THE MOLE

Lunchtime

Ever since returning from their road trip, The Mole and Penelope had taken to having lunch together. It had, not surprisingly, led to suggestions inside the SIS that a romance was in the air. The Mole rather enjoyed the idea although the concept of it becoming a reality was really rather frightening. They were indulging themselves in prawn sandwiches on the banks of the Thames one day when Penelope suddenly felt the need to tell The Mole how much she had enjoyed their visit to Magny Cours.

"It was just lovely," she said. "You know if I had half a chance I'd give up the place in Chelsea, give up Piers and buy a large manor house in Lostville-sur-Loire and live happily ever afterward, riding horses and tilling my garden."

"A very lyrical waxing," said The Mole.

"Ouch," said Penelope, and wriggled. "That sounds positively painful."

"What's wrong with Piers?" said The Mole, treading gently into dangerous territory.

"He'll make a very good Conservative MP," said Penelope. "But he's just not Pierce Brosnan."

"Oh..." said The Mole.

There was a friendly pause in the conversation after that and for a few minutes they did not speak.

"Do you know the thing I love about the French Grand Prix is that it has such a romantic story," said Penelope. "I was reading the file the other day and it says that the race is the result of a relationship between the late President Francois Mitterand and a lady. Isn't it lovely to think that a motor race could be the result of a secret romance."

"Circumstantial evidence," said The Mole, without going into detail.

"Well," said Penelope, "if you have any evidence that Silverstone is romantic, I would like to hear it."

"Silverstone has a certain wistful charm," replied The Mole after a moment of thought. "Have you ever thought that it was a place where thousands of young men were trained before being sent off to the their deaths with Bomber Command?"

"I hadn't," said Penelope. "I'm just fed up with the place because of all the endless whingeing that has gone on in recent years. There is always someone whining about Silverstone. It is either Bernie Ecclestone complaining or Jackie Stewart complaining that Bernie is being vicious; or Jackie Stewart saying what the government should have done this or should have done that. I think it's really boring."

"I find it marvellous that the government has come up with a pile of public money to help motorsport in this country," said The Mole.

"But there is nothing for the British GP," replied Penelope. "It is almost as if the government doesn't like Jackie Stewart."

"Maybe there are some people in the world who do not appreciate the finer points of Sir Jackie," said The Mole.

"So, why did they give him a knighthood?" fired back Penelope.

"Because he's a legend," said The Mole.

"Well sir, if I may say so. You're a legend and they haven't given you a knighthood."

"I have often thought that to be true," said The Mole. "But we civil servants merely serve without hope of reward."

And then he winked at her. She giggled and they fell silent again. A fat barge hustled past Vauxhall Cross.

"If I was in charge at Silverstone I would send in a big bulldozer and start the whole thing again," said Penelope finally.

"You and Mr Ecclestone," said The Mole.

"A good match," said Penelope. "I would spend his money in the most stylish fashion."

The Mole raised an eyebrow.

"I bet you would," he said.

"You know the mad thing is that Mitterand has been dead for years and Magny Cours is still happening," Penelope went on, indulging in a lateral leap of an impressive nature. "I don't understand it. I mean Magny Cours is not exactly convenient and the plumbing in our hotel was... What's the best word?"

"Rudimentary?" suggested The Mole.

"Second Empire is probably a better," she replied. "Anyway, I have never understood why the French don't do the sensible thing and put the Grand Prix at Le Mans. I mean if you go down to Ulam Bator High Street and you ask a passing Mr Khan to name three racing circuits, it is quite probable that he will say: Monaco, Indianapolis or Le Mans. He is as likely to say Knockhill as he is to say Magny-Cours. I mean Le Mans is Le Mans."

"A 24 hour race featuring a bunch of mediocre middle-aged Frenchmen driving around and making excuses," said The Mole.

Penelope laughed.

"That's as maybe," she said, "but Le Mans was also the place where they held the first Grand Prix."

"Ah-ha!" cried The Mole. "Finally a flaw in your education!"

Penelope looked rather shocked.

"It is!" she said. "It was in 1906."

"No, my dear," said The Mole with a superior air. "The first Grand Prix was at Pau in 1901. It was named after the horse race and, just to complete your education, I can tell you that the only man to win both the equestrian and automotive Grands Prix was Alfonso Cabeza de Vaca y Leighton, the 17th Marquis de Portago."

"Sounds like a bit of character," said Penelope.

"He would have liked you," said The Mole mysteriously. "Alas, my dear, he died on the Mille Miglia in 1957, long before you were born but he did go out in style, his last public act being to kiss a famous actress at a service point just before the accident."

"Marvellous..." said Penelope. "I wish more racing drivers would do that these days. Kissing some of the modern F1 drivers would seem almost immoral. I mean they all look like school children."

"Oh well," said The Mole. "There's always David Coulthard."

"Yummy," said Penelope. "Very Pierce Brosnan."

There was a pause in the conversation and then Penelope leapt back to the subject of Le Mans.

"If I was running the circuit like Le Mans," she said, "I would do what Tony George has done at Indianapolis. I would try to expand activities and so maximise the potential of the assets."

"You're beginning to sound like Ron Dennis," said The Mole.

Penelope ignored him.

"Le Mans has the 24 Hour race and the French motorcycle Grand Prix but the rest of the racing is all pretty gnomy stuff. I would think that a good thing to do would be to try to get the French Grand Prix away from Magny Cours. The Le Mans people already have the Bugatti circuit which would do the job. It might need a bit of tarting up but it would not cost much and it has an instant spectator capacity of 100,000. It is within easy reach of Paris and might also attract quite a lot English too."

"I believe," said The Mole, "that they tried the idea back in 1994."

"Yes, but back then the socialists were just too powerful. Now they have no power. Magny Cours is the least popular and least accessible of all the races. I just don't understand why we keep going there. It brings a little bit of money to an underdeveloped area but the exploitation of the visitors is disgraceful and the event is very unpopular. The French would much better off to have the race at Le Mans."

"An interesting idea," said The Mole.

"If you have the means to invest surely it is logical to do so. That way that you can make more in the future."

"Are we talking about Silverstone of Le Mans?" asked The Mole.

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