Like all right-minded people, you will have been appalled to see racing break out at Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix.
One minds for the purists, of course, but one minds most of all for dear old Bernie Ecclestone, who was nearly knocked off his platforms by the spectacle of Sebastian Vettel disobeying team orders to snatch victory off his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber.
"You shouldn't have that, should you?" fretted the powerless F1 supremo. Still, Bernie was inspired to recall the days of his Brabham team ownership. "I had one driver challenging for the world championship – I'm not going to say who it was – and the other guy that weekend happened to be bloody quick," he reminisced. "I said to him: 'Whatever you do, you ought to take it easy and let the other guy pass you.' He said: 'I wouldn't do that.' So I replied: 'Well, you can stand up in the seat of the car and wave him past, so the whole world can see this if you want.' But he insisted: 'I'm not going to do it.' So we just made sure he didn't have enough fuel in the car to finish the race."
What a treasure trove of cartoonish anecdotes he is. Indeed, though Ecclestone would ultimately make the transition to Formula One, it is often forgotten that he spent perhaps his most formative years on the notoriously cut-throat animated racing circuit, as president and CEO of The Wacky Races. There he would develop both his idiosyncratic sporting philosophy and the complex relationships with drivers which inform his work today – and it is an enormous honour to have persuaded him to talk to me about those times.
"What people never realise," chuckles Bernie, "is that Dick Dastardly was almost without exception acting on team orders. Think about it: how many times did he have the finish line in sight, only to gift another driver victory with the most transparent pratfall? Fans are always mugs, and the Wacky Races lot didn't even realise that for the first season Dick and the Ant Hill Mob were both driving for the same team.
"I consoled Mark Webber by pointing out that even on the Mean Machine we had flare-ups," continues Bernie. "There was the Race to Racine, where Muttley was supposed to sabotage the Ant Hill Mob, but he did over Dick instead. The Army Surplus Special probably had the healthiest drivers' relationship out there – Private Meekly understood that Sergeant Blast was No1 and he got on with it."
So Vettel isn't the dastardly villain? "Hardly," retorts Bernie. "He doesn't loudly explain his plans to foil the other drivers before the race begins.
"People do forget that Dick had the best car, though," he points out. "His team always won the Wacky Races constructors championship. It wasn't enough for him, though – it became a question of keeping Dick happy, and that got harder and harder to do. A lot of people will remember when he just couldn't hide it after the Race to Raleigh and burst into tears: 'Oh, who wanted to win this old race, anyway? I DID! I WANTED TO WIN THIS RACE! I NEVER GET TO WIN A RACE!'"
On one driver, not unexpectedly, Ecclestone refused to be drawn. "I'm not talking about Penelope," he barks. For a while, of course, they were the Wacky Races golden couple, with the sight of Pitstop reaching down to ruffle Bernie's hair one of the fondest in the Wacky Races paddock. But somewhere between the Mish-Mash Missouri Dash and rumours of Peter Perfect's involvement, things disintegrated. The fallout reportedly fomented Ecclestone's animus against women drivers.
Pitstop's team subsequently brought in Dastardly, and she went on to win four races. It felt as if the sport's controlling hand was conspiring against Perfect, meanwhile, as he consistently dropped points for being the nice guy. "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser," Ecclestone snarls pointedly today.
Even now, it's the arcana of competition that really enlivens him. "The Slag Brothers would have been Wacky Races champions under the Grand Prix rules of the time," he reveals. "Which is why I changed the Grand Prix rules – and it's no secret I'd have gone further.
"That thing Dastardly used to do, when he'd take a short cut so he could lay traps for the rest of the field? That's where I got the idea for the circuit shortcuts . Dick's oil slicks – they inspired my artificial rain jets rain plan. Another victim of other people's lack of imagination. But I'm still hoping to import the classic road sign reversal, which would see an enterprising race leader get out of the car and misdirect the rest of the grid."
Truly, they were formative years. "And you know what I learned?" laughs Bernie. "Fans' amazing tolerance for rules that are at best inconsistent and at worst completely unsporting. I mean, you had to pity Dick. One of the other cars was basically a plane, for God's sake. Then other drivers took races with violations he was disqualified for – that plonker Perfect won by extending the nose cone of his car like an accordion, for instance, when Dick was disqualified. You can see why he thought he had to cheat to win."
And with that, Ecclestone is gone, before I can verify rumours of perhaps the ultimate innovation: that the best way to preserve fuel and tyres and team pecking orders and so on is not to have the race at all.
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image: © ph-stop