Meddling with the Scots
SEPTEMBER 6, 2003
Mrs Mole announced one evening that she was planning to visit her sister, who had the great misfortune to have married a Scotsman. As a result she found herself banished to Mallaig, a small fishing town on the western coast of Scotland where her husband Duncan does "something with kippers".
"Yes dear," said The Mole and went back to the Financial Times, his favourite motor racing publication.
"It takes rather a long time to get there," said Mrs Mole. "Will you be all right? I can get Mrs Batty to live in."
"Heavens, no," said The Mole, without looking up. "I might end up jumping her bones."
Mrs Mole laughed.
"No," he said. "You go off and go dancing in Mallaig. I think I will take off to Portugal. Some years ago I gave up understanding the politics of sports car racing and I ought to do some catching up. They have a round of the FIA GT Championship at Estoril."
"Really?" said Mrs Mole.
"Well, the seafood is very nice," said The Mole. "And you know I do miss going to Estoril at this time of year. It was always such a nice place in the autumn."
"Not taking any of the Penelopes?" she asked warily.
"No," said The Mole. "I don't need them."
Mrs Mole smiled.
The following day The Mole booked himself a room at the Palacio Hotel, the only place for a spook to be seen in Estoril. During World War II it had been the headquarters in Portugal of the OSS, the forerunner of the CIA.
On the flight down to Lisbon, as they flew over the Bay of Biscay, The Mole found himself mulling over a previous visit to Lisbon, back in the 1970s, when he had been sent out to investigate the death of Hollywood star Leslie Howard.
It was, he remembered, all a little after the fact. Howard had been killed in June 1943 while flying from Portugal to London on a commercial airliner, a BOAC Dakota DC3. The plane had been shot from the sky by six Junker Ju88s of the Luftwaffe. The Germans, when later faced with allegations of war crimes, claimed that it had been a mistake but evidence suggested that the Luftwaffe had been ordered to shoot down the plane because it was thought that Winston Churchill was on board. Howard's manager, Alfred Chenhalls, habitually dressed like the Prime Minister and always smoked big cigars and it seems the German spies in Lisbon made a mistake.
Anyway, he thought, it is all irrelevant now. The papers are classified until 2056.
It was during that trip that The Mole discovered the rather unlikely story about British and German planes arriving in Lisbon once a week in order to exchange bundles of newspapers so that both sides could save time and energy by providing one another the necessary materials to see how the propaganda war was going.
In war, he thought, the truth is always the first casualty.
People in Formula 1 like to say that they are at war but not many understand the art of propaganda.
The Mole smiled as he remembered a famous occasion when Ron Dennis told a group of reporters that "we make history, you just write about it" only to be cut down by a withering reply from one of the hacks.
"No Ron, it isn't like that. You do great things but we write the history books."
On his first night in Estoril The Mole decided to go off for dinner at the Fortaleza do Guincho where the chef is one of the great sauciers of Europe.
Eating by oneself is a pleasure that The Mole enjoys from time to time. It gives one the chance to appreciate flavours without the interruption of polite chatter.
And it gives one the time to let the mind wander.
That evening The Mole was mulling over whether or not Craig Pollock is going to take over the management of Jordan Grand Prix. Where there is smoke, he mused, more often than not there is fire.
Eddie Jordan said that it was the first he had heard of it.
Then again, thought The Mole, why would he know?
Eddie controls 60% of the shares in the team but that does not make him invincible. The remainder of the Jordan shares are owned by a venture capitalist company called Warburg, Pincus & Co which paid him $60m for 40% of the firm to help the team grow and then float the company on the stock exchange. But the downturn in the world's economy delayed that idea and the team has since sunk down the F1 order and Warburg Pincus now has a choice of pulling the plug and selling its shares at a loss or investing more money and trying to dig the team out of trouble.
What would I do if I were Warburg Pincus? The Mole pondered.
Jordan's problem is raising sponsorship money. The team may have won a race this year but Eddie Jordan is still suffering somewhat from the fallout of a disastrous legal action with Vodafone. The team will probably keep Benson & Hedges but that is not big money these days. Jordan makes no secret of the fact that times are hard.
Writing off an investment of $60m is not something that Warburg Pincus would want to do, The Mole concluded. It would be far better to make the business work. The problem for Warburg Pincus is that it does not have anyone who knows about F1. The firm's representative on the board of Jordan Grand Prix is a Dr Joseph Schull. A Canadian with a doctorate from Oxford and a background with the Ford Foundation in Eastern Europe, helping to fund the development of western society in the former Communist Bloc.
It is unusual background for the director of an F1 team.
The Mole smiled at the thought. He had known many Ford Foundation people over the years as, in the old days, the foundation provided cover for hundreds of CIA agents in developing countries.
Schull will understand the ways of the world, thought The Mole. Money can probably be found if the team performs a little better. So really the problem is how to make that happen. The answer, The Mole said to himself, is to get in someone who really wants to run an F1 team and knows how to do it.
The problem with that is that most of the people who could do it are already doing it.
And then there is Craig Pollock.
Pollock made a lot of mistakes when he was running BAR but he learned as he went along and he fought long and hard to hold on. But, in the end, the huge debts he had built up meant that BAT was not willing to pump in any more money. Pollock gambled on finding the money himself and he lost the bet. He went off to America, found a new backer in Kevin Kalkhoven, and established PK Racing in CART. Pollock pretends that he is happy to be out of Formula 1, but the ambition still burns, hidden behind a veneer of humility.
Pollock remains a minority shareholder in BAR and used this excuse to suggest that doing a deal to run Jordan is not likely.
"I am a shareholder at BAR," he said. "If I was going to buy a team, the obvious thing is to buy the team I own 35 percent of."
That is not a denial and Pollock forgot to mention that his BAR stake is currently not worth much because of the team's debts.
The idea that Pollock is going to use his own money to buy shares in Jordan is fanciful. He comes from Scotland and the Scots are never known to part easily with their money. But that does not mean that Craig would not barter his management skill and F1 experience for a chance of some equity in Jordan. And Warburg Pincus might agree to give him a stake in exchange for fixing the team.
Pollock should not be underestimated. He is a good corporate player and he works incredibly hard. He has strong connections in the United States and Canada and considerable influence over Jacques Villeneuve.
Most importantly, however, The Mole concluded as he finished off a rather spectacular Pudim Molotov, Pollock comes from Falkirk, a town halfway between Edinburgh and Glasgow. It is famous for producing a disgusting drink called Irn Bru and manhole covers for the whole of the British Empire.
The town's motto is one to remember when dealing with Pollock.
"Better meddle wi' the Devil, than the bairns of Falkirk."
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