The story of O

When The Mole does not go to a Grand Prix he likes very traditional Sundays at home. This involves going to St Christopher's Parish Church in the morning, a good Sunday roast at Mole Manor and then an afternoon on the sofa, watching the Grand Prix on ITV. The one drawback in this timetable is that the Reverend Sidney Overton-Fuller (known to his parishioners as O) likes to deliver rather lengthy sermons. O has been responsible for a large number of ruined roasts over the years and The Mole felt that with the World Championship so finely balanced in 2003, it would be a bad idea if the vicar went on for too long. He came up with the plan of inviting O to join them for lunch.

He then dropped in to the vestry before the Morning Service for a quiet word of advice.

"If the Eleven O'Clock goes much beyond 12.15, lunch at 12.30 becomes a problem," said The Mole. "And then it is a rush to finish in time for the race.

"And," he added craftily, "Mrs Batty's famous Yorkshire Pudding will wilt, her vegetables will grow soggy and her exceptional gravy will congeal and she will become rather hostile and then no-one will be happy."

"Oh," said O.

"So keep it short and think of succulent beef and golden Yorkshire Pud."

"Got it," said O. " Right."

Satisfied with his good works, The Mole went off to his pew and was surprised when O not only delivered his sermon at great speed but also used Michael Schumacher's comeback since Hungary as an illustration of the power of faith.

"Miracles," he said, his voice echoing in the beams, "do happen. On Friday the Archbishop of Milan visited the Ferrari pit at Monza and, even if he does belong to God's other team, I am sure that his blessing on that Ferrari will be a great inspiration to Michael this afternoon. Let us pray."

Afterwards, as The Mole and The Colonel (his next door neighbour and a staunch member of the Conservative Party) walked back to Mole Manor.

"I must check in the F1 regulations to see if Holy Blessings are legal," said The Mole with a smile.

"What was O rabbiting on about today?" said The Colonel.

The Mole shrugged.

"He has this thing about trying to get new people to go to church and so tries to appeal to a wider audience."

"He'll end up in the Daily Star," said The Colonel. "You mark my words."

At that point O came running up behind them.

"An interesting sermon," said The Colonel.

"Oh thank you," said O. "I wanted to appeal to the fast-moving crowd in the village. There were a few there today and I'd like them to come more often."

"Perhaps you should do something about Ozzie Osbourne next week," said The Mole.

"Oh yes," said O. "He's the one that sang that song about God being a stranger on the bus. Just a slob like one of us."

"Yes," said The Mole. "I don't know if you need to sing the whole thing."

"No, no," said O. "Absolutely. That would rock them though, wouldn't it?"

Lunch was swift and succulent. Mrs Mole's friend, the venerable dowager from down the road, held court muttering from behind her moustache about the politics of the Parochial Church Council. The Mole, The Colonel and The Vicar excused themselves before the coffee and hurried to the drawing room to watch the start of the Grand Prix.

When they were all settled on the sofa, they found that in their enthusiasm that they had a few minutes to spare and O, keen to expand his knowledge of Grand Prix racing, decided to ask a question.

"Tell me about The Stupid Season," he said.

The Colonel rolled his eyes.

"Well, actually it's called The Silly Season," said The Mole. "But this year it seems to be a bit quiet although I cannot help but think that the whole thing is about to explode."

"Why so?" said The Colonel.

"I don't know," said The Mole. "I just have this feeling that something is about to happen. Look at Michael Schumacher for example."

"Marvellous," said O.

"German," said The Colonel.

"What happens if Michael wins his record-breaking sixth World Championship?" said The Mole. "What is he going to do? Go for a seventh? It is not going to be easy. I don't know if you chaps noticed but last week in Frankfurt there was a very strange deal announced between Maserati and Audi."

"What's that got to do with Ferrari?" asked O.

The Colonel rolled his eyes.

"Well," said The Mole, "Ferrari actually owns Maserati and so when you hear about a technology deal with Audi to save money, it really means that Ferrari does not have enough cash. Audi will get access to some of Ferrari's technology which has been developed in F1 for advanced road cars and Ferrari will get access to Audi's four-wheel drive systems and its diesel technology for Maserati road cars. Ferrari could do the work but it is really too small to fund everything and its parent company Fiat is in big trouble and cannot help out. Actually I hear that Ferrari is looking to slice about 25% off its Formula 1 budget. And that means that the area that will be hit the most is research and development and that will affect the competitiveness of the team in the years ahead.

"So Michael must know that the future is going to be more difficult than the past and it cannot be very comforting to know that there is a whole new generation of youngsters breathing down his neck. He has always said that when that happened it would be time to leave. He has so much money that he cannot even spend it all. And I just have this feeling that he may have told Ferrari that he will quit if he wins."

"Based on what evidence Mr Mole?" said The Colonel.

"A leap of faith," said The Mole, winking at O. "No, there is more to it than that. Can you explain to me why Sauber has not yet announced Felipe Massa?"

The Colonel shook his head.

"I think they are waiting to see whether or not Michael will win the World Championship and what happens after that," said The Mole. "If Michael gets out with a new record and goes off to play with his kids, it is a win-win situation for everyone. Ferrari saves $40m a year, Formula 1 gets rid of the man who after 68 victories has made the sport a little too predictable. And that will make Bernie and Max very happy."

"Mmmm." said The Colonel. "Interesting."

"And then we have Montoya," continued The Mole. "He's on his way to McLaren in 2005."

"Is he?" said O. "I didn't know that."

"Well, they haven't announced it yet," added The Mole. "But it seems that the deal is done and there really is no logic in keeping Montoya at Williams next year. The atmosphere within the team is already somewhat cool. Besides, Williams is always looking for the next World Champion and the team might decide that rather than spend loads of money on Montoya they could see what McLaren Mercedes might offer them to let Montoya go and then send him off to Woking a year early. They could then use the money raised from that to buy Mark Webber out of his Jaguar contract. That way Jaguar Racing would be under less of a financial threat, Williams would have a very good driver and would have saved money on its driver salaries. Mercedes would have helped a GPWC colleague without being seen to have done so and Ford would have avoided the humiliation of being seen to take on a pay driver in order to survive. If they are still a bit short of cash, they could always do some sponsorship deal with someone like Red Bull because old Dietrich Mateschitz has long been banging on about his desire to run an American-flavoured team with a US manufacturer behind it."

"That all makes sense," said The Colonel.

O just looked confused.

"What is Red Bull anyway?" he asked.

"No idea," said The Mole with a twinkle in his eye. "One of my Penelopes told me that one should mix it with lots of vodka."

"I shall have to try that," said The Vicar. "You know I think it might help me get some more teenagers at St Christopher's."

"Yes, I expect it would," said The Mole.

The Colonel rolled his eyes.

"O," he said, "You're a glutton for punishment!"

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