Columns - Eff One

13 January 2003


Spare a thought for the poor Formula 1 freelance journalists at this time of year. Money from last season has now stopped trickling in and this is the moment when we poor artistic individuals have to spend a fortune, booking all our flights for the coming season. They say that necessity breeds invention and in the finest tradition of starving poets, this is the time of year when many of us do our most colorful and creative writing: otherwise known as our tax returns.

I always try and pay my income tax with a smile, but it seems that the taxman always prefers a check. He assumes that because I work in Formula 1 I earn an astronomical amount of money, when the sad truth is that my tax bill for the year probably represents what some drivers earn in an hour.

I can probably be accused of a lack of planning and that I should be putting money away month by month. And I suppose that I have the tendency to be extravagant, but let us not forget that God invented Cuban cigars and vintage champagne to remind us that the ordinary stuff is rubbish.

But I would argue that why should I plan and skimp while the government throws all my money away? Why should I behave sensibly when the government shows no logic when it comes to spending? The British government is currently busy spending millions to get ready for a war in the Gulf, apparently to protect the oil supplies in the West. Surely it would be better to put things in order at home before worrying about a bloke in Baghdad with silly moustache? The condition of the roads in my part of England would not seem out of place in the African bush. If a bus actually stops in our village all the children come out to stare at it for it is a rare beast.

And let us not forget that a half hour train journey in Britain these days, involves packing a warm blanket and enough food for a week and saying farewell to the loved ones just in case.

I tried these arguments on the taxman but he was not impressed. So I tried explaining that times are hard in F1. That Prost and Arrows have gone bust and that Jordan and Minardi have their bums hanging out of their trousers (or butts hanging out of their pants as you Americans say). These are difficult times.

Still it is nice to see some cost-cutting going on. Minardi and Jaguar have been very imaginative in employing very tall drivers as Justin Wilson and Mark Webber can double up as paddock crew, washing truck windows and putting up motorhome awnings which small people cannot manage.

Jordan is also showing imagination by not signing up a second driver until the last minute - presumably to save on his salary. And the signs are that there will be more savings this year for Williams and McLaren as their bills for silver polish will be down on previous years when they used to win lots of new trophies every year. Ferrari, of course, has an unlimited silver polish budget to cope with all the new silverware. They have so many trophies these days at Maranello that they are putting flowers in themÉ

The taxman listened to my argument. Then shook his head and said: "Come on, Mr. Eff, you can do better than that."

I suggested an innovative scheme in which I would invest my tax payment to buy shares in Justin Wilson. If the lanky lad does the business, I would stand to make a fortune and the whole British economy would boom with tourist dollars as people rush in to see a homegrown sporting hero.

Evidently I lacked the selling talents of Dr. Jonathan Palmer, Wilson's manager, as this idea was rejected. To be quite honest this did not surprise me at all for I am not in the league of a Formula 1 manager when it comes to the production of hot air. I thought for a moment of Paul Stoddart, who seems very pleased with his driver line-up this year.

I was wondering if he has yet realized that with Wilson and Jos Verstappen he has acquired two of the most talkative managers in the business: Palmer and another ex-F1 driver with the improbable name of Huub Rothengatter. Both have been known to chat. In fact, while I wouldn't say these two fellows can talk a bit I might take a leaf from Ron Dennis's book and describe them as men who "can verbally optimize the rear limb removal of an asinine quadruped.

Mind you, every cloud has a silver lining and if cash runs so short that Minardi cannot afford to go to the races, Stoddy could always rent an airship and pipe in hot air channelled from the pair.

My next ploy with the taxman was to explain that the shock of his demands meant that I would once again have to cancel my plans to give up smoking and would therefore be giving the government a huge sum of money in tobacco duties. He didn't buy this, pointing out that Her Majesty's Government was dead against smoking, which is why all cigarette packs carry a health warning. The authorities claim that, when buying cigarettes, the smoker will read the pack, apparently seeking instructions on how to smoke and will then be struck by a warning that it can damage one's health. "Well, how lucky that I read this. In that case, I'll just throw the pack away."

"You're trying my patience," barked the taxman.

"Great," I replied. "You must come round to my place and try mine."

Having conclusively failed to get this bureaucratic bully to reduce my tax bill, I had no option but to seek extra employment. I read through a self-help book on the subject and it was while holding my bald head in my hands that the idea struck me. Perhaps I could make money testing toupes for a wig manufacturer. I rang around and did a deal and before long my first "rug" arrived in the post.

I thought I would give it a try at a cocktail party where I was unknown to most of the guests. Everything was going swimmingly until I went for the guacamole. Sadly, the toupe did not stop its trajectory at the same time that I did and as I was withdrawing from the bowl with a tasty morsel of green sludge on the end of my biscuit, there was a slightly gloopy noise as the wig landed in the dip. Everyone was very polite and there was hardly a titter in the house, but I did notice that no one ate the guacamole after that (except me).

The next day, I rang the wig manufacturer to complain. "You claim it will stay on in a hurricane," I cried.

"It would," came the reply, "but rural England is not exactly known for its hurricanes and so no-one has ever complained before."

And so, as the short-sighted rhinoceros of time tries to mount the VW Beetle of eternity, I doff my toupe and bid you good day.

(All donations to save Eff One from jail - and/or the psychiatric hospital - should be sent to The Bearer, Save Eff One Fund, etcÉ)