Books, birthday treats and the Formula 1 mind-set

A helicopter? Doesn't every youth have one?

A helicopter? Doesn't every youth have one? 


I used to enjoy nice quiet winters with entire days when there was nothing that needed to be done but like most of the Formula 1 circus, things have accelerated in recent years in order to stay competitive. Running a website is a bit like being a zoo keeper. There is this monstrous thing there all the time that needs feeding at least twice a day and will not accept anything less than prime red meat. You cannot just go away and ignore it or else people complain that they cannot get their free news any more.

I guess it did not help matters that not long before Christmas I finally decided that I had had enough of waiting for some publisher to come along and offer me the world and that I would publish my own book. If you haven't picked up the rather unsubtle hints on this web site by now, then you should go to and find out that this great tome is all about three top Grand Prix who went on to become British secret agents in World War II. And I am not going into any more detail than that because otherwise someone will write in and complain that I am shamelessly plugging the book.

Suffice to say, I do have to try and sell the thing or, if I feel the need to go hungry, I can always try to convince WH Smith, Barnes & Noble, Borders and the rest of them to do it for me and pay me peanuts. Still, a lot of peanuts, so they say, is better than a small amount of gold and so I will sell the books to pretty much anyone.

The skill, of course, is getting people to know about a new publication and for that one needs reviews. The funny thing is that while everyone wants a review copy, very few of them ever seem to write reviews. Or perhaps it is that things take longer than a person used to the ways of F1 expects things to take.

We are a most impatient lot.

Spreading the word is an interesting exercise. You can tell the butcher, the baker and even the candlestick-maker and you can shout it from the rooftops but people tend to think you're a bit mad or boring (which is probably worse). After puzzling over this for a while I concluded that forums were the place. Forums, I thought, exist to exchange ideas. But, apparently, some of them do not live up to their name and exist so that some little Hitler can be in charge of something and think himself important.

I must say that I impressed even myself by being banned from one forum (for life, no less) before I had even received the "Welcome to this Dull Forum" message. When I did finally get the "Welcome" message I was in the process of trying to explain to the book-burning administrator that all I actually wanted to do was to spread the word with a simple post which was designed to encourage discussion (which is what forums ...) but "Nein!". I was an evil spammer who was bombarding him and his chums with e-mails about Viagra. (Hey, not a bad idea!).

We did not part as friends.

Fortunately, I really don't want friends like that and I am happy with the lunatics and circus acts that I know from the world of Formula 1. Life is never dull.

But that can be a problem.

Regular readers of this column will know that I have a son who is now getting to be "a youth". He has a birthday in January and, like most kids his age, he likes to have some kind of treat on his birthday. A couple of years ago we took him and some of his pals to one of the restaurants halfway up the Eiffel Tower. That was fun. Last year his birthday fell on the same day as the Williams F1 launch and it meant that if I went off to England for the launch I would leave before dawn and return after bedtime. There are only so many birthdays in life that have any magic and I decided that I was not about to miss one of them. I duly told Sir Francis that I would not be coming. Naturally he insisted that I explain why I would dare to miss his launch and so I explained and at the end of the conversation FW took the initiative and said "Bring him along too!".

I won't go into details but it was a great day for a kid. He even sat next to Sir Frank at lunch.

The problem with this is that a year later his mother and I were a little bit stumped for an idea to top a day out at Williams. Ten pin bowling just isn't quite the same thing, is it?

In the end she muttered something about knowing "someone in helicopters" and giving the kid and some of his mates a joy-ride over Paris. She works these days with the organisers of the French GP and they use helicopters a lot to get VIPs in and out of Magny-Cours and with a little nudging the people at THS, a company based at the Heliport de Paris in Issy-les-Moulineaux said that they could organise something. But of course one cannot just go for a joy-ride. One needs a suitable destination and we discovered that these are fairly limited and the people who have helipads also have a restriction on the number of flights they can have and so they want high-rollers with fat wallets landing there - rather than a bunch of kids.

In the end we decided on an expensive tea party at the Chateau d'Esclimont, once the home of the La Rochefoucauld family, just 20 minutes from Paris (if you happen to have a helicopter). This magnificent place is set in 150 acres and one lands on the lawn in front of the chateau.

Perfect. Oh, and an adult has to go along too.

Oh well, if they insist.

Wow! How the other half live. We took off and flew down across the huge redevelopment that is going on on the old Renault land at Boulogne-Billancourt. There was the Chateau de Versailles. Away on the left was the Peugeot track at Satory - much bigger than I thought, but without any 908s in action. There was the old Prost Grand Prix factory and a little further on the Circuit Jean-Pierre Beltoise at Trappes. Out into the country we passed over the Abbaye des Vaux de Cernay, where Baron Philippe de Rothschild, the Grand Prix driver, grew up and away to the right was Auffargis where Ferenc Szisz is buried and, of course, it is all country where the great champion Robert Benoist lived - but there's a new book out about him, so I'll not go into details.

We landed at the chateau and we were ushered into a tower overlooking OUR helicopter for a fabulous high tea.

This is the everyday life of a Grand Prix driver, I thought, as my son's pal referred to him as "Monsieur Le President".

All this and they get the babes as well.

On the way back, we had a fantastic view of the Eiffel Tower as it was lighting up for the evening.

And now we have a problem.

What the Hell are we going to do next year?

The good news is that in F1 anything is possible.

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