Manners makyth sportsman
Is there anybody out there who can find a good reason for living in Croydon? Other, that is, than the general availability in the borough of a cable television facility.
For the uninitiated, this means a subscriber can for around £3 per week gain access to most of the TV channels that are usually reserved for those with an unsightly satellite dish bolted to their frontage. Cable, as its name suggests, requires only a small hole in the wall, through which passes a filament no more obtrusive than a telephone wire.
The service is generally pretty good, although drawbacks include an appallingly tacky German TV game show, in which the participants gradually remove their clothes while cavorting out of time to a ghastly European disco soundtrack, and we also advise you to steer clear of Italy’s RAI Uno, where It’s A Knockout is still considered a prime time spectacle…
On the plus side, leastways from a personal viewpoint, there are three channels dedicated to sport, and all of them are fairly generous in their motor racing and rallying broadcasts. Screensport, for instance, covers a good number of CART, NASCAR and IMSA GTP races live, which offers an interesting perspective on how American racers conduct themselves.
October 20 was a good case in point. Prior to the Japanese Grand Prix, shown live at some unearthly hour by the Beeb, ever alert to the possibility of some new Mansellian tale of woe, there had been the usual swapping of unpleasantries between drivers. Ayrton Senna had more or less threatened Mansell that he’d shove him off the track if the Englishman tried any of his (Sennaesque, it must be said) derring-do during what, as it turned out, would be their World Championship showdown. After the race, where Nigel was one of the first to congratulate his victorious adversary in a rare outbreak of F1 courtesy, there was an unedifying press conference during which Senna confessed, amidst a tirade of abuse against deposed FISA President Balestre, that he’d quite blatantly shoved Prost out of title contention at the start of the 1990 Japanese GP…
These, let’s not forget, are supposed to be sportsmen.
Later that evening, it was time to become a couch spud once again, to watch the CART PPG Indycar crown settled at Laguna Seca. To overhaul Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal needed to win with his rival placing outside the top five. As Andretti held a narrow lead over Emerson Fittipaldi, Rahal hung on in fifth place, watching his rising water temperature gauge with increasing pessimism. When the oil warning light came on just after quarter-distance, the title was Andretti’s come what may. On recent evidence, most F1 drivers in Rahal’s situation would have stalked off to sulk in their motorhome for a while, before delivering a shallow, “It wasn’t my fault” statement to the press.
Rahal? He hopped out, shook each mechanic’s hand in turn for their efforts during the season (it was his last race for Galles/Kraco), walked (still helmeted) to the Newman-Haas pit, where he congratulated each of Michael Andretti’s crewmen individually, and finally returned to his own base to be greeted immediately by the microphone of racer-turned-broadcaster Jon Beekhuis. He then proceeded to give an interview, without malice or self-pity, reflecting that it was disappointing, but that racing could be like that sometimes. Michael deserved the crown, so now he was turning his thoughts to redressing the balance in 1992. It was straightforward, polite and — the key word — dignified.
It’s not that Americans never come to blows. Johnny Rutherford and Gordon Johncock had a celebrated light-heavy-weight bout after an Indycar accident a decade ago. It’s just that, for the most part, they know how to behave in public.
Imagine for a second that the F1 title had gone down to the wire in Australia. That, with a handful of laps to go, Mansell was leading with Senna a troubled eighth, and the title is almost Nigel’s for the taking. He comes up to lap the McLaren. They touch and spin off. Senna is champion. Can you imagine the post-race vitriol such a scenario would inflame?
To the Americans, victory in the Indy 500 is about the best thing a racer can put on his CV. In 1989, with a couple of laps to go, Al Unser Jnr was battling with Fittipaldi. Sensing a gap, Emerson tried an opportunistic manoeuvre which pitched his rival into the wall. The race concluded under yellow flags, with the Brazilian, who continued more or less unimpeded after the incident, declared the winner. Climbing out of his wrecked Lola, which had impacted with the concrete at the best part of 200 mph, Unser’s first act was to give Fittipaldi a gesture; he raised a thumb to let his rival know he was unharmed. Any grudges? None. Accidents, realised Unser, can happen in racing, and in Fittipaldi’s position he recognised that he’d have tried the same move.
Some Europeans believe that Indycar racing is no more than a glorified national club racing championship. There are more than a few things, however, that it could teach the all-too-often embittered world of F1.
Say it with SEAT
Why are there so few Lamborghini Countachs on the road in Britain? Why was the Maserati Ghibli such a rare sight in the ’70s? Is it simply because they cost more than Manchester United’s midfield. . . or is it because the average British monoglot couldn’t pronounce either cars’ name correctly?
The latter is SEAT’s explanation for its relatively modest sales performance in Britain, compared to the rest of Europe. It’s not because you need forearms with the circumference of Sizewell B to control an Ibiza at parking speeds; it’s that Britain as a whole (84 per cent, according to a MORI poll) doesn’t know how to pronounce ‘Sayat’ (for thus it is spake).
SEAT reckons it’s all down to idle Britons not bothering to continue with languages taught at school. The most common second language in the UK is French, which SEAT’S survey tells us is spoken fluently by only six per cent of the populace.
It’s an interesting excuse. Perhaps Lancia should rechristen itself something more complicated in order to explain away its dwindling share of the UK market. Maybe one day, Peugeot, Rover and Porsche will have to stop identifying its cars numerically, citing the falling standard of mathematics in the UK… — SA
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