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It’s that time again…

joeblogsf1 | The real stories from inside the F1 paddock

December 17, 2013 by Joe Saward
You know that news is getting thin when the biggest story of the week is Volkswagen denying interest in Formula 1.

When you stop and think about it, this is a non-story based on a non-story, because someone somewhere must have written an ill-informed article suggesting that such a thing might happen, and that required a negative response from someone at Volkswagen.

There is a test going on in Bahrain to help Pirelli get some experience with the 2014 tyres on 2013 cars. The teams involved are Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Toro Rosso. The testing will be dictated by Pirelli. All the teams were invited but only four of the 11 felt it would be of benefit.

So, rather than wasting time, energy and bytes, I am shutting down the blog for the Christmas period. I will return to action in the New Year, although exactly when I am not sure, as I have not yet looked at a calendar. Remember to renew your subscriptions for GP+, by going to On December 31 all those who bought 2013 subscriptions will no longer have access to the free 2012 magazines, so download them now, while you have the chance. If you are looking for Christmas presents for F1 obsessed relatives, you can buy them subscriptions, or you might even like to purchase copies of The Grand Prix Saboteurs, which will keep them busy over the holidays.

If you find yourself with nothing to do, here are some thoughts to generate a quiet titter over a mince pie or a mulled wine.

It is interesting, sometimes, to try to place Formula 1 into human patterns of behaviour.

Back in Roman times there were chariot racing teams that were so powerful and popular that they became political parties and began to influence society itself. They even had their own militia. There were four major players, which were differentiated by the colour of their uniforms: blues, reds, greens and whites. After the Fall of Rome in 410 AD the sport faded in importance except in Constantinople where the traditional Roman factions continued to play a prominent role for some time, culminating in the Nika Revolt of 532 AD when nearly half the city being burned or destroyed and tens of thousands of people killed in a dispute between the blues and the greens.

Amazing, but true…

In the modern F1 world we have not quite got that stage – at least not yet – and Christmas is a time when the adventures of one year fade away and the sport embarks on the next chapter. Vicars will tell you unlikely tales of virgin births and stars that lead wise men around, but the Christmas break is about much the same as what is happening in F1. A period of rebirth. And it always has been.

Academics reckon that Christmas is all about the winter solstice, when the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days reverses and people know that the time of increasing darkness has come to an end, and that each day from that point onwards they will get a little more light. The northern peoples of Europe celebrated the festival of Yule with light and heat, burning candles and lighting fires. Evergreens, the reminders of the survival of life during the harsh winter months, were used to cheer people up, hence the importance of the Christmas tree, holly, ivy and, of course, mistletoe. The Yule festival also involved the slaughtering of the domestic animals, so that they would not need to be fed during the winter. This meant there was fresh meat (a cause of celebration in its own right) and there followed blood-spattered sacrifices leading to much drinking and suitable debauchery. There were still months of winter ahead and with them came the fear of starvation, so this was the last great feast of the year. The last of the summer fruits and wines were used up in spicy fruited cakes and pies. The Romans did much the same in their celebrations of Saturn, the god of renewal, liberation and agriculture and it seems were often carried away with excesses as well…

Somewhere along the way in the Roman festivals someone came up with the idea of drawing lots and appointing someone to oversee the revelries. The Lord of Misrule was in charge of the fun and he could order anyone to do anything. As you can imagine, things often got out of hand with much drunkenness and debauchery, not least because the Lord of Misrule ended his short reign after 12 days. The Feast of Fools, as it became known, culminated in Twelfth Night (hence the Shakespeare play) when things got well and truly out of hand. The population left their houses to sing, to wassail (this is a verb that derives from a spiced wine drunk during celebrations for Twelfth Night) and to toast their neighbours, their animals and their fields… The Lord of Misrule would then have his throat slit as a sacrifice to the god Saturn, so it was in his interest to pack in as much action as possible in the time he had left…

In time people realised that a person with nothing to lose was a bit of loose cannon. And then along came Christianity and Saturnalia was turned into Christmas, and merged with Yule. Rather than drawing lots, the new idea was for the “King” to be chosen by putting a bean or a sixpence into a cake or a pie. That tradition goes on today in France with the Galette du Roi (the king’s cake). The person chosen was known sometimes as the King of Bean and wore a paper crown and told jokes (hence the things that one finds in a Christmas cracker these days) and everyone enjoyed themselves, although there were fewer orgies and not as much throat-slitting.

And as for Father Christmas, or Santa Claus, he popped up in the celebrations as a bastardization of the Dutch Sinterklaas, a mangled version of Saint Nikolas, 4th-century bishop in what is today Turkey. There are various versions of why he became known for leaving presents in stockings, but one suggests that he would tour the local towns leaving coins inside shoes that were left outside for him. A more colourful explanation is that he once threw bags of gold coins into a house, through a window, to stop the father selling his daughters into prostitution. One of them landed in a stocking that was hanging by the fireplace to dry… I think I prefer that version…

This was not good enough for Martin Luther who invented his own Father Christmas figure, as part of his rejection of all things Catholic, and came up with the personage of Kristkindl (Christ Child), which is why some Americans these days refer to Santa Claus as Kris Kringle.

So it is a time of rebirth. In F1 terms the weeks leading up to Christmas are a time when the sport is at its lowest ebb in the public view. The factories are humming, manufacturing the 2014 cars, but the idea of the new F1 season is still remote. It is not until the Christmas trees are thrown away that this mood changes. The new season suddenly seems to be just around the corner and everyone is excited again and talking in warm and fluffy terms about their hopes for the World Championship. Team bosses, engineers and drivers have yet to discover how good (or bad) their new cars really are, so it is a time of dangerously-contagious optimism. Teams are united and yet to become disillusioned with one another. New partnerships are being formed and new promises made. It is a time of good cheer and enthusiasm. A time when all the good things about Formula 1 are on display, most of all the incredible passion that those involved have for the sport.

So there you have it! I trust that you will enjoy suitable debauchery in this festive season and if no-one has slit your throat I trust you will be reading the column again in January…

…and if you don’t believe me, here is a depiction of Saturnalia…
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