GLOBETROTTER

Meanwhile in Cloudcuckooland

Quite a few people have complained of late that there have been no Globetrotter columns and I must confess that this is down to pure unadulterated laziness, and due to the fact that Globetrotter has not been globetrotting much since the end of the Formula 1 season. But in recent days, after months of staying at home and avoiding all things Formula 1, I set off to Monte Carlo to keep an eye on the World Council, go to the FIA Prizegiving Gala and see a little sunshine, without being chilled to the bones. Then it was off to London to see the accountant and then to Zurich to see the Sauber windtunnel. And then back to Paris via London again.

Now the drawbridge is up, the hatches are battened down and I am staying here until after the Christmas bells have made merry and the New Year has been rung in. It seems to me that a lot of F1 people have already gone off early this year for Christmas, perhaps thanks to the fact that there is no testing allowed what the Americans love to call "the holidays".

The air waves have been really quiet recently in the Formula 1 world unless you are the kind of person who gets excited about Flavio Briatore having a baby. For a moment or two after I heard that piece of news I was pretty excited as well, but then someone told me that apparently there was a woman involved as well...

The only thing of any real note has been Luca di Montezemolo telling a few British journalists that he expects there to be a settlement of the GPWC-SLEC problem before the end of the year. This left me almost as startled as I was when I heard that Briatore was giving birth as it strikes me a solution by Christmas is about as likely as Flav getting a bump under his jumper and going into labour.

Still, it will not be the first time in the history of mankind that we have been told that "it will all be over by Christmas". They said that in August 1914 as well, at the start of World War I. Four years and 8.5m dead later the war actually ended. These things are always rather more complicated than the politicians would have us believe - which is why I find it hard to believe that the GPWC-SLEC battles will all be over by Christmas. Not least because everyone will want to go off skiing or looking at snowy mountains in the days ahead. Who is going to do all the drafting of documents if the lawyers are tucked up in front of Alpine fires or hanging out on the beaches of the Caribbean?

Montezemolo's remarks about the solution were spectacular in their vagueness.

"There are many big issues including television rights, ticket sales, circuit signage and other forms of advertising," he said. "We want revenues from all three areas."

I make that four...

"...and we hope that by the end of the year the GPWC, Bernie Ecclestone and the banks will make it all official."

I wondered if at any point during this speech a squadron of pigs flew by the window in Fiorano, dive-bombing the local sausage factory.

There is no way that such huge issues are going to be settled in a matter of days. There might be a deal over TV rights fees; there might be a deal over the fees Bernie collects from race promoters; there might even be a deal over the fees Ecclestone gets from Allsport Management (which deals with trackside signage, the Paddock Club and official supplier arrangements) but it will only be a deal over how much of his percentage he is willing to let go. They are not going to be able to walk off with all of Allsport's business in a matter of days.

And ticket sales? Forget it. Tickets are nowadays the only thing that a race promoter gets when he signs a deal with the Formula One group. Of the teams want to get that money they are going to have to find 16 venues which are all willing to lose money every year. Many of the current race deals are in place until 2006 and some go far beyond that. So the renegotiation of contracts if ticket sales are to be included will be going on until the New Year's Day in 10 years time.

So what was Montezemolo talking about?

The conclusion was that the GPWC was getting itself off the hook. The GPWC insisted that a deal must be done before the end of the year and suddenly - boom - they came up with a deal. The only thing was that there were no details at all. And in F1 when there are no details it means that there is no deal because it is a world where there are few secrets which last for long.

There may be an agreement in principle on some issues and there may even be some percentages which they can publish to show that a deal is being discussed but a real deal is still months away.

In the meantime, in keeping with its policy of making stupid statements, the GPWC will be busy looking for "a new Bernie". I wonder if perhaps they might also find a new Cullinan diamond? That is about as likely as finding another Bernie. Perhaps these car manufacturers will find someone to do the job that Bernie does - but he, she or it will not be another Bernie. The sport cannot be that lucky.

People say that Ecclestone has taken too much out of the sport and that he has been bed for the business but one can only wonder where we all be now if Bernie had not built the business as he did. It is not simply a case of "someone else would have done it" because as they have proved many times over, there are no F1 teams bosses with the force of character of Ecclestone. F1 would probably still be a very marginal sport and not the huge business it has become today.

There are some fascinating remarks by Max Mosley in Alan Henry's latest book, called "The Powerbrokers", which is the story of how Formula 1 was built up. Mosley said of Ecclestone that he is "an ace negotiator. If one wanted to adjourn a meeting for a private discussion," said Mosley, "my technique was to politely offer to leave the room and leave the other side to consider its position. Bernie's strategy was to force the other side to leave the room so that he could rifle through the wastepaper basket and read all the note that they had written to each other while they were negotiating."

Mosley knows that Ecclestone is ahead of the game.

"I will always remember there was a bomb scare at the Excelsior Hotel at Heathrow," Mosley said. "We all trooped out into the car park from the ground floor conference room. We arrived to find that Bernie was already there. We had all wandered out through the reception area whereas Bernie had worked it all out and simply stepped through the sliding window at the end of the conference room and was outside before any of the rest of us. It was very clear how his mind operated."

So, let us not expect that the war will be over by Christmas and let us not expect anyone to find another Bernie.

Silly ideas both.

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