Escaping the winter blues


Sitting in my little office down by the sea in the south of England, it occurred to me that this is becoming a very interesting winter.

I have been watching documentaries about elephants. I was astonished to learn that a large African elephant may have up to 42,000 moving parts. Makes a Grand Prix car look like pretty simple stuff.

Winter afternoons at work have been vastly improved by the modern computer. And I am not referring to the constant stream of emails that want me to buy a cheap flight or stay at a bargain hotel. No, what I enjoy is the technology that allows me to listen to BBC radio, either ‘live’ or a repeat of a programme I have missed. Good old BBC – and now they will be sending us Grands Prix from all corners of the globe. I whinge about the licence fee, but it’s great value for money. It will be interesting to see what the Beeb brings to the party in Melbourne.

Winter in the Algarve has been interesting. The new 2009 cars were being tested at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve at Portimao where heavy rain interrupted proceedings last week. At least it wasn’t freezing cold as well. Aren’t you fed up with the doom and gloom of January? I try not to watch the news any more – just too depressing and if we weren’t going to have a recession then we certainly could have talked ourselves into one by now.

Down in Portugal young Sébastien Buemi has been fast in the Toro Rosso. Might this be yet another ‘Wonder Boy’? More interestingly the new Williams has been impressive, covering a huge number of laps without any big problems. Thank goodness that RBS, the newly nearly-nationalised bank, is not writ large all over the Williams smart dark blue livery. That would surely be horribly embarrassing for the bank that has allegedly recorded the biggest ever corporate loss in the history of such things. There has been speculation in The Times that Sir Fred Goodwin, formerly the big chief at RBS and a motor racing nut, may find himself re-employed at the FIA. Interesting, this winter break.

We want Williams to do well, don’t we? We like the team’s attitude, we like its history and we want to see some new sponsors on the car. Some decent times in the Algarve will do no harm at all.

Fernando Alonso means business this year. He’s been training hard, using regimes dreamt up by long-distance cyclists. Last week he too was pounding round in Portimao, tweaking the Renault between the rain showers.

The new McLaren looks sensational. If fast is pretty, this car is fast. Lewis Hamilton says it feels good already. Business as usual then. So far. The world champion was in Scotland as well last week, showing off his skills in the car park at Diageo in Shieldhall. The workers at the Johnnie Walker factory came out to watch, clapping and cheering as Lewis flung last year’s car around a very wet stretch of Tarmac. They loved it. All sponsors should follow this example, especially in these grim economic times when corporations like Diageo must justify their expenditure on sports sponsorship. I’m sure many Scots went back to work feeling good about some of their hard-earned profits being diverted to support a Grand Prix team in distant Woking. You can see the joy of the occasion by looking at the video on the STV website.

You can’t help but wonder where the hell all the money is coming from. From the same place as football clubs can find 100 million euros for a young man who scores goals? I don’t think so, but it’s equally mystifying when the real world appears to be in something of a crisis. Clearly, there are global brands that believe Grand Prix racing remains the most effective worldwide marketing strategy. Something like that, anyway. Long may it last.

Winter, of course, is always interesting, but this year seems more intriguing than usual. Over in Lapland this weekend the Arctic Rally starred no less than Mika Häkkinen and Kimi Räikkonen. Ferrari will no doubt had their fingers crossed that Kimi would keep it on the ice.

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