THE MOLE

The art of winning

Life has been a complete social whirl of late with The Mole in a pre-Christmas dash of "dos" with Ferrari at Fiorano; a dinner in London with Jaguar Racing and lunch at the Manoir aux Quat' Saisons with British American Racing. There was not much to get excited about on the whispering stakes for Formula 1 is very quiet at the moment. Rubens Barrichello will be staying at Ferrari in 2005 because Williams is not apparently interested in matching the Italian team's offer of $15m a year. To Frank and Patrick there is only man in F1 worth that kind of money and he's not the Schumacher they currently have under contract.

Ferrari obviously has money to spare because for the first time in as long as The Mole could remember they gave their visitors something other than sandwiches. They sent everyone home laden down with models, books and gold medals to commemorate the magnificent events of 2003 and no doubt some of these will soon be appearing on E-Bay as the scribes cash in their chips.

For a while The Mole considered flying off to the FIA Prizegiving in Monte Carlo but getting to Jaguar was much easier than tramping down to Nice and then have a limousine to take one to Monte Carlo. Perhaps a very soggy London was not as glamorous as the Sporting Club in Monte Carlo but with Oswald the chauffeur sitting outside Number 1 Lombard Street with a government sticker on the car, The Mole felt that he could get home whenever he wanted, which was exactly what he wanted.

Tony Purnell and David Pitchforth (The Mole has to concentrate very hard to remember not to call him Pitchfork) were very relaxed, Pitchfork being in short sleeves from the start, and Purnell melted as the evening wore on. Indeed Tony became positively amusing after a while, informing the sleekly-clad Jaguar PR guru Nav Sidhu that his name has some interesting meanings in the languages of the Indian sub-continent. Purnell is reknowned for his scholarship (having studied at Cambridge University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts) but his linguistic skills were impressive although The Mole concluded that probably no-one checked to see whether what he was saying was actually true.

But when it came to the culinary competition BAR left its competition stuttering along in the slow lane, taking the British F1 media to the luxurious trough at the Manoir aux Quat' Saisons. It was a lengthy splash-and-dash and probably not appreciated by all present but The Mole enjoyed it enormously and found that the team members were very chipper about BAR's switch to Michelin tyres. This is probably not surprising given that they found that the car was more than a second quicker than this year. The Mole thought team boss David Richards seemed a little weary, having been down in Monaco on Friday, in St Petersburg on Saturday and back in London for lunch on Monday.

"St Petersburg?" said The Mole with interest. But it turned out that DR was not there to do a deal with Boris Yeltsin but rather to celebrate his wife's birthday. Most wives have to make do with a slap-up meal at the local steakhouse but Mrs DR was taken to Russia to be wined and dined.

The poor dear.

The only vaguely serious chat throughout the entire week was when Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo launched into a spiel about the GPWC-SLEC deal which is supposed to close to completion. The Mole is deeply sceptical. Formula 1 is a world in which information leaks out like blood from one of Mrs Batty's joints and no-one knows any details about a deal. The GPWC men are talking about how they hope it will all be signed off before the end of the year.

"If there was a deal, we would know about it," said The Mole during an analysis meeting at Mole Headquarters at Vauxhall Cross.

Number Two nodded sagely.

"So what you are saying is that they announced a deal without having one."

The Mole nodded.

"Why?"

"It's simple really," said The Mole. "The car manufacturers put pressure on the banks to get a deal by the end of the year. In doing so they put themselves out on a limb and had to deliver a deal or else they would look foolish. So terms were drawn up which would make a settlement possible. And you can bet that the banks and the manufacturers gave away the most.

"An interesting theory," said Number Two. "Can you back it up?"

The Mole sighed.

"Look," he said. "It's really very simple. Montezemolo said that by the end of the year there would be a clear picture over the big issues including television rights, ticket sales, circuit signage and other forms of advertising. Jurgen Hubbert of Mercedes-Benz has been telling people that they intend to announce the percentages being given to each team."

"In the interests of financial clarity," said Number Two.

"Well," said The Mole. "How are they going to do that? How are they going to take the gate money when that is the only money that the promoters at the races get these days? You cannot just sign this over without a hundred new contracts being negotiated. And what about Patrick McNally's Allsport operation? The teams have absolutely no legal right to any of his businesses. He pays for the right to generate income in certain areas of the business. He is not about to give away the goose that lays the golden eggs. He has contracts in place for many years to come and he has a deal with Ecclestone which runs until at least 2007. The car manufacturers have already made it clear that they will not buy McNally's golden goose but they cannot steal it. Perhaps they have worked a deal which means that Ecclestone will give them a bigger share of what he gets from McNally but they are not going to get more than that. It would take several weeks just to figure out all the complicated joint ventures and all the fees that McNally pays directly to the race circuits to secure the rights which Ecclestone does not own.

"There is no way all that is going to get sorted before the New Year. And, besides, Bernie will be off to Gstaad soon anyway for his annual Christmas break.

"I think that the whole thing is a face-saving operation for the car manufacturers. It is good PR because they get what they said they wanted and Formula 1 gets a better image. Everyone gains from stability or the impression of it and maybe everyone is willing to make compromises."

"The real winners and losers will not emerge for some time," said Number Two.

"Don't be silly," said The Mole. "Ecclestone is always the winner. We just haven't yet figured out how."

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