THE MOLE

Looking at the bigger picture

The Mole had to admit (if only to himself) that dinner with his Renault spy Isabelle at Beaulieu in the week of the Monaco Grand Prix was a rather troubling experience for a chap of his age. Isabelle is an utterly gorgeous creature and the setting was so intimate that The Mole felt the need for his blood-pressure pills. If there had been cobwebs in his heart they would have been blasted away. This was all rather unsettling and in the days that followed The Mole found himself riding an emotional rollercoaster. The grass may not be greener on the Cote d'Azur but sometimes it seems that way.

At such moments in life The Mole's policy has always been to take a step back and look at the bigger picture rather than get carried away on the spur of the moment, although there are times when he has regretted it.

"It happens to everyone," he told himself a few days later, while in the library at Mole Manor, watching Mrs Mole working away happily in the garden on a sunny Surrey afternoon. He had a perfect English lawn in all its glory and a perfect English wife pottering about humming Carmen and swatting at passing bees.

The Mole felt that he had returned to his usual equilibrium.

Looking at the bigger picture is one of the secrets of success in any world. Most normal people find themselves buried under the nitty-gritty of daily drudge while the movers and the shakers look at a bigger picture and see bigger plans. They are always one step ahead of the game.

This private lesson gave The Mole as idea. He decided that he would take three days off work and leave the drudge of the office to Number Two and simply enjoy his home, his wife and have a good think. Some years ago The Moles paid someone called Piers a very large sum of money to build them a summer house for just such a purpose but The Mole had never really used it.

And so for three whole days he spent his time down there, seeing the bigger picture (in between some rather delicious sandwiches and herby salads and the occasional bottle of chilled Cloudy Bay). Mrs Mole came and went in her merry way. The Mole was at peace.

The fruit of all this labour was a much clearer understanding of what is going in Formula 1 at the moment.

When you strip away all the bickering and the politics that goes on from week to week you are left with a very clear picture. The pot of gold that Formula 1 offers is now so big that everyone wants to get their hands on it.

Bernie Ecclestone cannot now bash them all into agreement as once he was able to do because everyone is jealous and wary. Bernie made too much money off their backs.

The automobile manufacturers want to get more money out of Formula 1 and are threatening to start their own series when the Concorde Agreement ends in 2008. For the moment they cannot do much because the Concorde Agreement concentrates power in the hands of the racing teams and although they control and can influence most of these organisations they cannot use the full extent of their power because there are still one or two independent voices left.

The FIA rightly does not believe that the automobile manufacturers are the best people to run the commercial side of the sport but it is a tough fight to beat them. Max Mosley's attack on the costs involved in Formula 1 is all about saving the small teams not because he is by nature a philanthropist but rather because without them defending the sport is not easy.

What Mosley fears and what would inevitably happen if the car manufacturers do win control of the sport is that they will then turn on one another and will raise the stakes to such an extent that eventually most of them will leave the sport. This was done in the 1930s when the Nazi governnment backed the Mercedes-Benz and AutoUnion teams to such an extent that the other manufacturers were unable to compete and. The war took care of the Germans but that meant that in the immediate post-war era the sport really struggled.

Mosley's chronology of manufacturer involvement in Grand Prix racing, published in Monaco, might have seemed like just a bit of fun but there was an important message in there.

The big teams and car manufacturers suffer seriously from short-termism. If one looks at what Ferrari has done in recent years it is very clear that winning has been considered more important that the health of the sport. Because of the weakness of the other teams, Ferrari was dominant but the use of team orders meant that there was no prospect of a fight. TV ratings dived. Ferrari might say that its job is to win but there is a responsibility to the sport which independent teams understand and manufacturers do not.

Mosley's coup d'etat in January was controversial but effective and in amongst all the other decisions made was what Mosley called "a redistribution of income" which he said "has been agreed between Bernie Ecclestone and the teams. The engine bills will be covered and teams are chipping in to do that."

The deal discussed was for each team to make a contribution to a "fighting fund" to help the small teams meet their commitments. This is believed to have amounted to something like $2m from each team with the Formula One group agreeing to throw in another $6m into the fund. This would have created a fund of $22m which would have gone a long way towards easing the burden on Jordan and Minardi.

But within a few weeks it became clear that teams were not going to use their own budgets to support the smaller teams. Ron Dennis even launched a vicious attack on Minardi which did it serious harm as it tried to raise money.

Mosley then managed to get another compromise in which the manufacturers agreed to supply one engine per weekend in 2004. In exchange Mosley said he would allow traction-control to be retained if the automobile manufacturers agreed to supply the independent F1 teams with engines at what was described at "a fully affordable cost having regard to the current business climate". The actual figure discussed was $10m and it was agreed that this price would include not only the supply of engines and race support but also full electronic systems. As part of that deal the FIA said that traction-control would be allowed indefinitely "provided engines are supplied on this basis".

Rapidly however the engine manufacturers began to indicate that they would not honour that agreement. Before Monaco there were suggestions that Mosley was about to act decisively again but The Mole's sources suggest that meetings in Monaco managed to move things towards a compromise and so nothing was announced. The explosion did not come.

But it will come soon enough. The smaller teams are running out of money and are increasingly unhappy that the bigger teams have not honoured the commitment made.

Eddie Jordan is taking Vodafone to court over a sponsorship deal he says he lost to Ferrari. Minardi's Paul Stoddart is so unhappy that The Mole hears that he is taking his key legal people with him to Canada, including a prominent QC, who has done wonders in the past over the Phoenix and Prost issues.

The Mole thinks the whole sorry business is coming to a head.

Click here to read previous Mole columns: The Mole Archive

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