The bottom line
SEPTEMBER 13, 2002
When The Mole was a young man, life was all about pretending to be a diplomat. Going to embassy functions and being charming to beautiful women in ball gowns. After dinner one would slip discreetly away to visit dead letter boxes and have the occasional gun battle before returning, not a hair out of place, to enjoy covert activities of a different nature with the ladies in the ball gowns.
In those days "the bottom line" meant something completely different and the young government gun slingers used to spend quite a time admiring beautiful female forms.
It was the same in Formula 1. The paddock used to be awash with 1960s girls who looked like Bardot and who had flunked their ethics classes. These girls were James Hunt's staple diet.
Today "the bottom line" means money and while some feel that this has a certain glamour, we older folk believe that the sport has become as cheesy as Roger Moore and Rolexes.
The Mole was chatting the other day with Sir Frank Williams and he mentioned that he would not be going to Japan. The Mole thought this a good idea and the executive jet crew was stood down. All espionage work at Suzuka was handed over to the embassy people in Kuala Lumpur, who were delighted for a bit of a break from chasing Al Quaida nasties around the palm oil plantations.
The Mole's logic was simple. The result would be a Ferrari 1-2, as the previous four races had been. It would be churlish to suggest that the rival teams have given up investing in this year's equipment and are busy looking for things which the engineers call "quantum leaps" for next year but that is the way it looks.
The likelihood that there would be a lack of on-track activity and a surfeit of off-track politics made the whole idea seem rather less than attractive and even the Suzuka Fun Fair has lost its attraction. These days The Mole is worried about riding on rollercoasters for fear that his heart might stop. This would upset Mrs Mole because she has never been a great organiser and the idea of trying to put together a funeral is something which she worries about.
And so when the F1 teams gathered in Suzuka, The Mole was back in England, enjoying the autumn. Keeping an eye on the faraway political action was quite an amusement for The Mole could imagine a scruffy Paul Stoddart ranting about Ron Dennis and the man in black leather from Woking doing his best impersonation of a patrician (which does not really work), turning a curled lip in the direction of the hairy Antipodean.
And in the middle of it all would be Max Mosley, pretending to be charmingly befuddled but taking it all in and plotting his next move. A black mamba in a blazer, so quick that the human eye cannot detect a strike.
The name of the Suzuka game was to get voting blocks in place in preparation for the forthcoming Formula 1 Commission meeting on October 28. This is tiresome stuff.
The Mole also happens to believe that in their rush to solve all of Formula 1's problems, the principal players are losing sight of the fact that there is not much wrong with the sport. There were 155,000 people in the grandstands at Suzuka. Why? Because the prices were reduced a little.
The TV audiences are falling, wail the F1 bosses. Yes, but they would shoot up again if the television stations were given the good footage which is produced by what The Mole always like to call "Bernie TV".
All that is then needed is for a couple of victories from Williams or McLaren and the sport would arrest this downward cycle in which it finds itself.
And the sport would move from Roger Moore to Pierce Brosnan, without having to go via Austin Powers.
The Mole is happy to accept that there is an issue of high costs but motor racing has always been like that. Communists have never fared well in what is fundamentally a capitalist sport. If the little teams want to become big teams, they have to earn it. And it is not rocket science. If one builds a good car and scores some good results the money will come. Teams that fail are teams that have been badly run.
The greatest strength of this great sport is the people in it and the fact that they almost all believe in the purity of the competition. Formula 1 is about the pursuit of excellence without compromise not about putting on red noses and doing silly dances at country fairs. Formula 1 is about excess and about dreams. If the small teams cannot survive then they should not be there. This has always been the way and should always be the way.
The people will make the difference in the battle with Ferrari. When one team gets ahead, the others are humiliated and that is the greatest spur of all to the kind of people who inhabit the Formula 1 world. That humiliation will drive them on to better things.
The idea of forcing Formula 1 into ever-tightening technical regulations in order to cut costs is a blind alley. Freezing gearboxes and bodywork is not a good idea. If we are going down that route the thing to do would be to forget the teams building their own chassis and go to Lola for identical machinery and then F1 would lose its attraction.
Perhaps the playing field does need to be levelled a little bit but that is easy enough to achieve. The biggest cost to any team is the engines. If the world economy is such that this creates problems filling the F1 grid then the best thing to do is to tell automobile manufacturers that if they wish to use the obvious benefits of the sport for their own gains then they must be willing to supply two teams with their engines in exchange for space on the cars. As an added bonus they should be forced to use different brands so that the sport would suddenly have 10 works teams and some more promotable brands such as Maserati, Dodge or Rolls Royce.
The costs would be hugely reduced and the sport enhanced.
The other area of great waste is testing. The Mole thinks that testing is as mad as the nuclear arms race. The cars become too reliable but the relative positions of the teams never really change. It is just money wasted.
The Mole is often asked down at the Pig & Whistle how much money is made when a team wins a race. Money is a great generator of excitement. If Formula 1 wishes to play a little more to the crowds it should not do so with lumps of lead but perhaps by putting up a big public prize for each race.
Obviously Bernard Ecclestone does not wish to lose any of the money that is generated for his organisations but there is always the possibility of attracting more money. If drivers were racing for a cash prize of, let us say, $5m the grandstands would be hopping. A sponsor would be delighted to hear commentators screeching about "The Orange Fortune" or "The Red Bull Treasure Chest". The action would be spiced up. This would also create a system in which the TV money could be divided equally amongst the teams and yet at the same time, success could be rewarded.
Success will also be rewarded by the sponsors.
But above all else, The Mole thinks that the people in F1 should stop talking down the sport. F1 is still a great show but greed and the lust for power is getting in the way.
This, as they say in America, is the bottom line.
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