Latin formula spins off on the wrong track

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The Independent Online
The title of the documentary series QED (BBC1) is taken from the Latin quod erat demonstrandum, on the basis that the programme takes a thesis and attempts to prove it. Last week the makers sought to demonstrate, as the sub-title put it, "How to win Grand Prix". Unfortunately for them, they hooked up with Benetton, who this season have been giving demonstrations of how not to win grands prix on a regular basis.

The narrator, because this was a programme concerning cars, was Jeremy Clarkson, the forthright voice of Top Gear. Clarkson's considerable fame rests on the heavily emphasised ironic tones he uses to make things like brake ducts seem dramatic: the recipe is ham on wry.

This time he was dealing with sexier material than a round-up of Japanese runabouts: the birth and early career of the Benetton B196, and the introduction to the team of two new drivers for this year, the Austrian veteran Gerhard Berger and the emotional French-Sicilian Jean Alesi.

Berger's first task was to undergo a seat fitting. This is rather like ordering a Savile Row suit, only less dignified. The driver clambers into the cockpit of the half-built car, where he sits on a large plastic bin- bag. This is then filled with foaming plastic, which adopts the shape of his most intimate contours while it expands.

As he waited for the stuff to set, Gerhard explained why he was so pleased to be joining a British team after many years with Italy's favourite team, Ferrari. "The English are less emotional," he said. "It's more detailed work, more taking care about the details." You can see his point: an emotional seat fitting could have a painful impact on a driver's details.

Meanwhile, Jean Alesi was testing the new car at a freezing Silverstone. As the mechanics waddled around like Michelin men in their layers of anoraks, Alesi must have been hankering after the warmer climes of Italy. "Ze control of ze car is very easy," he proclaimed, hopping out in search of a hot water bottle. It began to snow.

Benetton's technical director, Ross Brawn, a ponderous, bespectacled type who looks like a super-evolved brainy haddock, testified to the most important quality in a racing driver: brain-power. Half-way through explaining his rule, he perhaps realised that there may be an exception that proves it. See if you can spot the moment. "You need intelligent drivers," he said. "All the recent world champions, Prost, Senna - er, ha-ha, even Mansell - Schumacher, they have all been bright people."

Stirling Moss dismissed all this cerebral stuff. His theory of car control was to do with more basic instincts. "It's just like if you're flirting with a girl," the old roue explained. "I mean, if you get the message that she's going to clout you, you back off a bit. Let's face it, if you think that you're going rather well, you push on a bit." Moss omitted to mention that slapping a barrier at 200mph is a sight more dangerous than a belt round the kisser from an outraged female - all part of his devil-may-care approach to life.

Back on the track, at the new Benetton's debut race in Australia, Alesi was flirting away for all he was worth. Murray Walker, in full flaming-trouser flow, took up the commentary. "And you ride with Jean Alesi," he yelled. "And Alesi is settling down with Benetton extremely well. I've just been talking to Pat Symonds, his race engineer, and Alesi, who has this rather hysterical image, is actually a much calmer man, Pat says, than you would think." At this, Alesi calmly drove into the side of Eddie Irvine's Ferrari, tearing lumps off the Benetton, before placidly executing a tyre-cooking 180-degree spin and serenely haring off to the pits for some Sellotape work.

"The great thing about motor racing," Brawn reflected, as his rival teams' drivers sprayed champagne in the background, "is that you can have one bad race and then the next one can be fantastic." Seven races into the season, Benetton have still not found out how to win a grand prix. So, not much of a demonstrandum. But a Quite Entertaining Documentary.

Eurosport have been beaming live coverage of the French Open from the Stade Roland Garros, which has enabled fashion experts to check out what the beau monde of Paris are wearing not to watch tennis. The key accessory, of course, is a pair of designer shades, so that bronzed blondes can make it absolutely clear that they are ignoring events on court without revealing precisely who they are staring at instead (inevitably, other BBs wearing outfits more expensive than their own).

On court, Mary Pierce tumbled sulkily out of the tournament, to the dismay of sports picture editors all over the world. Perhaps the black dress was a sort of advance mourning statement. Simon Reed, the commentator, sympathised. "When things go wrong," he observed, "the spectators get on top of her." Only in their dreams.

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