THE MOLE

A Japanese lunch

Cheap and cheerful Japanese restaurants are not normally the kind of place where one would expect to find The Mole. But, now and then, when on an overseas mission, The Mole has been known to meet a contact in somewhere other a Michelin two star restaurant.

A spymaster must be able to adapt to different environments.

The Mole's Australian contact, codename Cobber, is not a man who feels at home with white table cloths and so when he and The Mole meet up it is usually at a low-key Japanese joint called Edoya, on Russell Street in Melbourne.

The sashimi is excellent and Cobber rapidly gave The Mole his report on all the latest goings-on related to Formula 1 in Oceania. This did not take long. Mark Webber needs to start winning races before the average Aussie race fan turns his attention away from his beloved V8 Supercars.

"Whether you like it or not," said Cobber. "Mark Skaife and the other V8 heroes are much more famous than your fancy European fellas with girls names."

The Mole nodded.

The conversation then began to stray, starting off with Bernie Ecclestone's already famous red jumper and moving swiftly onwards to Australian Grand Prix chairman's Ron Walker's hairdo. There was a brief discussion about Indycar driver Scott Dixon and then the conversation moved on to comparing the relative talents of Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett. They had touched on Hugh Grant trying to pretend to be the Prime Minister and after a skirmish over cricket had ended up talking about the Gay Mardi Gras in Sydney.

"Mate, should see it!" said Cobber.

The tonkatsu had been very good and The Mole decided to finish off his lunch with the Edoya Special, a dish which lives up to its billing as "delightful Japanese cake" while Cobber went for Tempura Ice Cream, a dish which The Mole has yet to encounter in Tokyo, Osaka or Nagoya.

It was not mentioned but they tacitly avoided "Go Shu Blue", which was described as "Kosher-rated Australian sake" because of a nasty experience some years ago when Cobber had a few too many Go Shu Blues and began asking why sake needed a kosher rating.

"They have great coffee here," said Cobber. "And great views!"

He nodded his head to the street, down which was striding a blonde beach babe, a girl with the sun in her hair and the arrogant lope of a well-trained racehorse.

"Strewth!" said Cobber. "Now, that's a top unit!"

The Mole smiled.

"User-friendly," he said. "But alas rather high-maintenance, I fear."

"She would fit neatly into F1," said The Mole.

"Oh," said Cobber. "I forgot to mention something I picked up the other day when I was chasing a story about Toyota getting into V8 Supercars. It was the oddest thing. The Toyota bloke told me a story about one of his people in Cologne who had reported an approach from a head-hunting agency in Britain, looking for composite engineers."

"So?" said The Mole. "That is not unusual. Formula 1 teams are constantly poaching staff from one another, pushing up salaries."

"Yeah but the odd thing was that the engineer was told that he would be working for Mercedes-Benz in England."

"Not at McLaren?" said The Mole.

"Apparently not," said Cobber. "Now, how weird is that? I mean, correct me if I am wrong, but I always thought that Mercedes-Benz made the engines and McLaren made the chassis."

"And at the moment neither is doing that very well," murmured The Mole.

"So I figured that maybe Mercedes-Benz has had enough of not controlling everything and wants to do their own canoes as well as the outboards," Cobber suggested.

"Well," said The Mole, "there has been talk around Europe for some time that Ron Dennis was selling his shares in McLaren to the Germans. I think he figures that now that his new factory is finally nearing completion and they are building the McLaren Mercedes road cars, it is a good moment to cash out and leave it all to the Germans. I heard Ropn's idea of money was a bit over the top. That factory has cost him something like 300m."

"Strewth," said Cobber. "That's half the national debt of New Zealand."

"The thing is that if one is buying McLaren why would one need to hire composite engineers?" continued The Mole, thinking aloud. "It does not make sense. Unless the boys from Stuttgart are planning to use the Pentagon for road car research and development and want to set up something totally new for F1."

"Does that make sense?" said Cobber.

"Does any of it make sense?" replied The Mole.

They paused for a moment.

"We don't know the details," said The Mole finally. "But I can smell a deal going down."

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