Putting on The Ritz
DECEMBER 25, 2004
They met as usual at "The Bonfire". The Mole and Isabelle, his beautiful spy from Renault, were the only two people who knew the rendezvous point: the golden flame statue that sits in the Place de l'Alma in Paris.
The Mole was early and watched as Isabelle sashayed up to him and stuck out a pair of glossy and rather tempting lips. He offered her a cheek and caught a delectable whiff of Arpege.
"I have a surprise for you," he whispered into hair.
"Ah," she said. "So have left Mrs Mole?"
The Mole took her arm and led her to a taxi which was waiting at the kerb.
"Au Ritz!" he said to the driver. Isabelle wriggled in her leather seat.
"Ah," she said. "The Ritz. Such an aphrodisiac."
The Mole raised an eyebrow.
"'Ave I ever told you about parking in France?" she said as the taxi screeched into the Place de la Concorde."
The Mole shook his head.
"Well," she said. "Normally you get a maximum of 90 minutes but at lunch time you can park for three 'ours and a 'alf."
"Why is that?" replied The Mole.
"You 'ave to eat ze big lunch," she smiled. "You know, the starter, the main course, the cheese, the dessert, a little coffee and then an after-coffee. And after that the important men take their ladies off and do a little 'orizontal jogging in the knowledge that they will not get a parking ticket. That is why they made the law like zat."
"Oh, that's a shame," said The Mole. "I'm on the 16.07 back to London."
At the Ritz they were ushered into the L'Espadon restaurant.
"So what is 'appening in the world of F1 in Britain," she said, after they had ordered.
"Well," said The Mole. "They've just sold Jordan to these Russians."
"Eh, bah!" said Isabelle. "What can you do where they 'ave money like that?"
"And we have lost Jaguar to the Austrians," The Mole added.
"I 'ear that all the marketing department at Red Bull Racing has been dumped," she said. "The whole business will be handled by an agency in Austria called WWP. It was started by some skiers called Harti Weirather and Hanni Wenzel. Weirather Wenzel & Partners. There is a guy involved called Burghard Hummel and he is a big friend of Gerhard Berger. In fact I 'ave 'eard that Berger may even be involved in the company."
"Interesting," said The Mole, picking his way through a feast of soft boiled goose eggs with asparagus.
"So there are only two British F1 teams left," she said. "BAR and Williams. And BAR will soon be Japanese. The rest are owned by 'damned foreigners'. Still, you have Bernie and Max. Are you not proud of them?"
The Mole had a mouthful of food and was unable to answer.
They worked their way through poached sole with a mushroom and sweet pea tart and passed on the cheese (The Mole was on a diet) but they finished up with a chocolate souffle accompanied by pistachio ice cream.
"The thing that annoys me is the power game that is being played," said The Mole. "The sport does not need it."
"Who is powerful?" said Isabelle. "Tony Blair, he is powerful. Chirac is powerful. F1 people are not. Not in the big game."
"What big game?" asked The Mole.
"Let me tell you a story," said Isabelle, sitting back and allowing The Mole to gaze at her diamond earrings.
"Once upon a time back in 1959 there was a man called Mr Quandt. He was a minor shareholder in a company that made bubble cars. It did not make money. The bankers wanted to sell the business to Daimler-Benz but Mr Quandt did not agree. There was a vote. He was one of those who voted against the merger and they won so they put him in charge of the company called BMW. Well, of course, he needed help and so he went to the Bavarian state government. They wanted to protect jobs in Bavaria and so an alliance was formed. It took Quandt 10 years to get control of the company and the government helped him all the way. Nowadays the Quandt Family owns about 48% of BMW. They say that the Bavarian government owns 20% although that does not show up in the paperwork."
"So BMW is powerful," said The Mole. "What is your point?"
"So tell me," said Isabelle, her tongue flicking across her lips. "Who owns Formula One Holdings?"
"The Ecclestone Family has 25% and then there are three banks. Bayersiche Landesbank, JP Morgan and Lehman Brothers."
"And who owns the Bayerische Landesbank?" she said.
The Mole was about to answer when Isabelle leaned forward and adopted a conspiratorial air.
"I think you will find that it belongs to the state of Bavaria."
For a moment The Mole was lost for words. Isabelle was not.
"I love this place," she said. "So charming, so discreet. Why I can see several well-known people who are not here with their wives! The Ritz understands the art of discretion."
"I wonder if perhaps they might teach that to Kimi Raikkonen," said The Mole as he signalled the waiter.
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