Something fishy in Switzerland
FEBRUARY 16, 2004
The Mole has always liked Lake Geneva but he has never been able to afford to buy a place down that way. You need to be a dodgy African dictator, a motor racing World Champion or a disgustingly rich industrialist, singer or film star if you wish to afford anything nice in the area. Michael Schumacher paid something like $15m to buy himself a decent chunk of Switzerland not long ago in this part of the world.
The Mole has been going to Geneva for a long time and he likes to hide out at a nice little restaurant down on the shoreline at a place called the Creux de Genthod where he often used to take young ladies a long time ago before Mrs Mole was on the scene and where he goes occasionally goes to remember those good times. The restaurant used to be a laundry but began to offer food and lodging to the fisherman on the lake, now its just a nice restaurant hidden away for those who know how to find. You go there to eat the local perch, fresh from the lake, served with a little tartare sauce and accompanied by the Gamay de Genthod, made by Mrs Humbert, the local mayor, from the vines which are just around the corner. It may not be the best wine in the world but it is perfect, even if the perch always seems to need a little extra salt.
The Mole was down there the other day on a secret mission to try to work out what the French engineering company Mecachrome is doing having bought Heini Mader Racing Components S.A. in Gland.
Mader is a famous engine builder, who has been working in the racing business since the 1960s. He was in charge of Jo Bonnier's operations at Gland from 1969 onwards and after Bonnier died in a crash at Le Mans in 1972 Mader took over the business, changed the name of the business and went on preparing engines. First there were Cosworth DFVs but then later Mader was called in by BMW to prepare its customer F1 turbos in the mid-1980s. In 1987 he took over all the BMW engines and these were supplied to teams under the Megatron name. When turbos were banned Mader went back to Cosworths, preparing engines in F1 and Formula 3000 but more recently has worked in sports car racing. No longer a young man Heini sold the business last year to Mecachrome.
The Mole did not pay all this much attention until last November when word reached him at Vauxhall Cross that Mecachrome had hired a number of Cosworth Racing Formula 1 engine designers. This was strange. Mecachrome has a long established relationship with Renault but as far as The Mole is aware does not actually design the Ford F1 engines. That is done by the design team at Viry-Chatillon. Mecachrome is due to provide engines for the new GP2 series in 2005 but The Mole's spies in Paris suggested that these engines do not need designing. They are the old Renault V10s from the late 1990s and will simply be rebadged for the new series and stuck in the back of Dallara chassis. It is a cheap and cheerful way for the Mecachrome boss Gerard Casella and his old Supertec partner Flavio Briatore to make more money.
And then The Mole heard something else rather strange. The man who had been in charge of all Mecachrome's dealings with Renault in F1 had been transferred to oversee the revamping of Mader's facilities in Gland.
At the same time two other things happened: Mecachrome announced that it was moving its headquarters from Paris to Montreal because the company felt that "Canada was the door that would open North American markets". This was followed by an announcement that the company was going into partnership with the Red Bull Cheever Racing Indy Racing League team. This was strange because in the past Mecachrome has always been an engine company but here was a deal which promised to include "various spheres of expertise and critical processes including engineering, research, development as well as chassis and component aerodynamics and design."
Add to this rumours from Italy a few years back that Mecachrome was negotiating to buy the Minardi F1 team in order to showcase the company's technological abilities.
The Mole sat that morning, mulling it all over down by water's edge in Nyon, wondering if he might bump into Jean Alesi or Jackie Stewart who both have mansions in the area.
Mecachrome is obviously expanding in motor racing but why would it want Formula 1 engine designers? And why would the man who knows most about F1 in the company be moved to Mader's place to bring it up to standard? But then why would the company be expanding in America, offering more than just engine deals to Eddie Cheever? And what about the ambition to do things in F1?
It all sounded very fishy.
The Mole considered for a moment and then decided that it was probably a good time to have lunch.
A little perch perhaps.
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