Tiresome tyres

Number Two had come back from his holiday in a rather dark mood. The decision to go to Angola had seemed rather odd to begin with and to make matters worse, at the airport, he had discovered that his wife had made a terrible mistake and they were booked for two weeks in the Potawatomi Inn Resort in Angola, Indiana. Halfway between Detroit and Chicago.

Things had become a little dull after their visit to the Fort Wayne Firefighter's Museum.

As he cleared his paperwork Number Two seemed to become more and more agitated and The Mole, knowing him well, understood that an explosion would come before lunch.

"Oh for God's sake!" he shouted finally. "Mole, what is going on in this country? This David Kelly Inquiry has got completely out of hand. The government is handing out documents and e-mails which normally would have disappeared into the Public Record Office for 30 years or quietly been shredded while no-one was looking. Can you imagine what would happen if we told everyone everything we knew about Formula 1? There would be pandemonium! I just cannot handle this government openness. It's. It's not. It's not natural!"

And with that he turned on his heel and stomped out, muttering something about "a very long lunch".

The Penelopes raised four beautifully arched eyebrows and went back to reading magazines.

The department was still rather quiet as a result of the second three-week break in Formula 1 racing.

"Well, I suppose he has a point," said The Mole to no-one in particular.

This trend towards transparency is a strange phenomenon because in F1, as in the real world, it has led to a desire to "manage the media" and that has meant that some organisations have taken on "spin-meisters" to help them put forward their messages. Max Mosley has hired a Welshman with long hair and there are suspicions that on occasion he has used the FIA jet to drop propaganda leaflets over Teddington. Mosley will obviously not allow him to use much aviation fuel. He has thus earned himself the unfortunate nickname of "Dr Goebbels" although it is also said (but not proven) that some people refer to him as "Cuddles".

Much more successful would appear to be Bernie Ecclestone's new spin-meister who has earned the nickname Norbert and has a profile so low that very few people know he exists.

Of the rest only Jaguar Racing can truly claim to have a spin-meister on the books although using expressions like "multi-tasking" and never having "a problem" when "an issue" will do, is not really spin-meistering at its finest.

"What is spin-meistery anyway?" asked Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College) after The Mole had ruminated on the subject.

"Artful dodging," said Penelope (Roedean), ever the teacher's pet.

"How poetic," said The Mole in an avuncular fashion.

"Actually," said Penelope (Roedean), "I think Michelin does a very good job too. Their press releases are always very subtle and clever."

"Oh, tyres! Damned tyres!" said The Mole. "Black, round, rubber things of mystery that only ever get mentioned when there is a problem."

"Or an issue," said Penelope (Roedean) cheerfully.

"Tyres are not my favourite subject at the moment," admitted The Mole. "This kerfuffle over the contact patch of the front tyres is absolutely the last thing that we need in F1 right now. We have a wonderful World Championship showdown and now someone is throwing mud around."

"So why are they doing it?" said Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College).

The Mole shrugged.

That afternoon The Mole called in his chief technical officer MRTDD-C2 (otherwise known as Nigel) to try to explain about contact patches.

"Well, you see," Nigel explained. "There are gains and losses with using wider front tyres, you see. Because the extra grip must be balanced with the aerodynamic losses, you see. Drag."

"A complete drag." said The Mole.

None the wiser, The Mole went back to the Penelopes as often he did when trying to solve problems.

"Come on girls," he said. "Everything is going well in F1 and then suddenly we have Charlie Whiting nipping down to Maranello with Max Mosley in tow and the next day, quite by chance apparently, they issue a letter to the teams warning about front tyres which may be illegal. When the press boys try to explain this to their readers it looks like the FIA has changed the rules."

"And so once again the FIA looks stupid," said Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College).

"But they're not," said Penelope (Benenden), who was always the quiet one of the four Penelopes. "We know they're not because Max Mosley is really clever. He's the one who changed the rules and made F1 interesting again."

Penelope (Roedean) raised an eyebrow and looked at her colleague strangely.

"Go the hots for the Pres, have we?" she said.

Penelope (Benenden), whose real name is Jane, blushed quite pink.

"Don't be mean," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey) coming to the defence of her friend. "I think he's done a jolly good job too."

"Girls, please," said The Mole. "We know that Max is not stupid so we must therefore conclude that the FIA has been pushed into doing something it does not wish to be doing. Mosley must understand that the last thing that F1 needs now is to give the impression that the FIA is helping Ferrari to another World Championship. At the same time the federation cannot put itself in the position of ignoring an unofficial complaint."

"It would normally," said Penelope (Roedean). "Only Ferrari seems to have the clout to make the FIA think twice."

"Ferrari say they didn't do it," said Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College).

"And no doubt they all have people willing to swear that they were all somewhere else having lunch when Mosley and Whiting visited Maranello that day," said Penelope (Roedean). "I'm sorry but as far as I am concerned it is no coincidence that all this has happened just a few days after Ferrari was humiliated in Hungary, being lapped by a Renault for goodness sake, and then got beaten up by the Italian press."

"A good point," said The Mole.

They all nodded sagely.

"But," said The Mole. "What if the FIA has to react but does not want to? Michelin says it has a letter from the FIA which says that its front tyre profiles are legal. What can the FIA do then?"

There was a pause.

"Ambiguity is always good," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey). "You know, a little flirtation but no hanky-panky."

"Like writing a letter which seems to be doing something but is actually meaningless?" said The Mole.

"Well, that would force Ferrari out into the open if it really does have a complaint." said Penelope (Benendon).

"Perhaps," said The Mole.

"It could just be an attempt to divert attention from Ferrari's failings?" said Penelope (Roedean). "A vague hope that an unofficial protest might be successful or at the very least be something to disrupt the opposition."

"Perhaps," said The Mole.

"Whatever the case," said Penelope (Benenden). "It isn't good for the sport."

"Absolutely," said The Mole.

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