The French have a lovely expression for traffic jams that keep starting and stopping. The cars, they say, are “en accordéon” and anyone who travelled down the Rhone Valley this summer on the celebrated A6 – the Autoroute du Soleil – on what they call a red or black day will understand the concept. Be it a beautiful chateau, a cell phone call, an argument with a fellow passenger or an accident to gawp at, drivers rarely maintain the same pace. When they slow for no real reason, cars behind them are affected. Just as in molecular gas flows, all the particles behind back up and have to slow down. These compression waves propagate and you end up with a series of concertinaing stop-start traffic jams of Dantesque proportions, and while the accordion tag is rather quaint, you end up with a “vie” that is anything but “en rose”.
One day when the digital revolution has rolled a little further down the road, we will have vehicles that are capable of happily speeding along at a steady 200km/h two cars lengths from the car in front. The computers will do the work as we will sit there and merrily drink gin & tonics and play cards until we arrive at our bougainvillea-encrusted destinations.
I would agree with those who say that this is not driving, but it is better than spending 13 hours “en accordéon” as tens of thousands of holidaymakers head for the Mediterranean. It makes no difference whether you have a Ferrari, a Porsche or even a McLaren. We saw them all in the jams.
It is delightful to take to the Routes Nationales and escape all this, but the journey time as a result rises, even though the mental damage is reduced as one can enjoy France in all its glory, rather than just staring at the back ends of other cars. On our return trip we were already fed up with the jams by the time we reached Montélimar (600 kilometres from Paris!) and so took off along the regular roads in the Rhône Valley and then climbed up and over the Monts du Vivarais and, skirting St-Etienne, descended to the Plaine du Forez and motored on through the hot afternoon to Moulins, Nevers, Sancerre and eventually Paris. This took us past Magny-Cours where I had a nostalgic moment and hoped that one day we will get a French Grand Prix once again.
I tried to avoid motor racing during the break, but the sport has a way of invading one’s life. We did go to Monte Carlo one day. It was packed. Everyone seemed to have a Bentley. We saw a Bugatti Veyron parked outside the Hermitage and had a look at the Prince’s Car Collection, which Prince Albert is in the process of restructuring, selling off some of his Dad’s favourites because he wants to buy other models. Hopefully he will buy some more racing cars. The collection has a Ferrari, a leftover Ligier and an incongruous Jordan. The only other racer is a Bugatti Type 35, which was raced by Marcel Lehoux in the very first Monaco Grand Prix, back in 1929. If I were the Prince and had money to spend I think I would invest in buying the winning Bugatti from that event – a car with historical importance to the Principality. It was driven by “Williams” – an Englishman called Willy Grover – and it is no small irony that this car is today owned by a German industrialist. Grover, who raced that day with the car painted British Racing Green, was executed as a spy in Sachsenhausen in 1945.
A few days later motor racing invaded my peace and quiet again when I stumbled on the fact that one of the most Ezeques (the inhabitants of the village of Eze) was none other than Pierre Veyron, the little-known French driver after whom the modern Bugatti is named. As a youngster he became the chauffeur for the American composer Samuel Barlow, who had bought the local chateau, a spectacular place if you vere get the chance to visit. Barlow had several large cars and so built a garage for them in the village (the building has now been converted into two restaurants). This served as the workshops for the Bugatti racing team for the Monaco race in 1929…
Later Veyron would join the company as a test and development driver and in 1939 won the Le Mans 24 Hours with Jean-Pierre Wimille.
In terms of racing news, there was little in the world of F1. Patrick Ricard, the man who turned the Ricard business into a global empire, including the Paul Ricard racing circuit and sponsorship of various F1 teams, died. The politicians of France drove companies like Ricard out of racing with laws that did serious damage to the sport but one can hope that the new generation understand the values that sporting success can bring to a nation.
In recent years Britain has invested heavily in Olympic sports, although precious little public money has found its way into motorsport. The results of that investment were seen during the Olympic Games when Britain collected 65 medals, 29 of them gold. France, which has the same population as the UK, netted just 34, 11 of them gold.
There were reports in France that Mercedes is considering a partial withdrawal from Formula 1 at the end of next year and might field only a “semi-official” team in 2014, perhps changing the team name to AMG. One never knows how corporate people will respond to such things as the Gribkowsky scandal, the Concorde Agreement negotiations and the team’s lack of regular victories, but it would seem to be a major defeat if the German firm were to pull back at a time when there is the opportunity to make an even bigger impact.
Elsewhere the US automotive giant General Motors (GM) has announced a major new sponsorship, which should serve to wake Formula 1 up to the fact that it may not be doing everything right. GM is looking to turn Chevrolet into a global player. With new engines coming into F1 in 2014, it should have been an obvious decision to use the sport to do this, but GM has chosen to pay Manchester United $220 million over six years as its shirt sponsor from 2015. The decision is illogical in that the US car company might use the sport not only to spread word about Chevrolet, but also to help it develop energy-saving technology. Football shirts may be cheaper than F1, but they have no value explaining what a company can do. It is interesting to note that GM’s head of marketing was dumped last week, with rumours suggesting that this was linked to the fact that the Manchester United deal will not include the word Chevrolet on the shirts.
It is so much easier to fit a long word on the side of a car…
Still Man U’s current short sponsor Aon will now be looking for something else to do and those who know the giant US insurance company also know that its vice-chairman is a bloke called Grahame Chilton, who has two Aon-funded sons racing: Tom in the British Touring Car Championship and Max in GP2. The latter recently did his first F1 tests with Marussia, as he is a part of the Marussia Carlin GP2 Team. Carlin, it should be remembered is owned by Grahame Chilton, and there have been suggestions for some time that he might one day invest in the F1 team. Maybe Aon will now turn to F1.