The Writings of Ingrid Pitt

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Ingrid Says... Pitt of Horror Website Message

March 2008

Ingrid Pitt Says....

Ingrid in Monaco

Ingrid Pitt Says...

It's funny how things go on for years and nobody takes any notice then suddenly everybody's pursing their lips and shaking their collective heads and mouthing "Well I never". One of the strongest examples of this Damascus moment has occurred in the glitzy, iconoclastic world of Grand Prix Racing. Team bosses, who should know better, are throwing up their hands with all the innocence of a 'fifties debutante at a fumble party, declaring that the thought of benefiting from another team's endeavours has never crossed their mind. And that it should be Ferrari doing the finger pointing and acting holier than God is the final irony. Ferrari and McLaren have kept alive a state of warfare since way back in 1976 when Ferrari protested a James Hunt win in the Spanish Grand Prix and had the win attributed to Niki Lauda. Hunt was re-credited with the win later but dumped off the podium, again against Ferrari, in the British GP. Again Ferrari protested a Hunt win over a technicality and this time it stuck. Over the years it has been a regular game plan of the Ferrari team to protest an opponent when the Prancing Horse is having a sticky time of it between the Armco.

How could the secrets of any team be successfully guarded from others when the outcome of their efforts to produce ever more exotic machinery is paraded every other Sunday before the press? When mechanics and engineers regularly swap from one team to the other? And even drivers, the best of which have a full and technical understanding of what makes the wheels go round, be expected to keep stumm about their garnered knowledge when their key motivation is to go faster than anyone else lining up on the grid? How are they supposed to react when they join their new team and are quizzed about their old team? Are they expected to become monks and take a vow of silence? The present furore between Ferrari and McLaren, orchestrated by the President of the FIA, Max Mosley, is a farce. For instance the instigator of the media frenzy was McLaren driver, Spaniard Fernando Alonso. Alonso threatened his team captain, Ron Dennis, with disclosing information that he had received from Ferrari, via Nigel Stepney of Ferrari and through McLaren engineer Mike Coughlan, to the FIA. The price of keeping silent was that Dennis should give him preferential treatment over his team mate, Lewis Hamilton. Guardedly Ron Dennis, owner of McLaren, quite rightly, run this display of tacky blackmail, lightly edited, passed Mosley to see what sort of reaction he would get. Mosley didn't seem overly excited at first. His mood only changed after it appeared that Lewis Hamilton, McLaren's rookie superstar, was in danger of making the rest of the field look like misfits. Outcome was that Ron Dennis, the beleaguered boss of McLaren, got a stunning fine of $100,000,000 (why dollars?), and had the World Championship for Manufacturers handed to Ferrari. The maelstrom which swept through the McLaren team had the effect of demoralising the players. With the championship pot virtually in his trophy cabinet it suddenly all went wrong for Hamilton and the championship slipped away on a tide of errors that would not have been allowed to happen in normal circumstances. He didn't do it all by himself. Hamilton must share part of the blame but would an unmolested Dennis have allowed him to make the mistakes he made in the final few races? And who came out as top-dog? Ferrari! Kimi Raikkonen richly deserved to win and it would have left a bad taste in the buds if the Championship had been taken away from him by a committee meeting in the Place de la Concorde. McLaren's retaliatory raid on Ferrari's position, seeking to get the teams of Williams-Toyota and BMW Sauber disqualified and thereby elevating Hamilton a couple of places and gaining enough points to filch the Pot off Kimi, were dismissed summarily. And quite rightly so.

What is not so easily understood is why Renault, the team to which whistle-blower Alonso has now pledged his undying love, were not penalised for using material admittedly purloined from McLaren? Can the man on the No 11 bus going over Tower Bridge and reading his copy of Motoring News believe that only now have the teams awoken to the fact that the world of motor racing is a dodgy one? Is he expected to believe that only the saints of the pit lane are immune to the temptations of the billions of pounds swilling around the workshops and boardrooms? Personally I was always amazed at the precautions taken by the racing teams to conceal their secrets. I remember visiting Jack Oliver, co-founder of the British Arrows Formula One team, at his headquarters in Milton Keynes. He showed me around his massive workshops and obviously was giving me the petrolheads tour until we came to the body shop. There was a car on blocks with a couple of mechanics working on it. As we approached, Jack signalled to one of the men and he instantly threw a tarpaulin over the chassis so that I couldn't see the subtleties of the aerodynamics built into the new car. And that was the latest model of a team which never, during the whole of its 25 year existence and 368 starts, won a Grand Prix! With this level of caution are we to believe that nobody was aware that all the inhabitants of this strange world are not caring, virtuous citizens? Even in the seventies and eighties there were tales of spies from different teams intercepting telephone calls and paying employees to copy plans. That was in relatively unsophisticated times. I'm sure if it is possible to intercept messages from the heir to the throne wanting to be his mistress's tampon, snitching electronic material passing between the heavy men of rival race teams would be child's play. I even wrote a book along those lines myself in the 1980s.

Although the heavy mob at the FIA have desperately tried to represent themselves as honest brokers in this unsavoury matter the fractious history between its President, Max Mosley, and Ron Dennis is well documented. This disenchantment has become even more obvious in the last year or so. Recently Mosley has been seen on TV making some highly inflammatory comments about Lewis Hamilton and even suggesting that if he became dominant in Formula One it would be detrimental to the sport. He also hasn't done himself any favours by describing triple world champion Sir Jackie Stewart as a 'certified halfwit'. Furthermore Mosley has given his backing to Ferrari's Jean Todt to become President of the FIA when he retires. When the case of industrial espionage was first brought before him it should have been possible, if not advisable, to deal with it himself. Ferrari's attitude made this impossible. But is there more to Mosley's condemnation of Hamilton and McLaren than meets the eye? Has Mosley's own complicated background anything to do with what could be made to look like a witch hunt? Whatever the final outcome of this self inflicted fiasco it is Motor Sport itself which will be the loser. And maybe by extension, Max Mosley.

Anyway, enjoy the new Season which starts on 16th March in Australia.

The Writings of Ingrid Pitt