'Whatever you do, Mr Prime Minister, do NOT push the red button'
It seems he likes manly pursuits, as he calls them. So I told my old friend Gerard Lopez he might score some brownie points by having Mr Prime Minister drive on of his race cars. Gerard didn’t hesitate a second. He expects most of his sponsor money to come from Russia, so this was a no-brainer.
It was for Vladimir Putin too. Except for one thing: if he goes out for a drive he insists on having a spare car right behind him, in case the first one breaks down. Something to do with the state of automotive Russia. Don’t ask.
So Gerard brought two cars to St Petersburg, and Putin had his bit of fun on a stretch of road that just happened to be deserted. Coincidence, no doubt. Or maybe it was empty because it was early in the morning, before the rush hour.
Or maybe it was because there were a couple of hundred traffic policemen armed with tanks and automatic weapons. This might be a good solution for the M25 on Monday mornings.
There are few people I respected as much as I did Peter in his days in F1. But like always, everything has already been said elsewhere. Mine’s here.
Peter, you’ll be missed.
“Bernie,” he said, “things could get ugly.” How ugly? “Well, I’ve even heard talk about Proton building a second Lotus F1 team, complete with cars and drivers, just to prove the point that they control every aspect of the brand.”
Tony, I say, don’t you worry. We won’t even let them in. After all, you’re the one that got the F1 slot from the FIA, didn’t you?
“I know,” he said. “But try to imagine, a race is about to start and a team arrives in the green and yellow colours, complete with the CABC logo and everything. You would let them in, wouldn’t you? Believe me, I hear rumours that they’re already plotting to hold up my planes so I won’t get to the circuit in time. So they’d just take our place!”
Thought that was a bit far fetched, but he sounded worried. OK Tony, I said, here’s what we do. Make sure your drivers and engineers bring their passports and F1 licences to the race and we’ll do spot checks on the paperwork from Practice 1 onwards. That should take care of any impostors.
Blimey. And I thought I’d seen everything in F1.
You could see it coming. Tony’s been complaining a long time about interference from some Malaysian ex-Prime Minister and I don’t think his independent stance went down well in Kuala Lumpur.
Add to this that he’s once again shown the power of the Lotus brand, having built the only decent team among this season’s rookies in barely a year’s time, and you can just wait for the Malaysian vultures to swoop in. Poor chap was operating on a licence from Protus Group so they thought they had him on a string. Is it a failure? Drop it like a brick. Is it a success? Finders keepers, then.
But Tony’s just a little bit cleverer than that. Continue reading
Helmut Marko, sorry: Doctor Helmut Marko, is a bit of a weirdo. In the paddock we call him Dr Strangelove. He got his nickname when someone joked that being whipped by Max Mosley should become a standard FIA punishment, right alongside the drivethrough penalty and five places back on the grid, and Marko immediately said that would not be a practical deterrent for reasons which at this moment must be all too obvious.
It quickly took on, and even Dr Marko himself now plays along. Puts on his suit, the leather glove and the tinted glasses and does the thing where he almost strangles himself. I only wish he took off those bloody headphones once in a while. It’s sign language for “Don’t cross me. I’m someone important in F1.”
I can confirm that last bit. Don’t cross Dr Strangelove. Ever. He’ll strike back according to the trusted old Mutual Assured Destruction doctrine. Called me up the other day, said he’d read my blog post on Mark Webber.
Bernie, he says, do you realise Herr Webber is just an ungrateful little nobody who was doomed to mediocrity until he was lifted to fame by the Great Red Bull Racing team? So I say, well, that’s a bit of a moot point, isn’t it? Right now he’s your number one driver, looks like.
“Yes Bernie, but how did he get there? Which car has permanently had something damaged? Did Mark have the defective spark plug in Bahrain, the loose wheel in Australia, the broken brake disc in Barcelona, the defective chassis in Monte Carlo, the transmission problems in Montreal and now the broken wing at Silverstone, ja?”
That sounds like good old Dr Strangelove alright. Can’t control his strike arm again. Watch your step, Mark. Be paranoid. Be very paranoid.
Bernie, he says, this is the bloody limit. First Ferrari, with that little so-called promotional shenanigan of theirs, sneaking in a few Fiorano laps for Alonso the other day.
And now we’ve got those Red Bull buggers, practicing bleedin’ pitstops in Whitehall. Makes you wonder why we still have an in-season test ban at all. Are you going to put a stop to this, or do you need me to do it?
What can I say? Don’t worry, Martin. Won’t happen again. I’m on it.
I said, don’t you need to be in the pit garage right now? He says yes, but we still have that German caterer, you know, the Soup Nazi? Tried to get rid of him for a long time now but the problem is, he’s Mercedes approved. Had to file a request through Norbert, all the way up the line. I believe it’s about to go before the Daimler Board now.
And I tell you, Bernie, it’s not contributing to team morale. Things are so tense, you could cut slices off the atmosphere on days like this. Michael’s seconds off the pace while Nico’s doing stellar laps. Michael blames me for designing a car that’s more suited to Nico than to him and not redesigning it fast enough, and on top of that I have to deal with the car being off the general pace altogether.
Norbert’s under pressure from Zetsche, who wants results or else. And meanwhile Continue reading
Call me a Luddite. Or maybe I’m just too old to adopt all these new technologies. Fortunately I have Fabiana, and she’s shown me how it all works. It’s amazing, actually. Apparently all kinds of people just ‘tweet’ (what a word) their innermost thoughts so that the rest of the world can share them.
What’s most amazing is what it does to people. Take Mike Gascoyne, for instance. Born and bred into the world of secrecy that is F1. Believe, they don’t call him the Rottweiler for nothing. If you’d asked him any intrusive question during his days at Benetton, Toyota or Force India, he’d set the dogs on you.
And now? I’ve followed his Twitter thing during the training session earlier today. Bloke doesn’t stop talking. Sorry, tweeting. He’s become a paragon of transparency. This is now the man that announced on Twitter that he was going to call in Jarno Trulli a lap earlier, during the race in Bahrain. In the good old days there were people in Ferrari that would’ve given their left hand to get that kind of information about their competitors during races. What’s next? Red Bull publishing details about their secret ride height system?
He was almost crying in it. I know he’s a bit of a moaner, but to go into a complete funk over Bahrain seems a bit much. Come on Ross, I said, fifth and sixth ain’t that bad. You’ve got a whole season ahead of you, and all the money and might of Mercedes to prove it.
“You’re hitting the nail on the head,” he says. “The full might of Mercedes coming down on me, that’s what.” I say listen, a few Krauts around the paddock, grownup like you should be able to handle that. And they’re good engineers, aren’t they? By nature, I mean. Being German and all that. It’s in the genes.
He says, “it’s not just that. It’s the whole thing. They changed the catering – no more fish ‘n chips with some vinegar from the people we knew and loved. Continue reading
It seems the Americans are all abuzz over their new team. Expanding in Asia may be my favourite hobby horse but it’s true, if we really want to remain a global sports, sooner or later we’ll have to get the yanks back on board.
But it ain’t easy. I thought we were well on our way when we got the US F1 team in, but the only thing I’ve seen so far is a lot of PR and no wheels. Sort of like a mini General Motors if you ask me. Called their boss Peter Windsor today, wishing him Happy New Year and by the way, are you aware that to compete in F1 you need a car and some drivers?
The answer wasn’t promising. Continue reading