JUNE 6, 2003
The grandchildren are already out of school and as they seemed to be vomiting on a regular basis, The Mole decided it would be a good moment to take a trip to Magny Cours for "important business" and stop off on the way home in the Sancerre to pick up a little wine for "personal consumption".
"Do you absolutely have to go?" said Mrs Mole wearily.
"I am afraid so," said The Mole. "All rather boring politics I'm afraid. I won't stay for the race. In fact I will probably be back on Saturday. I need to take one of the Penelopes down there for a honey-trap operation."
"Oh..." said Mrs Mole.
"I thought I'd take the Alvis."
The Mole is very proud of his TF21 with bodywork by Hermann Graber in Bern, and he likes every now and then to take off in his "Master of the King's Highway" for an old-fashioned motor tour. Penelope came down to Guildford on the train, clutching a small travelling bag, and soon they were off to Bramley and Cowfold and on to Pyecombe. Passing the imposing Roedean School on the cliffs above the sea, Penelope could not help remarking that she had not been back for a few years. From there it was on to the ferry and across to Dieppe and then cross-country to Rouen, Elbeuf, Evreux and Dreux and a night (separate rooms of course) at the Abbaye de Beaugency, a splendid hotel overlooking the Loire. They had a very pleasant dinner although The Mole was somewhat miffed because the waiters kept referring to Penelope as his daughter and not assuming (as they should have done) that she was his mistress.
The following day they toured alongside the Loire all the way up to Nevers, stopping only for the occasional Vittel Grenadine for refreshment.
"The only thing wrong with this drink," said Penelope, "is that it is sadly lacking in alcohol content."
They arrived at Magny Cours in time to witness the efforts of BAR versus the gendarmes and then they went back to their hotel and Penelope went off to carry out her mission (which, alas, is still classified information). The Mole had a quiet evening, which is easy to do at the French Grand Prix. When Penelope returned in the morning (looking rather flushed) they had an hour exchanging notes and debriefing, and then set off northward towards the vineyards of Sancerre.
"I must say all the politics is very dull at the moment," said The Mole. "I must say it is a close call between staying home with vomiting children or listening to the F1 children fighting over money. And the bigger game is just a big mess. On the one hand you have Ron Dennis and his friends in black leather telling the world that a deal is close and then Bernie and his pet banker are busy telling everyone that a deal is unlikely for a long time.
"Who would you believe?"
"Frankly sir, I couldn't give a toss," said Penelope, tossing back her hair. "And I think you will find that all Formula 1 fans have entirely the same view as me. We want better races. This year has OK but there isn't enough overtaking. The team bosses spend all their time quibbling over who gets what and not enough time on trying to figure out how to put on a better show. They are all wearing very expensive blinkers."
"Quite so," said The Mole. "But what about the money?"
"The thing is that we just don't care," she said. "If they were handing out money to race fans then everyone would be interested, wouldn't they? But they are not. We have to give them money to enjoy the sport we love and we don't care what they do with it. I would be quite happy if someone poured molten gold down the throats of the lot of them."
"How very colourful," said The Mole. "I can see you had the benefits of a classical education."
Penelope smiled sweetly.
"I think they should refinance the whole business with a new bond issue," she said. "The money from that would be used to pay off the old bond and ensure the short-term future of all the teams by means of a large big cash payment to each of them. This would only be done if the teams agreed to a new 15-year Concorde Agreement. As part of the deal the banks and The Ecclestone Family would reduce their shareholdings slightly to give the teams a share of 10% of all the F1 revenues. Then everyone should concentrate on building up revenue. Race fees, TV deals, trackside advertising, sponsorships and sensible merchandising are the important things. They could generate $5bn a year if the people involved used their brains. And then the company could be floated. The banks would get their money back, with a profit. And the teams would get more money. If things were done properly the teams could be pulling in $50m a year from the sport before they even start looking for sponsorship. And their franchises would be worth something again. No-one would be struggling and everyone could concentrate on the job of making the sport better."
From the mouths of babes, thought The Mole.
"And," Penelope continued, "the Ecclestone girls would still have plenty of money coming into the trust fund and so all Daddy would have to worry about was finding someone to run the sport when his time is up and making sure that the girls have proper pre-nuptual agreements."
They pulled up outside the Restaurant La Tour in Sancerre.
"Come along Penelope," said The Mole. "I expect you could use some lunch?"
"Would you and your daughter like to come this way," said the maitre d' with a wink.
"She's my neice," said The Mole.
"Absolutely sir," said the maitre d', "and a very attractive niece she is..."
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