In the bunker
AUGUST 16, 2002
The Mole spent last weekend in the garden at Mole Manor, fiddling with fuchsia. On Sunday afternoon, at the appointed hour, he headed into his own Communications Centre (The Mole has had one of these for rather longer than Ron Dennis) to watch the Italian Grand Prix. Mole Manor comes with the job and "the bunker" was built back in the 1950s when Englishmen all thought that the Russians would soon be shopping at Harrods. They worried about going to war and never suspected that Boris and Ludmilla would eventually be able to visit Knightsbridge without having to use Migs, Yaks, Fagots, Farmers and all the other hardware that was given silly nicknames by the US during the Cold War years.
In order to hide the existence of this facility, the Ministry people decided that the entrance would be in the garden shed. The aerial is well-disguised as a large tree and is used to intercept a complicated series of satellite signals. The Mole does not claim to be able to understand it all because the geeks have created a jungle of jargon to confuse us mere mortals (and thus keep their jobs). The Mole has however just about got the hang of the chatter about transponders, uplinks, downlinks, domsats and all the rest of it. The important thing however is to understand that if one knows where to look one can downlink all the different signals and watch all the versions of the F1 coverage with the different national commentators jabbering away in their various languages.
After years listening to screeching Croatians, laconic Frenchmen and confused Austrians, The Mole decided that he prefers the basic World Feed, which is bounced around the world with just natural sound accompanying the pictures. This has enabled The Mole to do his own commentary work and, once the steel door of the bunker is closed, The Mole tends to have a very enjoyable time saying things which TV commentators are never allowed to say.
In the course of these experiments The Mole has tried adding musical interludes and other "way out" ideas to see how best to put some life into the F1 coverage. He once even tried commentating under the influence of cannabis (although this of course was an a scientific experiment).
The problem, as far as The Mole is concerned, is not the sport but the way in which it is presented. The Mole has written entire reports about the need for more humour, more human interest and less panning shots of cars. Bernie Ecclestone TV has gone some way to achieving this goal but as only a small number of people watch it it is not very significant.
The Mole hears that Bernie has recognised the problem (and the fact that no-one wants to pay for his pay-per-view show) and is now talking to the TV companies about supplying them with his super-signal (known inside the F1 TV geek fraternity as Digital 1). Digital 1 has all the stuff that the world feed is not allowed to have and it makes for a much better show than what is usually available.
This is a great step forward for the sport and The Mole hopes that it will happen. The Mole has never believed that there was much wrong with Formula 1. Those who visit the races always seem to be quite happy whether or not the "experts" declare it to be a boring race or not. The Mole feels that "the experts" are rather spoiled and have forgotten the basic fact that motor racing is a great excitement for the average man or woman on the Clapham Omnibus.
The other issue of importance is the need for the drivers to display more of their charisma. It may sound dull but the current war of words between David Coulthard and Eddie Irvine is just what the man in the pub wants to know about. It may be childish and silly but for some reason it is popular. More popular than the fact that the BMW engine is now whirling along at 19,000rpm. This is amazing in itself but not as the lead item. The fans are more interested to know what Juan Pablo Montoya thought about Ralf Schumacher's manouevre at the first corner at Monza and what Patrick Head said to his two drivers after the race.
The charge towards "professionalism", led in recent years by Ron Dennis, has had many good effects but there have been side-effects too and these are no good at all. Drivers need to be characters who can speak their mind and do not have to worry about whether it will upset Norbert's delicate nature. If the car is a dog, the driver should be allowed to say it and not be gagged by corporate muffling. One of the joys of pre-commercial Formula 1 was that the Niki Laudas and the James Hunts did what they wanted to do.
There was some progress at Monza, however, for after the Formula 3000 race Tomas Enge broke most of the rules in the book in the course of his slowing down lap, doing "doughnuts", driving with his belts undone, picking up stray championship rivals and so on.
About the only thing he was not doing was smoking a joint.
Given that Enge is in trouble because of his recent failed drugs test, one must suppose that he figured he might as well enjoy himself. The good news was that the FIA Stewards did not fine him for showing a little exuberance.
Let us face it, some of the stewards have been known to get a little rowdy (particularly after a good dinner and a few bottles of FIA-funded red). There is nothing wrong with a bit of character.
If the TV figures are falling The Mole sees presentation as one area where things can be improved. Aside from that all that is now needed is for Ferrari to be coerced (perhaps by its shareholders) into putting someone up against Michael Schumacher without any strings attached.
The Mole cannot help but feel that Jacques Villeneuve will be at Ferrari in 2004, if Bernie has anything to do with it.
Having Jacques Villeneuve in Ferrari number 27 would solve most of F1's apparent problems in 10 minutes. It would also use that old wartime trick of having more unit numbers than there are units. Did no-one ever ask why the most famous American Airborne Divisions are 101st (Screaming Eagles) and 82nd (All American).
Has anyone ever seen the 83rd (Invisibles) in action? No, because it does not exist.
Well, that is what The Mole told his listeners while commentating last Sunday in "The Bunker".
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