Orange juice and Formula 1

Ron Dennis, Easter Sunday, San Marino GP 2003

Ron Dennis, Easter Sunday, San Marino GP 2003 

 © The Cahier Archive

The other day I was walking down the Champs Elyees, minding my own business, when I was approached by a lady. It is not the first time that this has happened but this one was not asking me if I would "buy her a drink". This one asked me whether I go to the supermarket on a regular basis.

I was so surprised that for a moment, I hesitated and in that split second she lunged through the chink in my armor.

"It will just take a minute," she said.

Market research! Oh no...

"Do you buy orange juice?" she asked, as I tried to think of 56 reasons why I had to be somewhere else. I was reminded at that moment of the story of Hercules, a wonderful radio operator in the French Resistance, who was cornered one day by the Germans, one of whom was pretending to be an Allied messenger and was saying that Hercules must return to England via Spain. Hercules laughed, remarked that he always travelled by air, and promptly shot the German.

"I prefer grapefruit," I mumbled to my attacker, but despite a quick search of my pockets I couldn't find my revolver anywhere.

And so I was led away like a stray sheep to answer questions about fruit juices.

Why do I buy Tropicana? Would I buy more Tropicana if the advertisements appeared during dull documentaries or in the middle of daytime soap operas?

It was all automated and so soon I was left staring at a TV screen being led through a series of actions to give the answers. They showed various different snippets of TV programs interspersed by adverts. I think they were trying to establish whether I was alert to branding. I guess I must have failed because after a few minutes the only brand I could remember at all was Tropicana. If it had gone on much longer I would have been asleep because I find that the TV does that to me. I can just make it through the news but show me a typical TV show these days and I am gone.

The only thing that keeps me awake are quiz shows because one can get involved in the questions and I am one of those annoying people who have a head full of useless information. I know without needing to looking it up the name of the first man to be run over by a train.

Ron Dennis does not but he has a lot of excess knowledge in his head.

"What is a Zo?" Ron asked a bunch of British press who were politely nibbling on canapes in the Mercedes-Benz Communication Center (aka the McLaren motorhome). We all shook our heads after a few desultory guesses.

"It is a cross-bred Tibetan yak," said Ron, rather proudly.

Ron tried again.

"What is the word that describes the process by which an animal can regenerate a limb. And which animal can do it?"

No-one knew and for some reason this convinced Ron to offer money to the first person who could tell him. There would be 50 for the process and a fiver for the animal.

I am not averse to taking money from Formula 1 team owners, unless of course they are trying to bribe me, and 55 is 55. So when I got back from the circuit that night I popped out onto the Internet, found what I was looking for and next day was able to wander up to Ron and demand my 55.

There was a purpose in all this - we were having fun - but at a quiet moment Ron and I did stop and discuss the importance of making children work for a reward. Children of Formula 1 people can turn out to be really hideous people because they are often completely indulged by their rich and busy parents. Ron has been around long enough to see this happen time and time again and he is a great believer in making sure that his kids realize the value of things and do not just get whatever they want. He believes in rewarding his children for good behavior and achievement and has hit on the quiz as a way of building up family values. It was a nice reminder that away from all the motor racing spin we are all people with normal lives and normal problems.

Ron's views were eminently sensible.

When he starts to talk about the GPWC I have more difficulty in taking him seriously. It all sounds very plausible and perhaps there are elements of it which are sensible but I just cannot see it happening. Ron is very plausible but then so too are Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley who are promoting a differently-branded World Championship.

In fact, when all is said and done, everyone who has made it in F1 is plausible but they cannot all be right. Someone has to win and someone has to lose.

I never bothered to ask any of them the question that no-one at Imola was able to answer: why was the crowd was so small?

Was it, we wondered, because the Italians still believe in family values and wanted to be at home with Mamma on Easter Sunday. Or was it because the ticket prices are too high? Or that Ferrari has won too much? Or that the new regulations mean that cars run for less time? Or is that Imola is just a dull race track?

I have no idea. I guess we will see as the season moves on whether or not the crowds are down at other venues. Barcelona will probably be a poor guide for we will be going to a place which should be caught up in Alonsomania. There is nothing like a successful driver to jump-start a sport in any country and Fernando Alonso seems to me to be man to get the Spaniards hot under their sombreros.

It did not happened with Marc Gene, nor with Pedro de la Rosa but Alonso has been on the podium and has all the makings of being a star of the future.

And you know, when I stop to think about it, when all is said and all is done, it is the drivers who should be the stars of this great sport. Is the sport a money-dripping soap opera or is it about racing cars? Is it about Alonso doing a good job or about German bankers who are playing hard ball. There are times when I love the buzz of the politics and there are times when all I want to do is to go to a corner and watch the boys hurtling through the corners.

I go to races. It makes me feel good.

I buy orange juice. It makes me feel healthy. Who cares what the brand is?

Print Feature