Crash-testing dummies

Miss Pringle-Featherby (of the Berkshire Pringle-Featherbys) had popped out and come back with Penelope (Roedean)'s favourite sandwich: a complicated cucumber and salmon affair topped with alfalfa sprouts and some pickled gherkins, which Penelope insisted on calling "cornichons". She had also purchased a sausage and marmalade sandwich for The Mole.

The pair were now lunching in The Mole's office.

"Sausages and marmalade," said The Mole. "Marvellous, an unexpected success from an unlikely combination."

"A bit like Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley," said Penelope.

The Mole smiled. They were silent for a moment and then Penelope began to brainstorm.

"I hear that Ron Dennis told the other team principals in Hockenheim that he is fed up with all this stupid arguing and will build cars for whatever rules are agreed in 2005, except that he will not accept engines which must last for more than one weekend."

"Sensible chap," said The Mole. "Jenson Button could have beaten Michael Schumacher if he had started third on the grid instead of 13th. It's a bloody stupid rule."

"What is needed in Formula 1 is stability," Penelope added. "Growth comes from stability. I suppose that is why Ron also told them that he is not going to agree to any other changes between now and the end of the Concorde Agreement in 2007."

"Good idea," said The Mole. "The only thing is that he and Frank Williams are talking about taking the FIA to arbitration if they go on insisting that the engine formula must be changed. It seems there are several documents, including the Concorde Agreement itself, in which there are written guarantees that the engine rules will remain the same until the end of 2007. The clever thing is that Ron and Frank kept an arbitration case open and could revive it with the engine issue tacked on. The lawyers seem to think that Ron and Frank will win that one and that it could be done quickly."

"That would be an outrage," said Penelope. "The FIA is the guardian of the sport."

"Yes," said The Mole, "but a contract is a commercial thing and if it is broken, it is broken. It is not about administering the sport. It is about a deal."

"The thing that I don't get," said Penelope, "is why at this moment we suddenly hear stories that Dennis is going to sell McLaren to DaimlerChrysler. Surely that must mean he is giving up and getting out."

"Like Mosley did?" said The Mole, licking a dribble of marmalade from the tip of his finger. "No, I've been thinking about it and I think the best thing that Ron can do is to sell the team."

Penelope looked a little puzzled but disguised this by having a big bite of her sandwich. The alfalfa and the cornichons fell out the back and she cursed like a trooper.

"Think about it," The Mole explained as he watched her licking her fingers. "McLaren is a bloody great millstone around Ron's neck, isn't it? He's trying to run his team and fight the people who are making the rules. You cannot win like that. You are too exposed. The best thing is to sell the team to Mercedes-Benz but get a deal to run the team on their behalf. After that Ron doesn't have to worry any more because it's not his problem. He'll have money in the bank and Mercedes-Benz fighting his battles for him. Bernie and Max would have to be nice to him: Bernie doesn't want Mercedes-Benz going off to run its own series and Max will want to stay really sweet with the Germans because they can make his life difficult and right now they pay for the FIA to crash test its dummies."

"You might have phrased that a little better," said Penelope.

"Well, perhaps," said The Mole, "but only a dummy would fall out with Mercedes-Benz when you need their cash."

"Surely that would be seen as the big guy trying to exert commercial pressure on the small guy," said Penelope.

"Well, I suppose it might be," said The Mole. "But if you want money you should say the right things."

"You sound like a cheap little pimp," said Penelope, rather crossly. "There are some people you cannot buy and sell."

The Mole was obviously not convinced.

"If I offered you a million pounds to sleep with me," The Mole asked. "What would you do?"

"I'd ask Mrs Mole if you had the cash," said Penelope. "That way I'd get the money and then we'd get married and I's get half of what was left of the estate when you croak. Alternatively, I suppose I could ask for evidence of the cash and then, when I'd seen it, I'd ask Daddy if he had a better offer to save my virtue."

"I fear he might be too late for that," said The Mole, with a gentle smile. "I have trained you well. You have a great future in this sport."

They paused for a moment to eat some more.

"So what happens if Ron blocks everything and takes the FIA to arbitration and wins?"

The Mole waved his hands in the air, to indicate the explosion of a volcano.

"The contract would be broken," he said. "All bets would be off and a whole new World Championship would have to be sorted out. I guess Mosley would have to resign after a defeat like that."

"They could use this new GP2 thing and call it F1," said Penelope.

"That wouldn't work," said The Mole. "You cannot have F1 without the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes, Honda, BMW, Toyota and the rest of them. It would have no credibility. And they would do their own thing rather than run cars fitted with engines built by some obscure engine company in Switzerland. They would want to build their own and anyway the FIA cannot agree to 4-litre V8s when its busy trying to get everyone to accept 2.4-litre V8s. It just would not be safe and we know how important safety is to the FIA."

"Indeed we do," said Penelope. "Mind you, I am not sure I can think of a logical explanation as to why the new Formula 3000 is going to have bigger engines than the new F1."

"Yes," said The Mole, staring at Penelope. "It's decidedly odd, isn't it?"

Penelope noticed the stare.

"A million pounds?" she mused.

The Mole blushed.

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