The secret of the British motor racing industry
SEPTEMBER 3, 2004
"I was in a bar the other night," said The Mole, "when the barman, a longtime Formula 1 fan, muttered that he would willingly shoot Bernie Ecclestone. I told him that would be very unwise but he went on chuntering away about Bernie and greed and the sport not being like it used to be and how he was fed up with it all and was thinking about going to see NASCAR races instead."
"God Lord," said Penelope (Roedean), leafing through Guns & Ammo. "That's a bit strong."
"Shooting Bernie Ecclestone or going to a NASCAR race?" said The Mole.
"Anyway," The Mole went on. "The good news is that he said that he could not afford to buy a gun because he had spent all his money on tickets to this year's Grand Prix."
"I am sure that Bernard fully appreciates his sacrifice," said Penelope.
The mood in the office, The Mole felt, had been one of sadness for some time because Formula 1 seemed to be more out of control than ever before.
"I have reached the conclusion that all Grands Prix should henceforth be funded by governments," he said, for no reason except that he knew the subject of everyone's thoughts. "It is ludicrous to think that a small club like the BRDC can do it. They have no power to tackle Mr E. The governments of the world are a different matter. If all the governments stopped messing about and told Bernie to get lost, he would understand that he had reached the price that the market will bear. He would appreciate the fact that governments would then turn on him and squeeze the price down. As long as there are governments willing to wander along and give him cash, he has the upper hand."
"The problem is that not everyone can get the Olympics," said Penelope.
"Too true," said The Mole. "And that gives Mr E the leverage he needs. Governments should pay for Grands Prix. The logical thing for the British government would be to nationalize Silverstone. Then there would be no hassle about the money. Silverstone would be a national treasure. The old boys at the BRDC could buy themselves a nice club house on Pall Mall and create a proper trust fund to do something important like create a proper sponsorship scheme to get young British drivers into F1. The government won't do that. Although come to think of it I seem to remember Juan Peron of Argentina doing that for Juan Manuel Fangio back in the 1950s.
"Dictators were always good for motor racing," said Penelope.
"The point is that once everything is at government level, Bernie cannot be as demanding as he now is because governments are very powerful things. They can vote through special 95% taxation for magnates who have made their fortunes in automotive-related areas. They can have special taxes for billionaires living in Chelsea."
"Poor Mrs Ecclestone," said Penelope.
"There are lots of ways to keep rowdy capitalists in check."
"Yes," said Penelope. "Which brings us to the question of the motorsport industry in Britain."
"Proof, if ever it was needed, that we need manufacturers in the sport," said The Mole.
The remark needed a little explaining.
"Do you know why there is a British motor racing industry?" The Mole said.
"It's something to do with airfields," said Penelope. "After the war Britain had all these airfields and a bunch of post-war testosterone-junkies who wanted to go motor racing."
"Nice try," said The Mole. "But that's not it. The British were a bunch of amateurs compared to the Europeans in the 1930s. It was embarrassing. For a long time in the 1950s the BRMs were a national joke because they never worked properly. The thing that made the different was rear-engined racing cars. The British led the field. And where did they get the idea from?"
"John Cooper?" guessed Penelope.
The Mole raised an impressed eyebrow.
"Nice try," he said, "but the technology was nicked from the Germans in 1945 by a British intelligence officer called Cameron Earl. He was sent to Germany to go through the filing cabinets of the Mercedes-Benz and AutoUnion to discover the technical secrets of the pre-war Grand Prix cars. The aim was to get that information to Britain and use it to build up the British car industry. Cameron produced a report, called "An Investigation into the Development of German Grand Prix Cars 1932-1939" and I believe that was what started the whole thing. Because AutoUnion did a rear-engined car in 1934. Ferdinand Porsche designed it."
"So the British racing industry is all thanks to Ferdinand Porsche and the German car manufacturers?" said Penelope.
The Mole nodded.
"Blimey," said Penelope. "And now Germany is claiming back the sport."
The Mole nodded.
"Nasty business," he said.
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