Wow, what a week! And, as one of our bloggers remarked, wow, what a speech! The week in Bahrain was, as you might expect, dominated by revelations in the News of the World. As I was parking my car at Heathrow on March 30 I was blissfully unaware of this venerable publication’s ‘shock-horror’ expose of the FIA president. But not for long. As I dragged my suitcase to the bus stop I heard a shout. “Hey, Rob have you see the News of the World?” I looked up to find A1GP Team India boss Mike Earle, on his way to Delhi, with a rolled up newspaper under his arm. Now, looking at the front page and the double-page spread inside, this was shock and awe. Surely even the president would struggle to survive this one?
Touching down in Bahrain at 5am on the Monday it was already hot. In more ways than one. Emerging from immigration and customs into the sultry warmth of the early morning I heard a shout. “Hey, Rob, have you seen the News of the World?” Looking up, I see David Tremayne of the Independent, this time clutching print-outs from the News International website. Before long, the paddock at Sakhir would be humming with reactions, opinions and suggestions of how these activities came to the notice of the best-selling newspaper in Britain. Not until the racing cars came out on Friday morning did the sound of speculation finally give way to spectating. Max Mosley himself, unsurprisingly, was nowhere to be seen.
Very much in view, however, was Ron Dennis, chairman of the McLaren Group. Immaculate as ever, despite the heat, Ron made a quite exceptional speech to the Bahrain Motorsport Business Forum last Wednesday, a copy of which I immediately sent to my editor. With permission from Matt Bishop, the new head of communications and public relations at McLaren, of course. The former editor of F1 Racing is doing a fine job by all accounts. Later in the day I spoke to Ron and that interview, along with a full report on the first forum to be held in the Middle East, will apppear in next month’s Motor Sport.
Common sense, and a little cowardice, prevents me from commenting any further on the problems facing Mosley. Everybody will have their opinion. I will be interested to see how the sport’s organising body deals with what is undoubtedly some kind of crisis.
Then, refreshingly, there were the old boys. A fine sprinkling of anciens pilotes, who had come to the Gulf to race in the Dubai-based Speedcar Series. The what, I hear you ask? To be brief, the cars are based on NASCAR but are less sophisticated. Big V8 engine, four-speed manual gearbox, and not much in the way of an ‘aero package’. For those who like a bit of detail, the cars weigh in at 1300 kilograms while the 6-litre V8 produces 620bhp at 7500rpm – so they’re heavy, and only quite powerful. More intriguingly, the Speedcar series was germinated, created and delivered to the circuits of the Middle East in just under a year. Impressive. But, yes, the drivers. In a tent in the paddock I find Jean Alesi, Johnny Herbert, Stefan Johansson, Jacques Villeneuve (above) and Heinz-Harald Frentzen, refugees all from the F1 paddock. And a nicer bunch of blokes you couldn’t expect to meet – well, JV didn’t want to talk much, but what’s new? I do like the man all the same. He’s bright, feisty and he still ambles around in absurdly baggy overalls.
“The racing is fun,” says Johnny, “and it’s good to be with your old mates. The cars are not easy to drive on the limit and the brakes are pretty non-existent. I mean you want to be thinking about braking all the way down the straight. And the prize money isn’t bad either.” German touring car veteran and Le Mans winner Uwe Alzen has done much of the winning, and Alesi has won twice. “Why should I stop racing?”, says Jean. “I still love it – the atmosphere, the friendships, the driving. The races are a good show, the fans love it, and I love my life now – my job is my passion, you know?” More racing drivers should be like Alesi, at least I reckon so.