Cruise ships, tree farming, Michael Schumacher and life coaching




The life of a motor racing reporter takes one to all kind of weird and wonderful places between Tierra del Fuego and the North Cape. Over the years I've been to Hell and back (it is in Norway) and I have discovered that it really is a long way to Tipperary. I have even visited Timbuktu in Mali, although I still have to try Timbuctoo, a ghost town in California. I have discovered that there are a dozen Scandinavian towns called A and that it is to Lithuania that one must travel if one prefers the other end of the alphabet: the Lithuanians have a dozen places beginning with the letters Z-Y. It has long been an ambition to one day go to the back and beyond of Pennsylvania where the placenames get really silly, including Economy, Harmony, Prosperity, Torpedo, Hero, Jollytown and Panic.

I did once try to visit Sodom, Connecticut, but I just could not find it.

The one place I never did get around to visiting was a place that a sports reporter really should drop in on: Olympia, the birthplace of sport, a small town in the back and beyond of the Peloponnese peninsula in Greece, where the first Olympic Games were held in 393 AD. It is also the site one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Temple of Zeus, although compared to the glittering tower blocks of today, the old Wonders are not really that impressive.

A pile of carved stones is a pile of carved stones.

Olympia is not the kind of place one goes to by accident and I ended up there as the result of being on a holiday cruise around the Adriatic and Aegean Seas. This was designed to amuse and educate small boys during the school holidays. Cruising was never really my idea of fun but there is no escaping the fact that it has advantages, particularly for the frequent traveller who does not want to travel when on holiday. The good thing is that the 76,000 ton luxury hotel moves for you so that every morning, when you look out of the window, you are in a different place. You get to know the waiters in the restaurants and can even make the acquaintance of people you would never normally stumble upon.

And thus it was I ended up spending several amusing days with a bunch of tree farmers (or should that be a "clump" or a "spinney"?) and a life and business coach from North Carolina. Yes, I know, I had no idea what a life and business coach did either, but apparently they make you rich and happy while reducing the amount of time you spend at work.

I also had time to mull over life in general and I concluded that tree farming is a pretty good job because those tree things keep coming out of the ground and all you have to do is cut some of them down each year and sell them.

The problem is that you have to have a big enough forest to live a comfortable life. If you are Michael Schumacher, for example, you can invest a few tens of millions and buy yourself very large tracts of land and just watch it grow. The money it earns will pay you back soon enough as long as you don't get attacked by nasty little pine beetles and in some places the government will even pay you to do it (or give you tax breaks) because they like trees.

The question that is troubling everyone in Formula 1 circles is whether or not Michael can spend the rest of his days looking at trees growing, in the knowledge that he is putting back some of the oxygen he has used up with his many and varied vehicles during his life.

Logic says that he should quit at the top but that is a difficult thing to do because racing drivers have amazing powers of self-delusion (some would say this is a necessary element to getting to F1 in the first place) and so racing stars always tend to stay on for too long and it is very painful to watch them trolling around at the back, like actresses who has gone on for too long. We like to say that Alain Prost and Jackie Stewart quit when they were at the top but in both cases circumstances played a bigger role than we remember. Stewart stopped racing because he had lost so many friends that he no longer wanted to go on taking the risks and Prost quit because Frank Williams decided to hire Ayrton Senna instead and left Alain with no real choice but retirement.

From where I was sitting on the deck of the cruise ship, Michael Schumacher did not look like a man about to quit racing. When you are considering retirement you don't charge like Michael did in Melbourne and end up sticking your shiny red Ferrari into the wall at high speed. You drive a metre from the kerbs. We have seen him do a bit of that this season but then there is no point trying to hurt yourself in a bad car and Michael may only be willing to put his pedal to the metal when he thinks he has a chance of a good result.

That is a sign of maturity rather than age.

Jean Todt has rubbished the idea that Michael might move elsewhere and Michael has said that Ferrari would be his first choice but the fact remains that Ferrari has not been a winning team for 18 months now and there is no reason to suspect that next year will be any different. The team might come back but then again it might not. The competition is so intense that the smallest mistake is punished massively. The difference between third and 10th places is the tiniest of margins and the winning team is the team that makes the least mistakes. And for two years now the team that has made the fewest errors is Renault. Other teams are busy stealing Renault staff but for the moment the team remains strong.

Michael knows this. He knows that if he wants to go out on a high, he has to move to Renault. He can go on believing in Ferrari, hoping that next year will be better, but the petty pace from day to day is creeping on: tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. And Michael's hour of strutting and fretting upon the stage cannot go on forever.

The clock is ticking.

I suppose I could suggest a chat with my friend the life coach.

Print Feature