Birds, flowers, lawyers and Jean-Paul Sartre

Dateline Magny-Cours. It is 05.01 and the late worms are heading for their dug-outs as the early birds rub their eyes, sharpen their beaks and don their wellies. The clock in the church in the village has just sounded out the hour and a lunatic on his (or her) way home just went through the village at a ridiculous speed, bound for a ditch somewhere. And so I am awake and the cogs of my brain have clunked back into the matters of the moment and are whirring gently, mulling things over.

There has been a lot to mull in recent days.

I cannot tell you how many e-mails I have received from fans around the world and all the different opinions I have considered, ranging from brilliantly incisive to downright stupid. I think my favourite letter was one which put me into a complete panic by using the word "panicle".

The gist of the letter was that rules are rules and that the show must always be secondary to that.

"The principal objective of Formula 1 is to be the panicle of motor sport," it said.

A panicle? I thought. Oh my God. I panicked and headed for the arms of Google. Panicle, I typed. Definition. And up it came. A panicle is a cluster of flowers.

Phew! I thought, now at last I understand. I can bluff my way through my ignorance.

Formula 1 is the cluster of flowers of motorsport.


I have encountered a few fruits in F1 (although rather more fruitcakes) but I have rarely encountered flowers beyond the pretty bunches one sees hanging out in the motorhomes.

I guess that about 20% of the e-mails argue this point. The rules must always be upheld and the sport must not be allowed to descend into show business. F1 is about excellence and technology and getting it right. And I agree that this is an admirable thing but these arguments collapse, as far as I am concerned, when you have 130,000 people sitting in a grandstand, who have paid a lot of money to be there and are waiting to see a show. Any other argument in those circumstances is, to my mind, beyond stupidity, particularly when one is in a country where any showdown results in people pulling out their lawyers faster than their six-guns; where you cannot get a cup of hot coffee because the vendors are terrified that you will spill it on yourself and sue them; where there are so many warnings written on a step ladder that you never get around to climbing the damned thing.

Since Indianapolis, times have been hard in F1. People are under pressure. Everyone has an opinion and the paperwork has been flying around like a tickertape parade on Wall Street. A lot of crap has been talked and written. The blinkered folk of the racing world who think that it will all blow over have no idea about what happens when you let the legal genies out of their bottles in the United States of America.

There may be no ambulances to chase but that won't stop the lawyers sniffing money and lining up for a slice of the imagined pie.

The FIA can try to hide behind the teams and to throw Michelin to the dogs as a sacrificial lamb but these dogs are going for throats of everyone and they are doing it in real court rooms not committee rooms at the FIA.

Who knows what the US courts will decide, but it is quite possible that it is not going to be pretty. And let us not forget, unless you run a very big organisation, a US lawsuit can take you out completely.

It is a good time to stay quiet and not give the ambulance chasers any ammunition for their legal actions.

The teams have done this very successfully with minimal comment in recent days. Others have been pumping out words, laying the blame hither and thither and such internecine tosh irritates me massively because it is forgetting the bigger picture. Probably the most active organisation in all of this has been the FIA. Max Mosley has been giving robust interviews, Q&As have been distributed and lots of documents have been revealed, in the interest of "complete transparency". What is incomplete transparency? And while I think of it, complete transparency would mean publishing the Concorde Agreement, wouldn't it?

Anyway, we have heard what all "the best evidence" suggests.

I have to say that I find The Blame Game a very bad strategy. Now is the time for the sport to bury its hatchets (and not in one another's heads) and face up to bigger challenges. What is done is done. Some problems you can fix, some you cannot fix. We learn as children, and indeed teach our own children, that there is no point in saying "I didn't mean to" and "it wasn't my fault" once the damage is done. We learn and we teach that it is best not to get into situations which can lead to disaster. We do not play tennis inside houses. We do not juggle with the family china. We do not swim in thunderstorms. We try not to live dangerously.

Those with a taste for juggling chainsaws, tightrope-walking or driving F1 cars do their thing and they are admired for it and rewarded as great showmen. They do not really do it for the fans who come to watch. They do it for their own pleasure but they understand that they are show men and that they have some responsibilities to the people who pay.

Blaming Michelin because of a technical problem seems to me to be unfair. Michelin did not go to Indianapolis intent on messing up the race. They went to win and they screwed up. They admitted that they screwed up and looked for solutions. It was finding the solution to the problem that was the problem.

In considering this article, I stumbled upon an old Globetrotter column in a long forgotten filing cabinet in a dusty library somewhere at the end of a long corridor in the back of this computer. It was talking about Max Mosley's relationship with the teams and was dated 1993.

"I stumbled on a copy of Jean-Paul Sartre's play Huis Clos, which I had dragged off my shelves back in February after Max Mosley quoted from it during a press conference in Paris," the article said. "Max was talking about his endless meetings with the F1 team bosses about technical regulations. Huis Clos is the story of three people who meet in a room in Hell and, as the play unfolds, gradually understand that they have been put together for eternity to needle one another, chasing each other round and round in a vicious circle, 'like horses on a carousel'. Near the end of the play, they realise that "Hell is other people" and, the play ends with the ghastly phrase: 'Well, let's get on with it.'

Nothing has changed. For 12 years they have been getting on with it and Indianapolis was the result.

Sartre would have loved a moment that occurred the other day at the beginning of Mosley's press conference in Paris. Max had taken to the stage with the international press waiting below like pupils at assembly, waiting to hear what the headmaster had to say. At the back of the room there were press releases. I grabbed one and left. Outside I sat on the stairs and dictated the World Council decision over my mobile to New York. It was a race to get the information up on the Web.

And I like races.

As I was doing this I had one ear listening to what was happening in the hall and clearly all was not going well. The sound system was not working correctly. Several times Mosley tried but it was not right.

There was some technical problem.

Figures were running behind me, insisting in strident terms that some unfortunate technical bod in a hole in the wall behind my back must instantly press all the right switches and turn the right knobs.

Technical problems happen sometimes.

People make mistakes. One always hopes to gloss over it and go on with the show but sometimes one is just not that lucky. On Wednesday Mosley was lucky. The switches all fell into the right alignment and then he was off, sounding as ever like a suburban vicar while conveying a message that would normally have come from a fire-and-brimstone evangelist.

He read the verdict and then launched into an attack about how Michelin was to blame because of a technical problem.

The irony sailed into the air, above the heads of those seated below.

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