty little girl who starred in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang movie (my heart throb when I was eight) ended up as an rampant anarchist.

Not so long ago a rather weary Formula 1 boss confided to me that nothing can surprise him nowadays. And I feel a little the same way. As everyone in F1 knows cars could (if allowed) do pretty much everything for you. A couple of years ago I arrived at a taxi rank in Alkmaar in Holland and gave the driver the address to which I wish to be conveyed. He tapped this address into a computer and the machine took over. Doris the Talking Taxi told the driver what he had to do in a rather grating metallic voice, but he did it and to my amazement we arrived at exactly the place I wanted to be. All the driver had to do was obey Doris (which meant that I did not really need to leave him a tip). I found it all rather disconcerting and yet at the same time rather magnificent. I wondered how long it would be before Doris and her clones will be able to point out historic landmarks on the way - and advertise local businesses.

"You are turning left in 300m," she might soon say. "There is a very good restaurant on the left called Chez Wombat. And just up here on your right was where a little boy stuck his finger in the dyke and saved Holland from flooding."

When there is a long journey to be done I love having stories to tell along the way and motor racing always provides plenty of chat on a long car journey. Not so long ago I was on my way from Paris to Belgium and found myself recounting the history of the Paris-Amsterdam-Paris race of 1898 to keep the driver entertained. It was (in case you did not know) the first motor race to cross an international border but it came just a few weeks after the first fatal accidents in the history of the sport (if you must know, the crash involved an obscure aristocrat called the Marquis de Montignac and his two riding mechanics in an similarly obscure motor race in the town of Perigueux in the south-west of France).

There was a bit of public outcry as a result of this slaughter and the Paris police's chief engineer - a Monsieur Bouchet - decided that he would inspect all the racing cars to see if he thought they were safe. Having done this he announced that the entire field was disqualified.

This caused a certain amount of annoyance and M. Bouchet found that the racers were of the opinion that he was a top-hatted buffoon and should be ignored. In order to stop the race happening he had the police roll out its cannons and threaten competitors with arrest or, if they set off without his permission, a cannonball.

Motor racing people have always been rather inventive and so the racing fraternity all wished M. Bouchet well and went off to a small town outside his jurisdiction and started the event without him.

This was (I believe) Holland's first motoring event but since then the Dutch have been very keen on the sport and the theme of lunacy has not been far from the surface in recent weeks as (amazingly) the Dutch have been holding center stage in the Formula 1 spotlight as Jos Verstappen and Christjian Albers have battled one another to be the second Minardi driver.

It has not been a very pleasant fight for there are elements in both the Verstappen and Albers camps who were not brought up playing cricket. The stories circulating were so contradictory that it go to the point that one could hardly believe anyone involved and then came the dirty tricks. I received photographs of Jos Verstappen getting into a ruckus at a karting event with a man who used to be his sponsor. A few days later some oik in Holland sent out an e-mail trying to get me to report that Albers was running pornographic photographs on his website. I tried the links and they did lead to a few photographs of girls showing their breasts at a party but when I tried to find the same thing by going via the Albers website I could not get to the same place which led me to believe that there was some kind of cyber-terrorism taking place.

Cyber-terrorism in Formula 1. Whatever next?

The madness of it all seemed to have completely escaped all of those involved. Does anyone in the world (aside from Dutchmen) actually care who drives the second Minardi? It is a nice team and very friendly but one does not expect them to be challenging Ferrari,. McLaren and Williams for honors. As far as most of the world is concerned the second Minardi could be driven by a computer called Doris and no-one would even notice.

And then I thought: "No, I am being harsh." Motor racing has always been about mad people doing mad things. And it obviously does matter to the people who stand in the rain at racing circuits watching cars going by in their balls of spray. And to those people, like myself, who find themselves in a field in the middle of Hungary at some crazy hour on a Sunday morning when any normal person would be asleep in bed.

And it struck me that one of the things I love most about this sport is the absurdity of the idea, the lunacy of some of the people and the colorful life that it gives me.

If only Doris could understand...

Print Feature