THE MOLE

The Mole buys a satellite

They say that the battle going on between the various factions involved in Formula 1 is all about a clash of philosophies between those who believe that Formula 1 must be about technology and those who believe that it must be a sport, an entertainment.

The Mole is not sure whether the whole thing is not actually a battle of over money and ego.

But one thing is very clear to The Mole: the sport is becoming far too expensive.

That may sound like an obvious statement but one has to understand that The Mole is not talking about the cars but rather about the costs of spying on the F1 world.

Espionage is essential at the moment because of the complex political machinations that are going on within the sport. This is not because the strategies involved are particularly brilliant but rather because there are so many different ways of reading things that are happening. The only people who really seem to know the answer to these questions are Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley.

Forget the war in Iraq, with its claims and counter-claims, even The Mole has been struggling to keep up with the latest developments in Formula 1 politics. Trying to figure it all out has left The Mole's department overworked and decidedly grouchy. There is a propaganda war going on and the only way to get around it is to have access to some of the more private communication going on between the major players.

In recent years The Mole has been working closely with Uncle Sam to use its satellites to keep track of Mosley, Ecclestone and the rest of them.

The problem at the moment is that the US needs all its satellites rather more than usual because of the war in Iraq and all the associated diplomacy going on. This means that it has cut back on access for outside organisations. Apparently The Motor Racing and Tinpot Dictator Department is not as important in the overall scheme of things as The Mole thinks it is.

This is not unusual in motor racing where lots of folk are gushing with self-importance, particularly in some sections of the F1 media.

With the regular satellites out of action The Mole has been investigating purchasing a geostationary satellite from the Russian Federation as this would be very useful to allow him to continue to intercept all communication going on in F1. The preliminary study into the costs involved were really quite shocking but The Mole got on the phone to Ilya Klebanov and within half an hour has cut a very decent deal for a Cosmos satellite. The intention now is to sell time share on the satellite in order to bring the costs down to a workable level. There may also be merchandising opportunities as The Mole feels that highly detailed aerial photographs can be of interest to members of the public.

If all goes to plan The Mole will go to the cosmodrome in Plesetsk, 750 miles to the north-west of Moscow, next week to be handed the keys to his own Cosmos satellite, which will be circling the earth 22,000 miles above Hemel Hempstead.

The major issue then will not be sucking up the information available but rather filtering it to get to the important stuff. This requires enormous computing power and the rumbling old mainframe at SIS Headquarters is not up to the job.

It is fortunate therefore that The Mole still has friends in high places in Maryland.

Maryland? What is there of any value in Maryland? There is Washington DC, of course, and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. There is Deep Creek Lake and part of Appalachian Trail. There is Baltimore and a few Atlantic beaches and creeks in which one can fish.

And then, of course, there is the invisible city at Fort George C Meade.

If it officially existed, this would be one of Maryland's biggest municipalities. It has 65 miles of roads and 1670 buildings. It is the home of around 9,000 military personnel and 29,000 civilian employees. It employs more people combined that the FBI and CIA combined and has its own police force numbering 700. It has its own TV station which gets the news faster than CNN. It has its own university (known as the National Cryptologic School). It even has its own Pizza Hut.

"In God we trust," they say at Fort Meade. "All others we monitor."

This place has satellites which can read the ingredients on Saddam Hussein's packet of cornflakes and so much computing power that most codes cannot last five minutes. The biggest computer currently under development (nicknamed Blue Gene) will, if all goes to plan, have a million processors and will be capable of a quintillion operations per second. The Mole has no idea how many that is except to say that it is larger than the total computing power of the top 500 supercomputers in the world today. This machine will have a storage capacity of 150 billion pages of text, equivalent to a pile of paper 150 miles high, which thankfully is not high enough to get in the way of satellites.

With such a machine crunching through a few English telephone calls looking for the phrases like "Ere Mosley", "Bernie dear boy" and "Well Ron, you're entirely correct but just one little point you've missed" will become the work of a moment.

This will help shed some light on the latest happenings in F1 in the run-up to the next meeting of the GPWC on April 10 at which it is hoped several Formula 1 teams will agree to sign up to the new series that the GPWC intends to start. Whether anyone signs up is another matter but The Mole has heard that the GPWC did something quite intelligent the other day and asked the FIA to sanction the new series.

It is no coincidence therefore that suddenly Bernie Ecclestone is being publicly mentioned (although not by himself) as a potential buyer of the CART series in America. Ecclestone is not going to give up his hold on F1 without a fight and the latest tactic appears to be to offer teams an alternative to both the current F1 World Championship and the planned GPWC series.

A takeover of CART and the transformation of that series into a new Formula 1 would be a good move because it would take F1 to America in a much bigger way than is currently the case and would be considerably cheaper than the GPWC.

But, if the GPWC is going to get into bed with the FIA, Ecclestone has a problem, which might explain some of his recent remarks attacking the recent FIA rule changes.

The Mole cannot wait to get access to his Cosmos and to Blue Gene.

Click here to read previous Mole columns: The Mole Archive

Print Feature