volley. The billions of a Murdoch or a Berlusconi can't dull the football brain of a Roberto Baggio. Top cricketers make decent money nowadays, but - whatever we may think about last week's events in Port of Spain - the actual quality of the play fluctuates in more or less the same way that it always has. Will Carling would be neither a better nor a worse centre threequarter were he making only a small fraction of the annual pounds 100,000 he is reputed to earn from his activities inside and outside the game. Most top golfers retain their modest demeanour and the integrity of their swings despite their astonishing riches.
Motor racing, though, is different. Here, the amounts in question are truly fabulous: the relevant ballpark figure, the sum required to run a top team of two cars for a single season, is pounds 25m. A lot of this, of course, goes on thingummyjigs made out of absurdly expensive military-specification titanium, machined to aviation standards by boffins who calculate the milk in their tea to a micro- millimetre. Nevertheless, this seems to leave plenty of dosh over for team bosses to buy houses on Cheyne Walk and harbour-front apartments in Monaco, and for their drivers to use their long-haul private jets on the school run.
It was always a rich man's game, even in the pre-war golden age, but in the Sixties, when the humble English garagistes like John Cooper and Lotus's Colin Chapman deployed their technical ingenuity to beat the mighty Ferrari and Maserati, inventiveness was briefly a far more significant factor than cold cash. But the garagistes eventually became the biggest spenders of the lot.
There were signs in Brazil last week, at the first grand prix of the season, that a new set of regulations limiting the use of high-tech devices will give practical encouragement to those teams who don't enjoy the benefit of vast budgets. It was cheering to see good performances from the Minardi team, an old-fashioned and good-natured Italian outfit, and from the venerable Tyrrell organisation, both of whom have been experiencing difficulties raising sponsorship funds.
But you couldn't miss the way that money has deformed the behaviour of the sport's top-level participants both on the track and in the pits. The juxtaposition of the astonishingly wealthy grand prix circus with the pitiful favelas scattered around the hills surrounding the Sao Paulo circuit was odious enough. But the arrogance and self-importance of many Formula One personnel is now beyond belief. The top drivers move around the world in a protective cocoon of minders and handlers, treated with the sort of hushed reverence that even a Michael Jackson or a Julia Roberts would consider over the top. Ayrton Senna probably set the fashion for this kind of self-
absorbed mode; in his very different way, Nigel Mansell carried on the work. Now we see even such a genuine bloke as Damon Hill guarding his opinions with unnatural and unnecessary caution, lest he offend the big money.
The drivers, however, are far from being the worst-behaved men in the paddock. The sport's administrators and the owners of the Formula One teams seem permanently locked in a ghastly battle to prove that - as the old yuppie T- shirt slogan had it - he who dies with the most toys wins. All vestiges of contact with the core values that apply to any sport, disappeared years ago. Some of the tactics used in the effort to undermine rivals would make a Borgia blanch.
Perhaps nothing can be done about this. And no one could deny that, as those 26 cars screamed away from the grid, they and their 20,000-odd combined horsepower made a spectacle every bit as bold and brave as those glimpsed on film from the days of Nuvolari or Fangio. Something's rotten, though. Grand prix racing's bosses should remember that nothing - especially the products of extreme affluence - lasts for ever.Reuse content