Taking the waters

Rather than go to Germany and spend the weekend in a shoddy little hotel or gasthof, surrounded by drunken Schumacher fans, with nothing to eat but Schnitzels, The Mole decided that he would stay away from the European Grand Prix.

When he was a lad with a British Racing Green Austin A35 he had often trekked out to the old Ring to watch the Grand Prix stars of the day, but nowadays going to the Ring was not cool, nor really interesting. It is no secret that VIPs tend to stay away as do the precious souls in the Formula 1 marketing departments, who find it rather unpleasant hanging out with armies of Schumacher fans. For a few years the Penelopes liked to go to the Ring and The Mole never really understood why, until Miss Pringle-Featherby (of the Berkshire Pringle-Featherbys) explained one day that the girls simply wanted to be able to tell people at dinner parties that they had stayed in guesthouses which were owned by families called Dreier or Nett.

"I don't understand," said The Mole.

"Herr Nett? Herr Dreier?" said Miss Pringle-Featherby. "Herr Dreier. He was full of hot air. You see."

"Yes," said The Mole. "I suppose I can."

The Mole is not one of those Englishmen who likes being beastly to the Germans just for the sake of it, and so he decided that rather than go to the Ring he would take a flight to Strasbourg and spend the weekend taking the waters in Baden-Baden.

Baden used to have only one Baden but that was so common in Germany that one day the town's brand managers decided to play double or quits and turned the place into Baden-Baden. Almost overnight the place became the resort to which Kings and Kaisers took their mistresses.

The Mole booked himself a suite at the Belle Epoque and settled in for a few days of therapeutic local water, which apparently does wonders for rheumatism, gout and various internal complaints. The Mole has always found that digestive problems are quite common in Germany because of the local habit of eating only deep-fried pork. Would The Mole like a Wienerschnitzel, a Jagerschnitzel or a Zigeunerschnitzel? No, thank you, The Mole would like cucumber sandwiches. And in Baden-Baden one can get them and at the same time drop by the casino and listen to the swish of the roulette wheels as well. It is the perfect place for a dirty weekend with a Countess.

Alas, The Mole knew very few Countesses worthy of a dirty weekend and instead uses the Belle Epoque as the place to rendezvous with his German agent, codenamed Norbert. Although a man who likes German cakes almost as much as his namesake at Mercedes-Benz, Norbert is based in Munich and has the inside line with the boys down at the FIZ. This is BMW's research and development establishment, otherwise known as the Forschungs und Innovations Zenter (FIZ), where one day they will get the hang of designing traction-control.

The Mole and Norbert decided that after two days of brainstorming on promenades in the gardens and gentle simmering in hot baths, that they would spend Sunday afternoon in the front line, watching the Grand Prix from the Nurburgring on the television. Norbert does not like the people from Stuttgart. Swabians and Bavarians do not mix well. But even he winced when the second McLaren Merceds-Benz went bang. Having endured the first corner collision of the BMW Williams drivers, it was almost too much for a German to take.

"Thank Gott that Volkswagen is not racing today!" he said.

The big discussion throughout the weekend had been the BMW Williams drivers for 2005 but Norbert insisted that even BMW and Williams did not know the answer yet.

"Ralf has gone," he said. "He is signed, sealed, delivered and not telling der whole truth when asked about it. There might be some Toyota lawyers still doing bits and pieces but the deal is done. Mark Vebber is going to Villiams but for ze other car it is not clear."

"What about Jacques Willeneuve and Mika Hakkinen?" said The Mole. "It all sounds very unlikely."

"I agree," said Norbert, somewhat confused. "But if you vere Villiams vhat vould you do? You have to look at the old boys. They beat der great Schumeister and could maybe do it again one day. Maybe that is better than some young boy with no track record. Anyway, they will get whoever they want vithout having to pay a lot. It is a buyer's market."

"Well," said The Mole, "as far as I understand it, the big thing now in England is to make sure that the cars go quicker."

Norbert smiled.

"You cannot do that only in England," he said. "I am a Bavarian but I know that in the back of a Williams is a big lump of metal, with "Made in Munich" stamped on the side. I think they need to do a little work as well."

"Another cucumber sandwich?" said The Mole.

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