OCTOBER 12, 2002
The Mole had been away on holiday. With the United Nations Security Council taking care of the adventures of Saddam Hussein and the motor racing world in hibernation, the Motor Racing and Tinpot Dictator Department had been stuck in a limbo for weeks and Mrs Mole, noticing that her husband had become restless, suggested a few days at the Villa Mole, overlooking the Bay of Angels on the Cote d'Azur.
To keep The Mole amused she brought along some new books which she picked up at WH Smith in Guildford. It was a curious selection but one captured The Mole's fancy. It was all about life as a geisha in Japan in the early part of the 20th century. The Mole picked it out as he thought it might be a bit saucy. Although not a great fan of Asian women ("And a good thing too," said Mrs Mole), The Mole found himself quickly absorbed in a remarkable culture he had never imagined. Comments from Mrs Mole were greeted with a barrage of "Yes dear"s and meals were attended only grudgingly. Even a visit to sample some of the delights of the Chevre d'Or barely extracted The Mole from the depths of this book.
"What's so good about the damned book anyway?" grumbled Mrs Mole one evening, in a less than charitable outburst.
The answer was that The Mole was fascinated by the parallels between the life of a geisha and that of a Grand Prix driver. There were years of training, acquiring a multitude of different talents but there were few or no financial guarantees. There were ruthless managers and rivals who would do anything to stop a young girl becoming a successful geisha. It was world of false friends. And then finally a few girls would become successful and reign supreme until a new generation came along and toppled them. The clock was always ticking. Sometimes the talentless stayed longer than they deserved to stay because there were no new stars rising or at least none that shone brighter. And then there would be the decline. Elegant if managed well otherwise a little like Gloria Swanson in her seedy mansion in Sunset Boulevard, dreaming of comebacks that will never happen.
The Mole has watched several generations of racers grow old. At least they do these days. But in general terms they do it with little grace. Men who used to win Grands Prix swallow their pride and truck around at the back of the grid, getting in the way of the leaders when they are being lapped.
Knowing when to quit has always the hardest test for any racer. There is a point in most careers at which the drivers cease to be fascinated by winning. Some realise that they will never achieve it and go for the big cheques, some delude themselves that their day will come but it never does. Some who do get into the winning orbit think themselves Gods when their victories were flawed or fortunate and they entertain extremely inflated views of their own worth and usually come down to earth with a painful bump.
The squeeze is on in F1 right now. The Mole did a quick calculation the other day on the back of a copy of L'Equipe and came up with a list of at least 20 drivers who are quite capable of racing for Minardi next year without embarrassing themselves. There is to this extent an embarrassment of riches. Yet at the same time The Mole is not convinced that we have yet seen someone to topple The Great Schumacher.
Perhaps in the end he will topple himself. The thing that brings success to a team in F1 is not the money. It is always better to go for a poor fast driver with no connections than one who brings sponsors or who thinks that his reputation will help the team. You will always find some sponsors who want to have the cutlass-waving characters to act the role of Popeye in their spinach advertisements but that is rarely in the best interest of a team. What teams need are drivers to inspire them, to lead them forwards to great things. The Mole believes that many of the modern generation have the leadership qualities of goldfish and finds it hard to see why any hard-nosed mechanic would get excited about a Nick Heidfeld, a Fernando Alonso or an Enrique Bernoldi. What is needed is a Montoya who is a delivering or a Barrichello who is focussed on beating Michael Schumacher. Rubens has been the sweet number two for long enough to have to now make a career decision. It is time for "No more Mr Nice Guy" or his future will be back in Brazil selling waffles.
It is time too for Jacques Villeneuve to remind us why he is paid that all that money and time for Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella to prove that the ship they should have been on did not go over the horizon a couple of seasons ago. It is good to see Mark Webber moving into a better car and The Mole hopes that will help the Jaguar team to flourish.
There is still a lot of hope in Kimi Raikkonen. While the idea that Kimi may grow into a bubbling promotable character is about as likely as the Finn growing Dracula teeth, his driving at least promises to be better and better.
The Mole is pained to see that two youngsters with talent: Felipe Massa and Takuma Sato may not have drives next year. The Mole fails to understand Mr Sauber's decision to dump Felipe. Why does one throw out the puppy once he has been house-trained? And Sato too deserves a second shot which he may not get.
And of the new men we have Antonio Pizzonia, a simple jungle man by all accounts. He is fast but we have yet to see how he does in intelligence tests. Cristiano da Matta will be more interesting for he comes into F1 as a mature human being than most of the kids these days. A big of a struggle on the way up is good for the steel in the backbone of any racing driver. It makes them stronger characters. But often it is because they did not have the talent to make the jump directly. All things considered, therefore, The Mole is looking forward to next year with some excitement.
Even if at the moment the adventures of geisha girls are rather more enticing.
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