Foolish thoughts

I always like April Fool’s Day, and (I think) I am now wary enough not to fall for daft stories on April 1. This year I though Alpine F1 won the game by announcing that it was signing Pierre Gasly for 2022. The Gasly quote was a work of genius.

“Bonjour everyone. Pierre here. I’m very glad to announce that I will be racing for Alpine next season,” the statement said. “It has always been a dream of mine to race at the pinnacle of motorsport, even more so with a French team. If there are any media outlets reposting this blindly, they should re-assess their staff capabilities imo. For legal reasons, this is a total joke, but if Pierre actually moves to Alpine next year you didn’t hear it from me.”

The thing about an April Fool is that it should be just believable enough to take in the gullible and Pierre to Alpine is something that might actually happen in 2022. And let’s face it, motor racing has some daft stories that don’t sound very likely. If, for example, one announced on April 1 that the Shanghai International Circuit is built on a giant polystyrene platform floating in a marsh, who would believe it to be true?

But it is…

In 1999 one April Fool circulating in Germany suggested that there would be an F1 race at night… Little did they know.

My favourite motor racing April Fool was the idea of a Grand Prix at Heathrow. The problem was that the airport couldn’t close down on Fridays and Saturdays and so the cars would run one by one in qualifying and it would be timed so that a car would run between each arriving flight…

No-one seems to really know where this daft tradition of telling tall stories comes from but there are theories that suggest the Sixteenth Century when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian version, which moved the New Year to January 1 from April 1 and that those who continued to celebrate on the old date were looked upon as fools, or poisson d’avril (April fish), on the basis that they were easily hooked…

There have been some truly splendid examples over time including BBC Panorama’s celebrated item about Swiss farmers picking freshly-grown spaghetti from their trees, which led to large numbers of requests to the BBC asking where one might buy spaghetti trees. And there was a famous 1977 April Fool in The Guardian, when they included a seven-page travel supplement about an island called San Serriffe, a small archipelago, its main islands (Upper and Lower Caisse) “ressembling a semi-colon” in the Indian Ocean. This was reported to be moving slowly across the ocean, but the supplement included all kinds of advertising from big name companies that made it very convincing – unless, of course, you understand a little about the world of typography.

This year I suppose the prize should really go to Volkswagen US, although they broke the cardinal rule of April Fool jokes. An April Fool joke can only be perpetrated before lunch, otherwise you are a fool yourself. Nonetheless, they announced that as a result of its switch to electric cars in the future, the company was going to change its name to Voltswagen. I read one super suggestion that the VW Camper should be relaunched and renamed the Voltswagen Ampere. However I also saw that some of the Internet neo-puritans who didn’t think this was funny and accused VW of telling lies.

I did also hear that there is a new ship being built in Plymouth called Mayflower II designed to transport all the neo-puritans to South Georgia, but sadly I doubt that was true…

38 thoughts on “Foolish thoughts

  1. I rather liked the one where the race stewards had held an extraordinary meeting as a result of Red Bull’s additional video evidence of Hamilton going off track at turn four 29 times. He was retrospectively stripped of the win and relegated to last place as a result.

  2. On the topic of «San Serriffe», for a while on the Guardian’s web site you could choose «San Serriffe» as your home country…

  3. A vaguely motor-related one which tickled me was the proposal to install Doric road signs in NE Scotland, lavishly illustrated and including a 16-page PDF of example. Fit?

  4. The best but very old Motor Industry April fool that I remember from my days calling on BMW GB at Bracknell was the year they announced that a new model would have tyre pressure monitoring that would be viewable on the instrument panel. An obvious impossibility at the time!

    The best non-car related one was the hour long major tv investigation in the style of World in Acton. (It may have been called “The third alternative”)The premise was that there had been secret joint space missions to Mars by the USA and the Soviets. A piece of video tape had been smuggled out and a decoder named a “Juke Box” was required in order to view it. Much furtive investigation followed in tracking down such a device. The tape apparently showed the surface of Mars. Some kind of creature like a mole wiggled past the camera just below the surface, creating a raised trail of soil behind it. The program ended.

    1. I replied to that BMW ad under the name “Iva Bin Ad” and they sent me a coke sized tin painted in BMW white with logo and a parts bin sticker on it with bar code, bin number and proclaiming that it contained “spare air”…..

  5. Joe – for those of us in rallying circles, a great April Fool was played this year, with accompanying photographs, of a daunting Rally Finland stage that is well known for its enormous jumps. Like all of the fearsome Finnish stages it is entirely on gravel, but someone had photoshopped a line of tarmac down one side of the road, with a road roller completing the work. It was posted on Facebook and caused considerable consternation in the rally community.

