Here it is, ladies and gentlemen – in my very first column for Motor Sport I have the answer! There’s an ingenious short-term solution for a few of the cash-starved Formula 1 teams… find a pen and sign me to drive for you immediately.
It’s a stunningly simple strategy – failing to qualify saves so much money. Look at the range of benefits: Reduced engine wear, no need to bring truck loads of crew to the tracks, forget R&D – because we’re not going to make the grid anyway – and don’t worry about corporate hospitality because we’ll be as popular as a landmine.
You may think this is stupid, but I’ve already experienced it with the wonderful Andrea Moda team back in 1992 – a team that thought a soft compound was an outdoor prison. I admit, however, that this approach is a trifle flawed if both driver and team desire any long-term future, i.e. the driver preferring to stay alive and the squad actually remaining in F1.
After I failed to qualify for 10 Grands Prix straight (which did indeed save us a significant amount of money) our clever and inevitable exit plan succeeded slightly ahead of schedule leading into the Belgian Grand Prix. I nearly said ‘night night’ to the world as my steering rack jammed entering Eau Rouge and this little result helped Max Mosley to consider the team’s long-term future, decided there wasn’t one and rightly cancelled further opportunities for Andrea to make F1 look bad and bury its terrified driver.
Actions and consequences
Can’t compete? Then don’t play. You want to give it a go? Excellent, but be ready to saddle up for a very tough ride in an environment not exactly famous for its bedside manner. If that sounds hard, well, that’s my personal opinion. No-one holds a gun to anyone’s head to try for a career as a driver and no-one forces anyone to enter a team into Grand Prix racing. Those coming in to this game should have worked it all out.
I’ve often read about people who thought buying a house next to a race circuit was a great idea and 10 minutes after moving in they complain about lots of really noisy engines and a bloke sounding like Murray Walker who keeps shouting “go, go, go” from 30 loudspeakers. In fact, a recent survey showed 83 per cent of these people also thought Andrea Moda was a really good idea and deserved a place on the grid. Not within 200 miles of them though.
Well, I was part of it. I still have a T-shirt saying ‘Let Pel Out’ – from those 10 DNQ’s we never actually made it on to the track for five of them. I wanted F1 badly, but we didn’t deserve a place on the grid. We certainly deserved the right to have a go… but that’s it. Same for anyone else.
I believe the above echoes the sentiments of Mr Bernard Ecclestone who recently said he’s not afraid of losing teams if their financial struggles become too hard. Further proving that a career in the Samaritans would never have worked for him, he summed up his attitude: “They should not be in the game. You should not be in this business if you cannot afford it.”
As you may have guessed, I agree, but that’s not to say teams pushing for a better deal is a bad idea. Quite the opposite. Lobbying for better prize and TV revenue distribution has previously been successful, but I think it should be done in private. I cannot see the point in holding press conferences to criticise the structure you’ve signed up for.
There are two types of pressure in Formula 1, you’re either giving it or you’re taking it. Going public with cost issues and threats to pull out of racing is designed to put pressure on. That’s giving it out, playing the game in the spotlight. But with Mr E basically saying ‘do what you want’, that pressure point has been played right back. The same spotlight then mostly shines down on a folding hand in a high stakes poker game.
To bluff or not to bluff…
Still, though, if stuff like this wasn’t reported I guess I would miss it because I really do find press comments both amusing and intriguing. There’s normally something behind what, in Cockney rhyming slang, we call a ‘nanny goat’, more commonly known as a ‘quote’. I can’t help grinning when someone says something seemingly innocuous, but with a hidden message. It’s similar to reversing one of the old long-player vinyl records on a turntable and hearing the devil promoting LSD. As ever, you have to listen closely.
The best example for me recently came from Fernando Alonso who said, innocently of course, that Felipe Massa had been the fastest team-mate he’d ever had. Ah, that’s nice. It’s so unusual when a top Grand Prix driver compliments another. And then that horrible, nasty Martin Brundle spoils it by thinking Fernando may have said this as a full on wind-up to his new team-mate and less-than-best pal Kimi.
However, the even more horrible and nasty Perry McCarthy spotted it at the same time and also sensed the possibility of an additional message, one aimed very much at Ferrari, one that when played backwards at 43rpm says ‘boys, we’re going nowhere and, on top of that, you let Massa go in favour of Kimi. Planning any more mistakes in 2014?’
The British Grand Prix is looming. I would like to confirm there are no hidden messages in this statement, but I guarantee you we will hear a few more on the build-up to our home round of the World Championship. I’ll let you know if any team thinks signing me is a good idea. That announcement would probably come around the same time Bernie decides to give smaller teams an extra $50 million.
I’m confident I won’t need to go back into training.