APRIL 20, 2002
Cluedo is a very fine game. For those who do not know it, is a detective game in which one deduces who is the murderer, where the murder happened and what the murder weapon was, by asking a variety of questions to the other players. It is set in a country house and they are suspects with names like Colonel Mustard, the Reverend Green and so on.
Just like an Agatha Christie whodunnit.
The Mole spent the weekend at the Villa Mole, overlooking the Baie des Anges and played Cluedo with his grandchildren as the sun went down on Sunday evening. It had been a wonderful weekend. The Bay of Angels on the Cote d'Azur is not what once it was but it still gives one the chance to watch the rich coming and going in their motor boats, yachts and clippers. All weekend they came, while The Mole attended the roses in his garden. Gazing out across the Mediterranean over lunch at the Chevre d'Or in Eze, The Mole could not help but remark on this to his friends and was told that in every bar up and down the coast there are rich people complaining that the Monaco harbour master has turfed them out to make way for bigger and shinier yachts some of which are, apparently, owned by F1 team bosses. This seemed strange given recent comments about hard times and a string of lay-offs in the industry. These had been so convincing that The Mole had decided to avoid Monaco completely lest he bump into any team bosses, tap-dancing on street corners because they have fallen on such hard times. It is so embarrassing when one bumps into old friends when they are out begging.
But the game of Cluedo was the high point of the weekend because it helped The Mole to work out who had murdered GPT Ltd.
For those to whom this name means nothing, it is necessary to explain that GPT Ltd is a company set up a couple of years ago by five teams: McLaren, Williams, British American Racing, Arrows and Jordan. It was designed as a defensive alliance for the membership. It has been completely irrelevant ever since and McLaren has since joined the ranks of the manufacturer-influenced teams.
The suggestion that GPT Ltd was planning to bid for the majority shareholding of SLEC, the Formula One holding company, which came out last week, was a very odd one given that the teams have said right from the start that they do not believe that they should buy the right to make money from the World Championship. Rather like an actors' union, they argue that they are the ones who are creating the spectacle and that they should take most of the money. Without the actors, they say, there would be no show and finding replacements is not going to be easy.
Fundamentally, therefore, the GPT is opposed to buying anything.
But it is not a question of philosophy. In practical terms the GPT does not have the cash to do anything. Even if one of the GPT team bosses breaks the bank at Monte Carlo over the weekend ahead there will not be enough money to pay the price that is being asked for SLEC.
The Mole has, therefore, concluded that the story was disinformation, designed to disrupt movement towards a settlement. The question which followed that conclusion was who was responsible for the story. The timing of the story was particularly bad because this is the week in which big decisions are made about sponsorships for the future. A disruptive story at the breakfast table a few days before a chief executive is going to sign away a couple of hundred million dollars is not designed to be very helpful.
The Mole feels that the aim of the story was to disrupt sponsorship deals. To hurt teams which rely on sponsorship to survive. In other words it was an attack on the small teams. Not only does the story hit their money supply but it also tried to plant the seeds of doubt in the relationship between these teams and Bernie Ecclestone, who is their protector.
But if the small teams are the target why and how is GPT (an organisation designed to protect them) being used to hurt them?
F1 is not unlike Cluedo. There are a limited number of suspects and one does not need to bother with the murder weapon or where the deed was done. It is just a question of deduction. The nice thing about Cluedo is that at the end of the game the winner declares that the murderer was X, the murder weapon was Y and the murder took place at Z. Sadly in real life one cannot say such things lest the libel lawyers come round and ask you to prove it.
Whatever the case, the damage has been done.
Hopefully it will not detract from the enjoyment of Monaco. These days the race is all about money. The apartments overlooking the circuit have their balconies stuffed full of executives being talked into deals by earnest F1 marketing teams or people who have been the best salesman of the year for dull insurance companies.
The Mole's agents will be in action all weekend photographing everyone who goes in and out of Bernie Ecclestone's grey bus. The Mole has also stationed a man at Monaco station just in case any of the team bosses are sleeping on the benches there.
The Mole himself will keep a low profile. He will visit Monaco on Saturday and Sunday afternoons only. He will drop in at the Shangri-La Building on the main straight and will watch the race from one of those balconies high up above Ste Devote. One can see most of the harbour area from there.
Motor racing is so much better with a glass chilled champagne and some canapes. The lack of overtaking is quite forgotten when one is explaining the intricacies of the sport to a twentysomething-year-old blonde. And then one can slip out of the back door of the Shangri-La and disappear into the crowd.
Just the thing that The Mole likes to do.
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