Today in Sao Paulo, the F1 world is subdued. The events in Paris overshadow everything. Some are sensitive to these things, some are not. The very real humanity that exists in F1 can be seen in little things: a caring touch of an arm, a word of support, a tweet to the fans. They are gestures of support for the people of Paris, the French in general.
It is absolutely not the time for people to try to use what has happened for their own political agendas. Jean Todt’s remark: “do you realise that the number of people killed in road accidents is by far bigger than the number of people who died in Paris yesterday” may be true, but it is completely the wrong thing to say. It would have been far wiser for the FIA President to have shown some compassion and to have sent a message of support to those who have lost their loved ones. That would have been so much more appropriate.
In September 2001, I wrote the following column and the thoughts expressed in it remain just as valid today, as they were at the time.
En route to Indianapolis I usually spend a day or two in New York. It is a great city and I have loved it ever since my first visit. The tickets were booked some time ago and to change them would have upset the ever-patient folk who organise my life for me. Besides I wanted to go. Let us be honest, when something happens every one wants to have a peek and in this respect I am no different. No, I am not planning to go downtown and gawp at the mountains of rubble that was once the World Trade Center but I wanted to see what New York looked like without the twin towers and how the people are coping with what happened. One thinks of New Yorkers as the hardiest of all humans, willing to put up with a lot, but what has happened in recent days is in many ways beyond comprehension. Flying the Atlantic at the moment is like air travel used to be 15 years ago. The flights are empty. The stewardesses have time to be charming and the pilots are all doing their best Chuck Yeager impersonations, trying to sound reassuring but there are no inflight magazines (pictures of the World Trade Center towers were judged to be in bad taste) and the knives and forks are all plastic, just to remind one that the world has changed in the last two weeks. Getting through all the security checks is a long and tiresome process, but there is some faint reassurance in the fact that no matter what happens in the world the US Immigration officials at Newark Airport are still able to be obnoxious.
And then it was out into the real world, heading downtown in a yellow cab and seeing the signs of what has happened – not least the skyline of lower Manhattan. It is somehow disquieting without the twin towers. Everywhere there are flags and passionate patriotic messages. The terrorists have woken up the sleeping giant that is America and they will come to regret it – as the Japanese did more than half a century ago. Then there was an enemy to attack. Nowadays it is a little bit different. Today we do not have to get into uniforms and go off to fight (and there is a lot to be said for that) but we can all fight in a different way. And, oddly enough, going motor racing is as good a way to fight as any other.
At such times the idea of going motor racing may seem to some to be an obscene thing to be doing, but I do not agree. Normality is the only way to beat the people who attacked New York. It is the way to show them that their evil schemes will not derail the world. New York may be hurting, but it will rise again. That message comes across loud and clear when you are down there on the street. There will be victims. Victims of a different sort to those still buried in the rubble. Businesses are going to go under, people are going to lose their jobs. Everyone is worried. Hotels report that occupancy is down to 20% from the usual 80% and it is beginning to hurt. But the wounds will heal. Some of the vigour of this great city may seem to be gone for the moment but go down to the electronic shops and you soon find that the salesmen are as pushy and as silver-tongued as ever they were.
After a few hours in the city I realised the way to help, to do my duty for mankind if you like, was to go shopping. To pump some money into the local economy; to show people that I am going to be normal and I have been doing it with that most powerful of all weapons, the good old fashioned American dollar.
There are some who would say that the Americans should be left to get on with it by themselves, but that is to forget an important aspect of what happened on September 11. The attack not only stands as the worst terrorist attack of all time but it is not just the Americans who have suffered. It is the worst terrorist outrage in British history as well. More than two hundred British people died in the World Trade Center. And it was the same for the French. And the Indians and the Japanese.
That is why I feel strongly and why I think that people should not turn their backs on the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis. I think the Americans should turn up in their thousands, in their tens of thousands and wave their flags, watch the race, have a good time and raise a metaphorical finger at those who attacked their country. I have no idea if they get F1 coverage in the hills of Afghanistan. But I hope so…
Fourteen years later, the message is unchanged. We must grieve for the victims and their families, but at the same time we must carry on as normal and not let murderers change the way we live. I am telling the world about racing cars. If we all live as normal, the murderers in Paris have died in vain and their cause (whatever it may be) has no meaning and no value.