Toys for the boys

Lego Schumacher & Barrichello, Freud and a Smoking baby

Lego Schumacher & Barrichello, Freud and a Smoking baby 


The other day I happened to be in a toy shop in America and I stumbled upon the perfect toy for a number of people in Formula 1. Now you may think that with their yachts, helicopters, jets and play-women, they have every toy that money can buy, but obviously none of them have yet encountered the Sigmund Freud Action Figure.

It took me only around a nano-second to buy the only Freud they had left in the store and since then I have been debating with myself over who should receive my little Sigmund with a note attached saying: "Someone for you to talk to". My five inch high Sigmund is a brilliant idea, so brilliant in fact that I decided to have a dredge around the Internet to see what else the company in question has to offer. I discovered that Sigmund is only one of a range of bizarre action figures, which include Ludwig Van Beethoven, Moses and Pope Innocent III. I went on to discover that little Freud is actually outsold by several others in the range: notably Albert Einstein, Jesus and Edgar Allan Poe (complete with raven on his shoulder). And things get very weird after that because the company also sells the Ceramic Smoking Baby and the wind-up Hopping Lederhosen.

It seems to me that you can sell just about anything if you can make people happy. The cynic in me wants to say that by that logic Formula 1 should be selling truckloads of such merchandise at the moment because some of the current antics are very funny, but the F1 mentality does not go beyond overpriced T-shirts and a few toy cars. Ferrari seems to be the only team with a vague idea and its major contribution to the development of Formula 1 are the Lego minifigures of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello.

They may seem a little plastic and not very life-like but the squared-off Michael and Rubens are a step in the right direction for F1.

Surely there is a market for Max Mosley dartboards. Surely you could sell Jenson Button dolls with different sets of team overalls? Or the F1 Rough Guide to the Law?

But what are they doing in F1 rather than thinking up good ideas? They are fighting with one another and spending truckloads of money on lawyers, fighting this case and that suit, this arbitration and that arbitration.

Formula 1 is a licence to print money if it is handled carefully. That is why it attracts commodity brokers who can see an angle in every deal and soak up as much cash as they can grab and more if they are allowed to. And while this is happening and the sport is drifting into the mess that will result if such people are left in charge, all that the current bosses want to do is to fight with one another over who is the cleverest. They are all rich beyond their wildest dreams and now its is about ego.

The great industrialist Andrew Carnegie once said that "to die rich is to die disgraced" and Carnegie put his money where his mouth was. He came from nothing to become a steel baron and ultimately the richest man in the world. When he retired at the age of 66 he sold the business for $480m, which at the time was so much money that it was impossible to even fathom. He then spent the rest of his life spending his money and when he died 18 years later he had managed to spend $350m on worthy causes. His charitable institutions remain to this day, still making grants to improve education and things that really matter. The world no longer thinks of Carnegie as a robber baron.

Now I don't care what happens to all the money that the Formula 1 bosses have made in the past. I care about the future and all I see at the moment is a group of people who are taking everything out and giving nothing back. Team bosses talk about helping young drivers but who really does? Why is some of the money being made not being put back into the sport to create scholarship schemes for young drivers to expand the sport to undeveloped regions?

Why is there no money going into making a better television sport with the same kind of coverage that we used to have a few years ago when Bernie Ecclestone put down some money to develop something new and interesting? The pay-per-view TV coverage was great but it did not make money and so it was dropped. That is wrong. The sport should have a percentage of the profits that goes into improving the show. There is so much that could be done but all everyone involved seems to want is more and more money.

And to make matters worse the decision-making processes are becoming more and more bizarre: why do we need to slow the cars down? They are very safe. Costs can be cut without going near the engines with a sensible programme of standardization of non-important parts and sensible restrictions on testing. Why is the sport drifting towards a situation in which the new Formula 3000 series will be privately-owned and have bigger engines than F1? The custodians of the sport are too busy fighting over who gets the biggest chair at the top table rather than solving the problems.

And just as small boys grow into big boys and break their toys, so the F1 bosses are getting old and doing the same to the sport.

I think I'm going to order a boxload of plastic Sigmund Freuds.

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