  6. Just in case it needs to be sent over to the UK, Mayflower II has already been built (no April Fools joke there) and is moored in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

    1. The thing is, Joe is leaving out the context for why the whole VW Group event wasn’t just a case of “Internet neo-puritans” complaining, but rather why many felt that it was a pretty poor attempt at a joke at best and why some felt that VW was lying to them.

      For a start, the press release itself ended up being published a few days before the 1st April, so it wasn’t obvious that it was an April Fool’s joke. When you had journalists ask VW if it was an April Fool’s joke, they originally denied that it was and emphasised that it was a genuine change – the response that they sent back also included quite a large amount of genuine advertising material for their latest electric model, the ID4, which was actually being launched on the 1st April.

      Whilst the examples that Joe gives had an undertone that gave away that they were not serious, VW’s press releases did not have that. By presenting it in such a straight faced manner, complete with the company initially officially denying it was a joke – even getting the CEO of VW’s US division in on the act – and by mixing in a large amount of genuine advertising material for VW’s latest electric cars and their future electric car strategy with the move, including timing it to coincide with the launch of the ID4, they made the whole affair look like it was a genuine name change to tie in with their future electric car strategy.

      It has also been pointed out that VW’s “joke” could have had some rather more serious legal repercussions, as Joe hasn’t mentioned that it did actually have a more serious real world impact. Because VW put so much effort into making it look like a genuine name change, and because it was explicitly tied in to the launch of the ID4, the reports that VW was rebranding to “Voltswagen” caused US demand for depositary receipts – an instrument so smaller investors can hold shares in a foreign company – to rise by 12.5%.

      In the end, the “joke” caused a quite significant movement in the share price of VW, which initially went up by about 5%, before then dropping by 3.2% below their value before the joke was announced – for a company of VW’s size, that means it initially went up in value by about €7 billion, before then losing €4.5 billion after it turned out it was just a joke.

      It’s resulted in some suggesting that the SEC might be getting involved – although it does not seem to have been VW’s intention to deliberately manipulate their share price, it turns out that the joke did help inflate VW’s share price. It is that aspect which is behind the complaints from people that they were “lied to” – when there was enough genuine information mixed in to the joke for it to cause a multi-billion Euro shift in the valuation of VW, suddenly people are not going to find it quite so amusing when you claim it was “just a joke”.

      1. Initial Q I presume ?
        Clever marketing or deliberate attempt to confuse/mislead ? Always a good idea to do due diligence before splashing the cash. Most of us don’t have a whole lot of sympathy when a gambler gets singed. Think VW might well regard it as a successful exercise.

      2. I’m a capitalist by nature, but Anon’s comments make me despair. Enough truly serious things going on in the world to take this type of view on a joke. The volatility of stock values on small bits of news is a joke, and only affects those who take short term bets on markets going up or down, probably the worst side of capitalism.

  7. I think there was a good one on these very pages reported by yourself, Joe, no doubt in cahoots with Steve Parrish. It seems Steve who has raced everything was planning a series of double decker bus racing – complete with passengers to provide ballast. I was at the point of wondering where to sign up and offer my somewhat ample poundage.

  8. Unfortunately, it was written yesterday, but post-posted to today that Sebastian Vettel is going to leave F1 at the end of the year. The details are scarce but it seems, he doesn’t trust anymore on F1 brakes being used in cars (Monza 2020, Bahrein 2021). He is just driving to survive.

    1. I don’t know, and have not been able to find out just what QAnon is, other than a name that seems to drive our American Democrat Party (and the rest of the Left) crazy. So I say, GO, QAnon, GO, GO. GO!!!!!!!

      1. He has plenty of detractors on the political right as well, as he is an extreme right wing conspiracy theorist who used to promote rather wild conspiracies – including a number with anti-Semitic and Islamophobic undertones. Are you sure you still want to associate yourself with and express support for that sort of person?

  9. In the US National Public Radio have a habit of developing really clever April Fools Day jokes like Starbucks developing a pipeline to transport coffee beans from Seattle to Boston using Cascade Mountain water, it would take a bean 3 days to get there. Perhaps their best joke is the fact that they don’t do a joke every April Fools Day which leaves one glue to the radio for the entire show.

  10. The best April Fool’s joke never occurred on April Fool’s Day … so I guess it can only be called a Fool’s joke…

    I’m referring to the infamous Orson Welles Halloween radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, where the Martians were “invading” New Jersey. So, realistic were the “news bulletins” interrupting the “regular” programming, that if you didn’t hear the beginning caveat … well, many people took it for real and panicked.

    My father told me one of his cousins packed up his family, loaded a gun, and drove them to the hills of Upstate NY.

