There was a time, I guess it was many years ago, although it does not seem that long ago to me, when I reported on touring cars and, as soon as the European season finished, usually by the end of September, I would get on a plane and fly to the Antipodes for the big touring car events in the Pacific Rim: the Bathurst 1000, the street races of Wellington and Macau and the Intertec race at Mount Fuji. We also did some funny races at Calder, on a combined road-oval course. This was before the Internet and so I would bang out race reports, send over news and then I’d have a week with not much to do, except perhaps to scribble some feature material. For the rest of the time I would hang out in Sydney, Hong Kong, Tokyo and even Fiji, if there was a decent coup d’état going on (this brings down the prices dramatically). It was a great time for a young man with no ties at all. The only thing was that I would return to Europe at the end of November having missed the autumn which, for reasons that I cannot easily explain, is my favourite season. John Keats memorably described it as the season of “mists and mellow fruitfulness” and I associate it with festivals and a sense of hunkering down for the winter. I guess this goes back to Harvest Festivals, Guy Fawkes and Halloween in childhood days and to Thanksgiving in the more global world in which we now live. Whatever the case, this time of year is always agreeable for me, particularly in France, where the seasons still seem to matter a little more than other countries.
A weekend off is a rare thing in the autumn in F1 and, not wishing to travel any more than necessary, I decided to spend the last few days watching rugby, cooking and generally chilling out. Being a French resident, there was, of course, a required trip to the local market on Saturday. This is the season for cèpes, the gloriously tasty woodland mushrooms that the French adore. The elbows were out as middle aged Frenchmen forgot their manners, in pursuit of the best examples. These were soon sautéed with garlic and eaten with some crusty tradition baguette. Thus, everything was in order for the rugby that followed. I cannot say I have much followed the World Cup, which seems to have been going on for months. I was vaguely aware that Japan had beaten South Africa, when we were out in Singapore, but I did watch the England-Australia game between the races in Japan and Russia. That was pretty depressing and in Sochi there were plenty of jokes of England being out of the Cup, while the Welsh, the Scots, the Irish and the French were still going. Last weekend I watched them being knocked out one by one, three of them crushed and the fourth lucky that the rival team was badly off its game. This leaves four southern hemisphere teams standing for the semi-finals. I don’t hold out much hope of seeing South Africa v New Zealand or Argentina v Australia over the Austin weekend, and I have even less expectation of seeing the final when we are in Mexico.
I’d be astonished if anyone other than New Zealand won the competition. Their scores so far have been 26-16 (Argentina), 58-14 (Namibia), 43-10 (Georgia), 47-9 (Tonga) and 61-13 (France) and their next opponent is South Africa, which has looked vulnerable several times during the tournament thus far. The final is thus likely to between New Zealand and either Argentina or Australia. Having watched Australia playing poorly against Scotland, I can see the Argentines getting through to the final, but we have seen them beaten already by the All Blacks, who won the last World Cup four years ago.
Last night I watched Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley doing a joint interview with German state television’s ZDF. This immediately got my interest because these two don’t do anything together unless there is a reason to do it and so I listened trying to work out what they are up to. The message that they were delivering (I think) was that the manufacturers are bad for the sport and they want to rip up the rulebook and start again. That is not going to happen, although Bernie did make the point that the EU might make a difference. I wondered if perhaps the pair of old foxes had put on this show in order to take the focus away from Bernie’s less-than-smart utterances in Russia. They have long been very good at creating diversions. My other thought was that they were simply doing it to undermine the FIA and Jean Todt, even if the names were barely mentioned. Now and then there was a valid point made, but I thought Bernie blaming (or at least trying to blame) the manufacturers for the high ticket prices was utterly dissembling. He forgot that the ticket prices were ridiculously high long before the teams and manufacturers forced him to pay them more. The problem was greed all right, but that was the greed of CVC Capital Partners. Yes, I know that this is what private equity people are suppose to do, but I don’t care. They should never have been allowed into the sport… And who got them in?
One of the justifications for change was that predictability is a big problem and Bernie suggested that he knows who might win in Austin. Perhaps so, but I have a pretty good idea who is going to win the Rugby World Cup, but that would not stop me watching it. If I can fit it in.
No sport is really predictable because things always happen: such as the Valtteri Bottas/Kimi Raikkonen clash in Russia. Technology in racing should be advanced, but the skill is to find the right methods to control it. Going back to manual gearboxes and so on is not the answer. The interviewer did not ask: was it not your fault that the governance and financing of the sport got into this mess? I am sure Bernie would have had a suitable reply, no doubt arguing that those nasty manufacturers forced him to do it. Perhaps they did, but why? I don’t think it was greed. It was more like a reaction to greed?