Of Mice and Men and money

For most of the Formula 1 circus Monaco is a nightmare weekend. One often hears desperate Grand Prix people mumbling that they hate the place and that all the Automobile Club de Monaco paddock staff are jumped-up wombats who claim they are only following orders. If only someone would order these twerps to jump into the harbour. Perhaps they get some perverse pleasure in disrupting the lives of the rich, famous and glamorous.

And yet wandering through the streets of Monte Carlo after dinner one night, with the Mediterranean throwing off a cooling breeze and fireworks at some glitzy party lighting up the night sky, I have to say that for a moment or two I actually liked the place.

It is only natural. It is a nice place. One can put up with the jet set. Sometimes their skill at making money is not accompanied by the ability to spend it gracefully but they have a good time.

As I walked home that night I saw an image which summed up the whole of Monaco for me. There was a man walking one of those horrid little ankle-biting things which they call dogs but might be mistaken for a plucked cat.

He was passing the Monte Carlo offshoot of Paris's famous Hermes luxury goods store. At the curbside was a Ferrari in which Monsieur Jean-Philippe Mega-Wealthy was sitting, a cellular phone crammed into his ear. His eyes were sparkling - he had opened the door of his supercar in order to illuminate the interior and find a telephone number from his elegant leather agenda.

He was clearly making money. Next to him in the little pool of light sat a very pretty woman - she might have been his wife, although no woman in Monte Carlo ever looks like she is a wife. She looked bored and was lazily redoing her make-up.

It was so Monaco that I laughed out loud. A block away from this there is an apartment block on top of which an Arab gentleman has bought the top three floors. They say money isn't everything and this is obviously true because the homesick desert-dweller - made rich on oil or guns or whatever - has built his own oasis in the place he likes to call home. There are palm trees and a tent which looks as though it began life in the middle of the Sahara. Establishing an oasis on top of an apartment block is not an easy business and so helicopters had to be called in. The chances are that as he sits up there in his little personal paradise he is chatting away on a cellular phone. Everyone in Monaco seems to have one, even the cleaning ladies.

Well, Monaco, have I got news for you. The future of the Principality is in serious danger because scientists all over the world have (allegedly) discovered that cellular phones (allegedly) give off microwaves which (allegedly) give you brain cancer. This has been proved on laboratory mice...

...which just goes to show that perhaps mice should not use cellular telephones.

I have always hated cellular phones - not because they are not useful - but rather because they are a symbol of the worst kind of motor racing entrepreneur. And Monaco, of course, is their Mecca. They rent yachts and anything else money can buy and fly down the captains of industry and try to convince them that F1 is a good investment. They come to praise our great sport - and take their 10% on every deal.

Successful F1 entrepreneurs, I have always thought, have people to answer phones for them. You never see Bernie Ecclestone, Tom Walkinshaw or Ron Dennis talking into cellular phones. They do not have nasty voice mail, they employ charming secretaries with posh voices who say: "I'm sorry he's in a meeting" and make you feel human. These are not mice, these are real men.

There was a marketing manager a few years ago in F1 who was once spotted by his team talking excitedly into his cellular phone about the latest big sponsorship deal. On a hunch one of the team rang this chap's mobile number and everyone had a good laugh when the phone actually rang in his hand and the enthusiastic glean in his eye became a tear of embarrassment. He has since departed...

Mobile phones are dangerous even without the worry about brain cancer. A few years ago the Palestines had a bomb maker called "The Engineer" who was always on the move and proved impossible to catch. In the end the Israeli dodgy deed department managed to get some plastic explosive inserted into his mobile phone and then rang the number.

"Hello," they said, "Is that The Engineer?"

"Yes sir," he replied. "What can I bomb for you?"

At which point there was a loud bang as an electrical signal came down the phone and detonated the explosive.

Oddly enough, disappearing engineers were the talk of the paddock in Monaco. In recent weeks we have seen Adrian Newey move from Williams to McLaren and John Barnard from Ferrari to Arrows.

F1 teams in general seem to be in a state of upheaval as a result of the Williams team's continuing domination. Everyone talks about getting closer to Williams and improving and bla bla bla but the Williams cars just keep on winning - and it does not seem to matter who drives them. Frank Williams and Patrick Head have the power to pick whoever they think is the best driver on the market.

A similar thing happened to F1 back in 1989 when McLaren domination reached such a point that everyone else decided it was time to throw out the babies with the bathwater and start again with new personnel. There were a variety of technical staff leaping between teams - often with vast salaries being offered - there were management bloodbaths and changes in shareholdings.

The same is happening now. The difference is that Formula 1 teams are now much bigger. It has reached the point that it is now impossible to set up an F1 team from scratch. It is better to buy an existing operation. The problem is that there are not many people out there who can afford to buy because team bosses can demand enormous prices because an F1 team is now worth a lot more than once they were. This is largely due to Bernie Ecclestone's amazing TV rights deals which mean that anyone who has signed the 1997-2001 Concorde Agreement can look forward to receiving as much as $15m a year for the next five years from nice old Mr. E.

An F1 team may soon become a sensible profit-making business proposition - which is rather different from the old days when running a team was the fastest way of spending money in the world. Investment is now so huge that big motor manufacturers are considering buying into teams to protect their investment. And teams are so rich that rather than paying manufacturers they are all busy doing feasibility studies for the design and construction of their own engines.

Now it strikes me that anyone who has not ruined their brain with microwaves from cellular phones and who understands the ways of the business world and who is happy to agree to do what Bernie Ecclestone tells them to do (which is by far the best advice in F1) has a sure-fire way of making themselves enormously rich.

All you have to do is look up Venture Capitalist in the Yellow Pages and then troll off to the City of London and tell them the following.

You can buy a decent team for about $30m (the price will rise sharply in the next few months) which is why business is getting brisk. You will need another $40m to pay for engines or - preferably - to get an independent engine project underway. If you hire the right folk and invest in the right places the package will be solid and midfield. Sponsorship will only be needed to cover running costs, while any leftover can be invested to improve the equipment.

If you borrow $80m, you can show the financial types that in five years you will have a guaranteed $75m from the TV money. Good results will add prize money and additional sponsorship and one can imagine a conservative gain of maybe $15m over the five year period. Merchandising is a business which F1 is only just beginning to understand but five years from now will probably have brought you another $30m.

This means that after five years - if you have not been stupid - you will have made $110m which you can give to your Venture Capitalist. He will have made $30m of profit and he will think you a fine person.

You will be left with your own F1 team which by then is bound to be worth as much as $100m. If you are bored by motor racing you can then cash in your chips and spent the rest of your days living in an false oasis on top of an apartment block in Monte Carlo, talking into a cancer-free cellular phone.

You will probably find yourself a Monaco wife and, if you are lucky, she won't make you walk the horrible little ankle-biting things which people mistake for a plucked cat...

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