GLOBETROTTER

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to court we go...

The other day I found myself trying to explain Cockney Rhyming Slang to an American who had never even heard of the concept before. It is a complicated business to throw light on why anyone would say something like: "Hello me old china. Fancy a pig? I could use a rabbit" and hope to be taken seriously.

But those who were born within the sound of the bells of St Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside in London have always had an interesting view of language and I have even heard that racing drivers have now entered the Cockney vocabulary. Apparently if you go down the East End you might even hear someone say: "Ere, I have got to Nigel Mansell (cancel) my subscription because it costs an Ayrton Senna (tenner, 10) a month."

I guess in the fullness of time Michael Schumacher will probably enter Cockney too.

"Give her a Michael!" they will say. Smack her (rhymes with Schumacher). Who knows?

As regular readers of this will know, I love languages and not only do my bookshelves house such classics as the British-American Dictionary but also tomes full of Pidgin English, Esperanto and (of course) The Dictionary of Tebele and Shuna Languages.

One of the things that I love most about travelling is to see the attempts that are made by stubborn locals to write English instructions when the only sensible thing to do would be to ask an English person. And hence we end up sniggering over instructions in a Japanese hotel that we should "take advantage of the chambermaid" or make sure that we do not "hang from the windows".

The other day a pal of mine sent me a whole list of such daft attempts which such as the sign in a Bangkok dry cleaner which exhorted potential clients to "drop your trousers for the best results". Interesting.

"The flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid," a Yugoslav hotel declared while in Paris one hotel suggested that guests should "leave your values at the front desk."

And so on and so forth...

We all interpret thing differently and I suppose that was the subject on Tuesday morning when I set off down the Champs Elysees to sit in on the Ralf Schumacher hearing of the FIA International Court of Appeal.

Allowing journalists into the court is a relatively new development for the federation, which wants to give proceedings more credibility by opening up the system of justice to the world. As I happen to live not far from the Place de la Concorde I found myself tipping up there in a jacket and tie so as not to look out of place amongst the lawyers and racing drivers on their best behavior. The issue at hand was whether or not Ralf Schumacher caused "an avoidable accident" at Hockenheim.

Now I would argue (being contrary by nature) that there is no such thing as an avoidable accident because an accident is something which, by definition, takes place without one's foresight or expectation and thus cannot be avoided. It is simply fate. An accident happened at Hockenheim and a lot of people think that no-one should be blamed for it.

This was the main thrust of the BMW Williams lawyer's arguments. Ralf, he said, was not to blame because he could not see the cars behind him. This was very persuasive as long as one accepts that from the moment the race began to the moment of the impact Schumacher never once moved his head and just drove blithely down the road, looking in his mirrors like a model citizen, but never once moving his head and allowing his peripheral vision to pick up the presence of two cars on the left hand side.

The cars, the lawyers and engineers proved, were totally invisible to Ralf all the way and as he did not change his trajectory he could not be blamed for the accident.

Nice idea.

The problem was that Schumacher's trajectory meant that there was no room left for the other cars and so they all collided. Kimi Raikkonen and Rubens Barrichello, so it was argued, were not in any way to blame for the crash although they both could have taken actions which would have avoided it happening: Kimi could have driven off the track and Rubens could have braked.

Now here was an interesting point because Michael Schumacher is often accused of manoeuvres which put other drivers into impossible positions. Several well-known F1 journalists mentioned this in the wake of the Hockenheim shunt and asked why it is that Michael gets away with it and Ralf does not. As I sat there listening to the arguments, I realized that there is an answer to this. When Michael is involved in an incident the other drivers back off or take avoiding action because they know that Michael will put them in the hedge if they do not. Hence Michael escapes the blame for "avoidable accidents" because those accidents do not happen. Ralf's reputation is that of a rather less ruthless man (which one might argue is a good thing) but as a result the other drivers seem to think he will back down.

After 90 minutes of evidence and learned argument being we left the court and milled around outside with different views. Some said: "This is racing and that is how it should be"; others said "the fact that there is a debate shows that it is not a clear-cut case and so Ralf should not be punished."

I was still trying to make up my mind and, as I set off back up the Champs Elysees, I concluded that we had all missed one rather critical point. Analyzing every twitch of the steering wheel was fascinating but it struck me that there is not much analysis going on as the field heads down to the first corner in a race. It is pure animal instinct and Ralf, rapid though he may be, doesn't scare his rivals enough.

Should he be punished for that?

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