Lighting the spark



There are certain times of year when it is especially good to be a Grand Prix reporter and I have always liked the period in which we go to Monaco and then on to Canada. If there was nothing more to life than motor racing, I would also go to Pau on the weekend after Monte Carlo because it is another wonderful event, with cars hurtling through the streets, challenging the men and the machines. It is a magnificent place and there is something about this time of year which throws the mind back to the old days when these events began in the 1920s and 1930s. In those days the sport was very different and there was a spirit amongst the players, a camaraderie that left no room for the mean-spirited ideas that exist today.

The cynics would say that I am an escapist but I don't care. I like it.

The other day I read somewhere that there was an exhibition of the work of the photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue at the Pompidou Centre and so, being at a loose end, I went down there to have a look (and to have lunch in a very fine Japanese restaurant just around the corner). In his 84-year career as a photographer, which began when he was given a camera at the age of six, Lartigue photographed many different things. His portraits of his wives and girlfriends are stunning but thanks to the fact that he came from a wealthy background and that his brother was mad about automobiles and aeroplanes, he was also present at some of the early racing and flying events. You may not know his name but you would know his work if you saw it. He liked nice cars and he could afford them. He was trained as a painter but his camera was never far from him and in 1927 he took a photograph while touring the Riviera with his wife Bibi, which is one that I can look out for hours. It is a Bugatti on a coast road with the shimmering sea in the background. It picks me up and carries me away into a magical world of sunshine and the open road.

A world of dreams.

The other day I was stuck for an extra day in Beaulieu-sur-Mer because of the French general strike after Monaco. And as I wandered around I found myself dreaming that one day I might perhaps afford to buy a villa in the town. The Cote d'Azur these days is not like in Lartigue's days but it still has its magic and if one day I ever make enough money to do it, I would, without much thought, invest in a place in Beaulieu and be gone for six months of the year. Villas down there are not given away in cornflakes packets but I have always subscribed to the philosophy that if we do not dream dreams in life we will never achieve any goals and lead very dull lives.

People often ask me how one becomes a Grand Prix reporter and I tend to reply that the first thing you need to do is to have the dream. To want it. And then you have a dream that can be made to come true.

The other week, for reasons which are still uncertain to me, I went back to my old school in England to talk to 16-year-olds about careers in journalism. I do not think I am particularly well-qualified to give careers advice apart from the fact I am a working journalist. I must say that they asked some weird and wonderful questions in the course of the event but as the evening went on, I found that I was replying to every inquiry with the exactly the same speech.

"What I am going to tell you," I would said, "is the best advice you will get today no matter whether you want to be a butcher, a baker a candlestick maker or a Grand Prix reporter. The best careers advice I can give you is that you should not listen to careers advice.

"If you have a dream you should get on with making it happen and don't listen to anyone who says that you should go into the army or join Daddy's firm. If you have a dream you should grab for it. The worst thing that can happen is that you will fail and then you will be in no worse a situation than you were when you started out and at least you will have tried."

And I have to say that it was incredibly satisfying to see the idea sinking into the minds of these kids who came along expecting to be told "You do A, then B and then C" and instead discovered that there are no rules that they have to follow.

Formula 1 is full of people who do not like to follow rules; who have taken a risk at some point in their life and made it. This is why it is such a colourful world and why there are such strong friendships and strong emnities amongst people who live in the F1 village. Few are the normal people in this world. Almost everyone involved has given up a "proper job" and has put themselves out on a limb and they have made it work. They may be journalists or photographers, engineers or mechanics, drivers or even people who work in hospitality. They have all gone out to be in Formula 1 and that is why they are where they are.

There are many in the sport who are greedy and selfish but every now and then you stumble upon someone who is willing to give someone a chance or light a spark of ambition. And I like to think that the generous spirit that was around in the 1920s is what one can find in these people.

And I guess that is why once in a while I go and do careers talks...

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