Breakfast in Neuilly

After a season like that, anyone with a hint of sanity would have come back from Brazil, locked the door behind them, fallen on the couch and stayed there for at least three weeks. But I guess I am not really sane. I came back from Brazil and moved both house and office, which is supposed to rate highly in the list of list of stressful events. It may not be up there with a death in the family or divorce but it is certainly not a stress-free and restful business. But, after a few weeks of sorting and filing I am beginning to see the light of day and I can relax a bit. I am not travelling and the Formula 1 scene has been admirably quiet, until the recent excitement of the closing date for entries for next year's World Championship. I have not had quite as much snoozing on couches as I would have liked but I am now beginning to wind down.

This morning I walked my son to school through the tree-lined avenues of Neuilly sur Seine, a leafy suburb of Paris. I dropped in at the butchers and then I went on to a cafe where I find myself writing this column on the back of an old envelope I found in my pocket with a cup of coffee, a croissant and a copy of Le Figaro. Life is good in such circumstances and with the Xmas trees beginning to appear and the mairie (the town hall) being decorated, it is nice to be a little lazy.

Next week the post-season testing will begin and the politics will be winding up again with Bernie Ecclestone's court case due and then the World Council. Formula 1 may be in a bit of a state but, sitting in a cafe with time to ponder, I cannot help but think that things are all right. The law suit between Ecclestone and the banks is going to happen and someone will be running the sport afterwards. It is in the interest of both parties to generate as much money as possible. The rule changes will happen one way or the other and the chances are that everyone will stay in the sport unless things are pushed too far. Amazingly, we will have 10 teams next year and there are supposed to be another two in 2006. We will believe that when we see it but the signs are still good.

Against the odds Jaguar Racing has survived and is in the process of being transformed into Red Bull Racing. That is a triumph for racing fans if only because Tony Purnell and David Pitchforth are exactly that. They are not spoiled prima donnas like some team bosses I shall not name. They are people who care about racing and want to win. There are some who think they are not cut out for the jobs they have been given and that they lack the nous to be F1 team owners but they are still there and some of those who wheel and deal in the old style of F1 team boss are slipping away from the scene. Perhaps F1 is changing towards a world in which business is done in a less rambunctious fashion. They understand how to keep to budgets and they are operating on a great deal less money than the team has had in the past. Some say that the team had its best results when Niki Lauda was in charge. That much is true although the car the team used that year was designed by the team under Bobby Rahal. The car produced during Lauda's reign was not as good. And it is worth pointing out that the budget was very different. In the Lauda year the team gobbled up around $175m. When Purnell and Pitchforth took over the budget was down to $120m. It is worth noting that they made a profit of $700,000 while in Lauda's year the team made a loss of more than $5m.

Lauda's supporters would argue that the only thing that matters is the results. Perhaps that is so but if that is what was wanted surely Niki would still be there.

Anyway, he's not and if rumour is to be believed we will soon be seeing the back of Eddie Jordan as well. This is a bit of a shame because EJ was a hell of a character. There will be new characters that come along. Dietrich Mateschitz is a curious one to start with: a billionaire with so little profile that you can walk past him in the paddock without even noticing (I have).

But then again we still have Paul Stoddart to keep us amused and one has to salute Stoddy not only for refusing to allow Minardi to die but also for having the gumption to stand up to the likes of Jean Todt and tell them that they are wrong. In recent months Stoddart has emerged as the only man who is capable of getting people to talk to one another. Sure, others have helped him but it is Stoddart who has been the driving force for reform and he has done it for the right reasons. OK, I accept that he is a little bit mad (and would accept that as a compliment) but he does not care. He believes in that wonderful eccentric way that the sport is more important that Jean Todt. And good on him! These sort of things need to be said from time to time.

Right, I think that it enough Formula 1 for one day. I'll order another coffee and then stroll home. I have some cooking to do later today!

Print Feature