Having difficulty getting to sleep at night? Try reading some of the speculation on F1’s cost cap. The complexity of the proposals tells you that policing them will be like herding cats.
Pin down one contentious area and some bright spark will find a loophole hidden beneath the detail covering exclusions for (pause for breath): marketing, travel accommodation for drivers and their best mates, three individuals other than drivers earning highest aggregate amounts, team heritage, capitalisation of cars, amortisation, deprecation, finance costs and taxes, human resource, administration, legal activities, property costs, flights and hotels during racing and testing, power unit development costs, validation of fuels and oils and, finally, employee termination costs (presumably for team members driven to distraction dealing with paperwork and bookkeeping for all of the above).
If the teams had any sense (an occasionally debatable subject in itself), they would speak to former F1 correspondents for newspapers; a motely crew adept at elevating expense fiddling to an art form.
Computerised restaurant till receipts listing everything from the last crumb of bread to the time of day have become the bane of media guys expert in the past at a bit of creative accounting. It was never like this when receipts were hand-written – and preferably illegible.
The trick was to tip the waiters and have them slip blank receipts under the bills. The following morning, the press room would be a hive of furtive activity as journos borrowed a neighbour’s handwriting to create a meal rather more expensive than the one actually taken 12 hours before. Never mind tyre strategy: the only question of importance on race morning was: “Can you write ‘Filet Steak’ in Spanish?”
Sometimes, the waiter might not play ball and fail to deliver the prized blank. This would prompt subterfuge at the till as one member of the party fumbled with a fist-full of foreign currency while another spirited a pad of receipts from the cashier’s desk. But that could backfire if you didn’t speak the lingo.
Japan was particularly difficult. If the restaurant’s system was totally inflexible – as they tend to be in that part of the world – no amount of cajoling could persuade the waiter to split the bill, never mind indulge in receipt skulduggery. On one occasion, a member of our party – who wrote for a British tabloid but who had better remain nameless – triumphantly waved a purloined pink pad of blank receipts as we disappeared into the oriental evening.
The following morning, a Japanese journalist was approached with a view to filling in several slips with her native handwriting. A perplexed look on hearing this suggestion turned into snorts and sniggers as she examined the pink pad and explained it would look odd to have Sushi and Shabu-Shabu on what was the lavatory attendant’s check list. Collapse of the naughty party.
As a former BBC man, I can vouch for the need for prudence thanks to the pathetic expenses issued by Broadcasting House. One of my colleagues joined a group of writers dining al fresco at the front of a smart restaurant on Fitzroy Street in Melbourne’s St. Kilda. Our man made his views known – frequently – about the high prices. At the conclusion of the meal, he went off to the toilet.
In his absence, the bill was paid and a plan quickly hatched. It was agreed not to mention payment having been made but, instead, to suggest legging it. On being given this news on his return, the BBC man – a decent, upstanding citizen concerned about his reputation and the husbanding of taxpayers’ money - went into mild panic.
“No, you’re quite right,” they assured him. “This place is far too expensive; definitely not worth it. We’re with you on this. We’re going to do a runner. Ready?”
“No! No!” he hissed. “We can’t do that! I didn’t mean to….”
But before he could finish his objection, the rest of the table hurriedly rose as one and left him. As they tried to run while stifling giggles, the entire party and fellow pedestrians on Fitzroy Street were suddenly swept aside and overtaken by a previously sedate Englishman who had instantly become the fastest BBC reporter on the planet. He didn’t look back, apparently, until he reached the seclusion of the beach. His dinner companions, meanwhile, were doubled up by the side of pavement.
F1 teams may think they’ve got a handle on sidestepping cost caps. They don’t know the half of it.