Tales from The Morgue

Down in the basement at SIS Headquarters there is a vault in which the old case files are stored. It is known as The Morgue and presided over by a very strange individual who is nicknamed Schmutzli. No-one can remember his real name. The nickname came (if The Mole remembers correctly) from an agent who had returned from Switzerland with tales of that country's version of Father Christmas, known as Samichlaus. He has a book in which are written all the good things that children do. His friend Schmutzli, however, has a sack into which naughty children are put so that he can carry them off into woods to eat them.

In Switzerland small children have been known to die from terror when meeting Schmutzli.

The Mole's Schmutzli has a rather thin and unhealthy look about him. He has obviously not eaten enough children recently. He spends most of his life in The Morgue and, more than anyone, is the man who has written the real history of Formula 1. After each F1 drama Schmutzli investigates and writes reports, often very different from the media coverage of the same events. These reports disappear into the huge steel filing drawers of The Morgue but The Mole will sometimes send down for one of them just to get the background information. Perhaps one day they will be released to the general public.

The other day The Mole felt the need to know the true story of the demise of Niki Lauda as the boss of Jagur Racing and read Schmutzli's latest report over a nice cup of tea and some rather splendid Digestive biscuits. The matter, the report said, had been decided at Ford's World Headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan as long ago as August. Maybe earlier. But it was felt that Jaguar Racing had suffered enough disruption with its constant changes of team management and that it would be left until the off-season before the knife went in.

Schmutzli laid a big chunk of the blame for the whole business on Jac Nasser, once the chief executive of Ford who appointed Bobby Rahal to run Jaguar Racing back in the autumn of 2000. Nasser then bungled when he appointed Reitzle to look after Ford's luxury brands. The ambitious Reitzle argued that if he was being given the big Ford brands he should be given control of the marketing programmes as well and in the end Nasser was virtually forced to hand over control of Jaguar Racing to the German. Once Reitzle had his hands on Jaguar Racing he cobbled together the Premier Performance Division and put Niki Lauda in charge.

This began a very difficult period of cohabition between Lauda and Rahal and it came at a time when Rahal was working hard to secure the services of F1's ace designer Adrian Newey for Jaguar Racing. The plan was simple. Rahal argued that if a team had a top designer it could then attract top drivers and so progress would be made quickly.

In the middle of the deal-making McLaren's Ron Dennis somehow found out what was happening and, at the very last-minute, managed to get to Newey and convince him that he did not want to quit McLaren. Hours later Jaguar Racing announced that Newey had been signed only to have the announcement countered by a McLaren release saying that Newey was staying where he was.

It was a disastrous failure.

It has always been a mystery as to how Dennis found out what was going on.

Whatever the case, as Nasser was by then trying to save his own skin, Lauda was eventually able to convince Reitzle to oust Rahal, Detroit's golden boy in motorsport. The two Europeans did not seem to understand that if you want to eat the fatted calf, you do not kill the prodigal son. Once Rahal was out of the way Lauda tried (and failed) to sign up the Williams design team of Gavin Fisher and Geoff Willis. In the end Jaguar Racing had to settle for the 2002 car being designed by a team led by Steve Nichols. This was not a success. Rahal was blamed. Nichols departed only a few days after the car ran. After that Jaguar never really had a technical director and the fact that the team is going into another winter without a proper technical director must be put down to Lauda.

At least that is the thinking in Dearborn.

There were other things that did not help matters, not least the fact that too many political games were being played last summer when Eddie Jordan started trying to do deals with Ford to take the factory engines away from the Jaguar Racing team. It may not have been very polite of Eddie Jordan to have suggested to Ford people that his team could do a better job that Lauda's operation but he did have a point. Ford politely declined the approach but a customer engine deal was eventually worked out, despite a few interventions from Lauda. And things were not helped when people started trying to convince Ford to sell Jaguar Racing to Red Bull. And then there was the handling of the Arrows engine situation. Despite being warned that a deal with Arrows would only lead to trouble, Lauda pushed ahead, aiming to use the income from the team to help make balance the books of the Premier Performance Division. It was naive.

Team bosses rarely accept that they were ever wrong and Lauda blames his dismissal on a conspiracy of Englishmen. Perhaps there is something to that story because the dismissal of Air Chief Marshal Sir John Allison, who was Jaguar's director of strategic services under Lauda, was done so quietly and effectively that even Joe Stalin would have been proud of it. Even members of the team did not know that Allison had departed. And no-one knew why.

Schmutzli concluded that after Nasser took his bullet in October 2001 it was only a matter of time before Reitzle would get what was coming to him. He took his bullet in April and Lauda's Premier Performance Division passed back from European management to come under control of Ford executives in Detroit.

Lauda was a leftover from an old regime.

In Dearborn anyone who is not in a suit is considered to be a Communist and Lauda's crumpled baseball cap and saggy jeans did not help his case but, having said that, Ford management is so desperate for something to go right with Jaguar Racing that the stuffed shirts at World Headquarters would have been happy to accept a pigtailed Rastafarian if the team had been successful.

The best Lauda had to offer was a fluke of a result at Monza where the Cosworth V10 engine showed its worth and those who should have been taking all the points were losing their heads and blowing their engines and so Eddie Irvine wandered home in third place. It was not, according to Schmutzli, enough.

Irvine took a Ford bullet a few weeks ago and Lauda has now followed suit.

And the next cycle begins.

Click here to read previous Mole columns: The Mole Archive

Print Feature