GLOBETROTTER

Fire, philosophy and a funeral

It is cold now but I am sitting here in front of a roaring fire, with a nip of something in a nice crystal glass. It is an idyllic scene - as indeed it was intended to be. Outside it is zero degrees or less. Somewhere out in the burbs of Paris Renault is having a party to pat itself on the back for winning the World Championship but I'd rather bask in the glow of the fire than stand around in the Technocentre watching the Renault people congratulating themselves. They did well but the team has not won for so long that it may have forgotten that victory comes at a price, because the other teams sweep in and take your best people. They help themselves and hope to damage the others.

There have been several raids on Renault staff this winter - and there are more coming.

The fact is that the 2006 season has already begun, I was out in the country at the weekend and on the way back to town we passed a fleet of Renault F1 trucks heading south, presumably to begin the winter testing programme in Spain. The calendars may still say 2005 (although visiting postmen and firemen keep selling me calendars with 2006 written on the top) but Formula 1 is already there. That is the way things operate and what I like most about this sport. When someone in F1 says today, they mean today. It is not like dealing with plumbers, electricians or bureaucrats. In F1 the teams can fix some of the problems that are created but you are only as good as your last car. F1 is all about delivering whether you are a racing driver, a designer, a team principal or even a caterer. Everyone delivers or disappears. That is the ethos of the sport. If something can be done today, it is done today. And sometimes people in F1 attempt the impossible, just to see if it can be done. The sport is about finding the limits and then pushing them.

In such a world all too often history is something which people think is irrelevant. The philosopher George Santayana, a Spaniard who was a lecturer at Harvard, argued that "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it" and he was absolutely right. Those who ignore history make the mistakes that people before them made and the results are often the same. Mankind does not move forward by making the same mistakes over and over. Indeed one can argue that looking backwards is actually very valuable for the future.

The day after my jaunt in the country, I went to Jabby Crombac's funeral at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Jabby and I inhabited the same world for more than 15 years and although we were not particularly close I learned a lot from him and I think that his contribution to the sport and his enthusiasm were something to be respected and worthy of recognition. Jabby was the man who pushed motor racing to the fore in France after the tired years of the 1950s.

France was the cradle of the sport and until the 1930s had the best racing teams with the likes of Bugatti, Delage and the rest of them. After Gordini slipped out of F1 in the mid 1950s France was left with nothing and had it not been for men like Crombac and Jean-Luc Lagardere of Matra, France would not have enjoyed the success in racing that Renault is celebrating today. Lagardere, who died in March 2003, was not a great fan but understood that Matra's new automotive division could use motorsport to help sell cars. Crombac, who embodied enthusiasm for the sport, did much the same with Lotus, running the Coupe des Provinces in 1964 and 1965 for young drivers at the wheels of Lotus 7s. The Coupe des Provinces was the starting point for many of the young men who would go on to become France's stars of the 1970s: Henri Pescarolo, Johnny Servoz-Gavin, Patrick Depailler and others. At the same time Jabby was involved in setting up the Winfield School at Magny-Cours, through which all the winners of the Volant Elf - almost all the top names in French racing for 25 years - passed. And then, after years reporting around Europe for Autosport magazine, bringing European names to the attention of the British teams, Jabby set up his own magazine in France and helped to support the efforts of Matra, Renault, Elf and the rest of them in the 1960s and 1970s.

He reported on 540 Grands Prix.

Looking around the chapel I was saddened by the lack of people from the sport. Sir Jackie Stewart saved the day by flying in from London and giving a suitable speech for the occasion. But who else was there? The only F1 driver other than Stewart was Francois Mazet, who did one Grand Prix in 1971. Where, we wondered, were the others? The Pescarolos and Beltoises, the Jabouilles and Arnouxs, the Prosts and Tambays. Surely Jabby deserved a little more of a send-off from the sport that he loved so much and for which he did so much.

Looking around the chapel I saw Clive and Hazel Chapman and Fred Bushell from the old days at Team Lotus and mechanic Bob Dance. Jabby was Lotus-mad. There was Jean-Francois Robin of Matra and Renault fame, Mike Knight from the Winfield School; Yvon Leon from the FIA and Tatsuya Otani, Jabby's editor in Japan, who had flown in from Tokyo for the occasion.

The rest of the mourners were family, friends, fans and fellow journalists.

The message it sent out was not a very optimistic one. Formula 1 journalists like to believe themselves important and influential and many people pander to these delusions. The press is there because it is needed but many still view the media as a nuisance. It is perhaps worth noting that when one visits the website of Bernie Ecclestone's new shareholders CVC Capital Partners, one finds the investment in Dorna (the MotoGP Series) listed under media and no doubt the Formula One investment will end up there as well.

A week before Jabby's I had been down in Monaco, listening at the F1 Sponsorship Forum to a lot of people talking about importance of partnership and how vital it is for everyone to work together to build up the sport.

When I left the chapel in Pere Lachaise, it was drizzling and miserable and I wondered whether the funeral was a demonstration of F1's ability to create partnerships.

God help the sport if it was...

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