THE MOLE

They shoot horses, don't they?

During his recent holiday in France, The Mole popped up to Paris for a weekend, bullied by Mrs Mole to see an art exhibition at the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume. The artwork on display was that of a Swiss artist called Peter Stampfli, who seems to be obsessed with the tread patterns of tyres. Mrs Mole had thought that this would be a good exhibition for a holidaying motor racing spook.

"Well dear," she said when it became apparent that The Mole was not impressed. "I thought you would find it fascinating."

The Mole left the gallery feeling that Stampfli needed to get out a little more. It was mystifying to The Mole that someone would place such a restriction on their work.

Mrs Mole rushed off to Laduree to buy some macaroons for one of her old friends in Surrey and The Mole plodded across to WH Smith and took the opportunity to poke around the English magazines to find out the latest twitterings of the F1 circus from the pages of the motor racing comics.

There was, he noted, a lot of talk about Tom Walkinshaw and the Arrows team.

After a glowing Mrs Mole had returned from her errand the couple wandered back down the Avenue Montaigne to the Hotel Plaza Athenee for tea in the magnificent marble corridor where The Mole found himself musing over both Stampfli and Walkinshaw.

"I don't understand either one of them," he said. "I don't understand why they are both restricting themselves. Stampfli could draw flowers or landscapes and Walkinshaw could go off and live a happier life than he currently has. He has tons of money stashed away and could live happily ever after. Why does he go on with this Arrows fiasco?

"Heaven alone knows, dear," said Mrs Mole. "Maybe he is just a bad loser."

The conversation left The Mole in a philosophical mood and after tea Mrs Mole suggested he wandered down to the Pont de l'Alma to improve his mood. But it turned into a sombre promenade as The Mole pondered a moment on the meaning of existence. It seemed an apt place to do it for this was the spot which those with a royalty fixation will remember as being the site of the accident which killed Princess Diana.

Surely, thought The Mole, the predicament of Thomas Dobbie Thomson Walkinshaw's enterprise has reached a point at which it has become a lost cause. To be, or not to be, really is the question one must ask of Arrows. And, to paraphrase the Prince of Denmark, is it really worth all the grief to save this racing team from its sea of troubles when the whole sorry mess could be handed over to liquidators. Every week thousands of businessmen are giving up the struggle and putting their companies into liquidation. Times are hard. No-one is happy with the outcome but it is the only thing that makes sense. Walkinshaw is a rich fellow and could walk away and live happily ever after with his pile of money and yet he chooses to go on fighting in order to keep Arrows afloat. It would not take a talented PR man to work out lots of hot air about how he is trying to protect the staff and the creditors but the fact is that letting the team die is the only sensible thing to do.

One might argue that it is all about ego. Walkinshaw may not be very tall but his bulky frame allows plenty of space for a fairly considerable ego. It is not unusual in Formula 1 circles. The Mole pondered this a moment, watching the Seine flow past, but concluded that it could not be the answer to the question. Huger egos than Walkinshaw's have let enterprises go to the wall in the past to achieve the same end by a different means. Ron Dennis's McLarens are called MP4s because Dennis merged his Project 4 with the old McLaren team. If Ron's first attempt at F1 had been successful the cars would have ended up being called MP1s.

So why is Tom Walkinshaw trying to save the least successful team in the history of Formula 1? A team that has no value as a brand name, that has no engines for next year, no sponsorships, not many engineers and no credibility. Who would try to revive a team which has nothing left worth having? And why?

The recent announcement that there is a rescue bid to save the team does not seem very believable. The Mole has rung around his spies in marketing circles and they all say the same thing. It is a terrible time to be looking for money. There is a global recession and companies are not investing in things like F1 sponsorships. People are cutting back. It does not help matters that F1 has created an image problem for itself in recent months in part because of ill-advised statements by certain team bosses and because of the bad publicity generated by the Arrows mess.

There is not much sympathy left out there for Arrows. Bernie Ecclestone has been very supportive but recently he circulated a letter asking teams to consider whether they wish to accept the idea that the Arrows team has an automatic entry for the 2003 Formula 1 season. Many of the teams replied in the negative. They want the Arrows problem to disappear.

The Mole was stuck by the unpleasant image of a wounded horse, making an awful noise which no-one wants to hear, while people scurry around looking for a gun to put the beast out of its misery.

The sooner the better, he thought, and lobbed a stone in the Seine. The sooner the better.

And then, feeling the winter in his bones, he plodded back to The Plaza.

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