    1. Myth. Current documented evidence, says that very few people actually were listening to the broadcast, since a much more popular program was airing at the same time. Of those tuned in, only a fraction were duped. The myth was perpetuated by the newspapers, who were trying to save their dropping advertising, which radio was starting to take over.

  11. From this year April1 i liked one that says Hamilton going to Michael Jordan’s NASCAR team to partner Bubba Wallace and another one that the same Hamilton was disqualified from Bahrain GP due to track limits. In the recent past there was one funny and much detailed reg FART project.

  12. Growing up in the UK in the 70s and 80s, there was a perennial one shown on (John Craven’s) Newsround.
    The story was that the panda egg in London Zoo, which would hatch on this one specific day, had failed to hatch this year, Every year the same story.

    I wonder if it ever did hatch.

    1. Remember her being built in Devon ands setting off from Plymouth, also Devon, under the command of a larger than life character called Alan Villiers. She was well received on her arrival 2 months later in “our colony” but I remember nothing of subsequent events. I believe many of the original crew (Pilgrim Fathers) originated from Boston in Lincolnshire where they were followers of a radical preacher and are still celebrated.

  13. Not sure about the source of April Fools day as I was always taught in Latin that the Roman Julian calendar started on March 1st (hence September being the 7th month, October being the 8th and so on).

    1. The naming is based on the Roman 10-ninth calendar which was later revised to become the 12-month Julian calendar – but beyond that I’ve not really studied it.

  14. Back in the 80s when the M25 had not been long opened, one of the glossy car mags ran an April Fools article about some ‘stealth car’ which had been developed with IR night vision, radar absorbing paint, etc. and they had taken it for a lap of the M25 (about 120 Miles) to see if they could do it in under one hour! The cover photo was (if I recall correctly) some wedge shaped Toyota (?) concept car with a hand holding a radar speed gun registering 0.000 mph. (perhaps an idea sparked by Jackie Chan’s hi tech Subaru in the first ‘Cannonball Run’ film?)

    A couple of years back I was talking about this with someone at a car show and they told me that the following month the mag had a letter from a reader casting doubt on whether this one hour lap was possible because he had taken his Ferrari out at 3am on a Sunday morning and couldn’t get anywhere near that target! I’ve often wondered whether that was also a joke, but …

    1. When the original E type was taken to London for various press launches it was in fact a lowline as used later for racing & I used to see it passing my place of work on the Coventry by-pass. Reputedly it was driven by a senior apprentice and the tale is that on the section of M1 then in use his average time for the 5 there and back journeys was 28 minutes, a speed of 143 mph !
      Maybe the original sinner (no limits then) can confirm or deny.
      Coincidently this was the reported speed that a certain Mr Button was tagged at by the gendarmes just North of the border on his first trip to Barcelona for the GP in a 330D estate. BMW were apparently delighted and paid the fine !

      1. Back in the heady days before the Internet of Things the McLaren F1 was equipped with technology enabling it to phone Mission Control in Woking with status reports. One day a German owner received a phone call from one of Ron’s chaps.

        McLaren Bod: We’re sorry to have to tell you this, Sir, but our HAL 9000 has reported a fault with your car. It’s telling us it’s being driven at V > 320 km/h every day. We will send a Minion forthwith to replace the malfunctioning equipment.

        Thomas Bscher (for it was he): No, I *do* drive it that fast every day!

        Not long after that Herr Bscher gave up his day job in banking and went to work for Ron on the F1’s race programme.

  15. whenever i feel that im being too pessimistic, cynical, dismissive, or egotistical I just read some of Joe’s content and suddenly i feel less critical of myself.

  16. Was the Heathrow race an Autosport April fool in the early ’90s? My recollection was that it was a BTCC round rather than a Grand Prix.

    I remember reading that week’s Autosport on a flight out of Heathrow. There were some “Artist’s impressions” of the proposed circuit by the late Jim Bamber. The single car qualifying was supposedly enabled by the BTCC car being able to outrun a 747.

  17. From Joe’s post of 2017:
    “Motor racing publications regularly include April Fool stories, although they used to be restricted to the years when the date of publication coincided with April 1. I recall a fictitious plan for a London Grand Prix, with the F1 cars going through Admiralty Arch, and a DTM race at Heathrow, with qualifying runs which would have to be timed to happen between the planes landing.”

  18. I recall between 1993 – 1996, there was a Williams GP april fools spoof of a windscreen wiper on a crash helmet and Damon presented it on the BBC Formula one programme. The wiper was laughably slow at moving back and forth. Have searched youtube in case someone has uploaded it, but to no avail.

    1. Don’t remember the details but someone had a wet weather helmet with a spinner like a marine “wiper”. Not sure it got beyond a mock-up and/or brief trial.

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