The demise of a duck
DECEMBER 19, 2002
The Mole is very partial to a little duck now and then. A good magret de canard with a honey glaze or a nice robust confit de canard and some boiled potatoes always goes down rather well and, of course, a man cannot live without foie gras and a little glass of Monbazillac from time to time.
The subject of duck came up during The Mole's weekly strategy meeting on Monday morning. The previous days had been interesting with Max Mosley's rather spectacular coup d'etat against the Formula 1 team owners and their reaction to it. From the outside it looked as though most of the team bosses had accepted that not much can be done and that even if resistance was possible it would be a public relations own goal.
The Mole asked if there were any issues and points of interests which they felt had arisen from all these exciting events.
His number two piped up immediately.
"I think there are two points which need to be made," said Number Two, through a haze of politically-incorrect pipe smoke. "The Formula 1 teams have no idea about public relations, and the GPWC cannot be taken too seriously."
A hush fell over the room and Number Two began to explain why.
"It seems to me that if the teams did agree on a whole bunch of reforms back in December as they say they did, it might have been wiser for them to tell everyone," he said. "As a result of keeping whatever they agreed a secret Mosley was able to accuse them of having done nothing and so could justify his actions.
"And then after the meeting there seems to have been no strategy at all to mount any opposition. Eddie Jordan, Paul Stoddart and others were all very positive but Ron Dennis said "No comment".
"If ever there was a moment at which a decisive statement was needed it was then."
"Well, you cannot expect Ron to be brilliant at everything," said The Mole thoughtfully. "I am afraid that dealing with the press has never been his thing."
"No," replied Number Two. "He never has maximised the potential of that relationship."
At this point one of the Penelopes joined in.
"What about your point about the GPWC?" she said in a voice which must once have echoed through the corridors of Cheltenham Ladies College. "I look after that file and I am interested to know if our conclusions are the same."
"Well," said Number Two. "The thing that I don't get is how they can put out a statement saying that they are all "dismayed". I think that was the word they used. And they advised everyone to oppose the changes. But at the same time we had Ferrari's Luca di Montezemolo saying he was "very happy" with the changes and Jean Todt agreeing that cost-cutting was necessary. And then Flavio Briatore came out for Renault and said it was "a step in the right direction". We have not heard a peep from Jaguar but we know where the Ford suits stand on all of this.
"Our chap in Detroit was on the phone yesterday," said one of the researchers. He has heard that Jaguar Racing is this year pegged to a $135m budget and apparently needs to find around $16m in additional commercial sponsorship. And so obviously they want to cut costs."
"And that leaves Mercedes-Benz and BMW," said The Mole.
"Our sources say that Mercedes-Benz is not very happy," said the quiet man in the corner who had flown in from Germany for the meeting. "They seem to be the prime mover in all of this. We are not quite sure where BMW stands because they are still busy deciding what to do in the future in F1."
"Whatever the case," said Penelope, "what you are in effect saying is that the majority of GPWC members are not in favour of fighting Mosley's measures. So why is there a statement going out saying that they are? Who wrote it? And why?"
"To quote Shakespeare," said The Mole, "That is the question."
The conversation then turned to the recent GPWC meetings in Paris and Berlin and documents which have passed through The Mole's department.
"There was a very interesting 26-page letter which laid out questions which the team's had about the GPWC business plan," said The Mole. " These came from, let me see now, Jordan, McLaren, Toyota, Williams and BAR. Or do we have to say B dot A dot R these days? It's an odd combination but these were the respondents and their questions touched on all kinds of issues about revenues and ownership, voting structures and so on. The big issue, however, appears to have been what guarantees the GPWC is offering to teams. And apparently there are not very many of them. So a lot of the teams have considerable reservations about the whole idea. That was what emerged from the January 9 meeting in Paris.
"There is also a fair bit of pressure from manufacturers because Mosley has been stirring up trouble after the GPWC said it would run its series outside FIA regulation," said Number Two.
"A very dim decision," chimed in Penelope.
The Mole raised an eyebrow.
"Well, it was," she said "And why beat about the bush on the subject? We know that Mosley and Ecclestone are both formidable opponents and so a good strategy would have been to avoid driving Mosley straight into Ecclestone's arms. The best thing for the GPWC would be to have fallen into bed with the FIA because that would have made Mosley's life difficult.
"I think there are some personal issues involved there which have prevented that from happening," said The Mole.
"Whatever," said Penelope. "The fact is that once the GPWC had put Mosley's nose out of joint it was just a matter of time before he would start talking to car industry people higher up the food chain and they would start putting pressure on GPWC board to stop them rocking the boat."
"So are you saying that the GPWC is a dead duck?" asked The Mole.
"I have seen more lively ducks in Chinese restaurants" said Penelope. "The only thing is that this duck is still quacking."
"Ah, but they need it, you see," said Number Two. "If the manufacturers and their teams admit that the GPWC is about to be served up with an orange sauce, they are not going to have anything to use as a negotiating tool with Ecclestone when they start talking about what happens in 2008. Bernie, as we know, is very charitable to himself and his partners and less charitable to the teams."
"...although, to be fair, he has just agreed to help bail out the small teams," The Mole said.
"I take your point," said Penelope, "but it is not much a bargaining tool is it? And as long as Bernie has the FIA and GPWC quibbling with each other, he is in the perfect position. If the GPWC is not allowed by the car companies to go ahead on its own the only option is to do a deal with Bernie, because he owns the commercial rights to F1 until the next century. But even if they do that the FIA still has a veto on any deal which involves a change of control in the company which holds the rights and that means that, one way or another, if the GPWC wants to survive it has to do a deal with the FIA."
"Absolutely," said Number Two.
"In that case," said The Mole, "I fear that the GPWC is veritably Peking Duck-ed."
And with that they went out for lunch.
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