Toyota on the prowl
APRIL 25, 2003
It being a Bank Holiday weekend in England, The Mole decided that it would be a good opportunity to do some serious work in the office at a time when the telephones are not ringing. This is the sort of thing that motor racing do although Mrs Mole was none too impressed when The Mole announced his intention. She had other plans and had wanted to take the grandchildren down to the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Light Railway, which as the name suggests runs between Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch on the south coast of England. It is a narrow gauge railway with one-third scale locomotives and for some reason one-third scale kids like this more than the real thing.
The Mole sighed for he had always meant to go there and ride on a train called Dr Syn, if only because when he was a child he had much enjoyed the swashbucking adventures of the fictional character Dr Syn, who was a smuggle who went by the name of "The Scarecrow" but who in daylight was the vicar of Dymchurch, the Reverend Dr Christopher Syn DD (Oxon). These were very popular books in the 1930s and 1940s and somehow or other The Mole got hold of the complete set and read them with great enthusiasm.
In fact, if the truth be told, The Mole always felt that Dr Syn would be a great name for a Formula 1 team boss although it is hard to imagine that any of them would ever make it as a Doctor of Divinity.
In the end, however, The Mole was forced to insist that he go to the office because this is the week of the Monaco Grand Prix and in a couple of days The Mole will be off to the Villa Mole, which overlooks the Bay of Angels. If all goes to plan The Mole will go to the race while Mrs Mole will mess about at the villa and take tea with her friends in Nice. The aim is for there to be a splendid lunch at the Chevre d'Or in Eze on Friday. The most civilised thing about the Monaco Grand Prix is that there is a day off on Friday and one should never visit the Cote d'Azur without a trip to the Chevre d'Or where the symphony of chocolate should never be missed and where escaping with a bill under 250Û a head is an impressive achievement, which The Mole has yet to manage.
The only thing that nearly caused The Mole to head for Romney was that very little has been happening in the last few days in Formula 1 circles and his in-tray was relatively empty. There was however a dossier all about Panasonic Toyota Racing which, so the file said, has been busy recruiting in recent days. The word on the street is that is that the old fox Ove Anderson had been busy trying to get into the Renault henhouse and emerge with technical director Mike Gascoyne all aflutter in his jaws. Of course, if Gascoyne does come out fluttering it will not be because he is unhappy but rather because he will be earning so much money that any normal person would dance with joy. The sum being mentioned is in the region of $6m.
Living in Cologne may not do much to excite Gascoyne, although he did once spend some time at Sauber, so knows about living in the German-speaking world, but when that kind of money is on offer the average technical director would agree to relocate to the Atacama Desert.
It is rare to see Flavio Briatore the man in difficulties but he does appear to have a problem at the moment. He has been busily digging away trying to get a decent engine to go into the back of one of Gascoyne's chassis. Renault's engine man Jean-Jacques His recently left Renault Sport because of a difference of opinion over the strategy of the team. This would seem to suggest that Renault has taken the decision to give up on His's wide-angled V10 engine and go back to something a little more conventional. The Mole's spies in Viry-Chatillon say that the new engine has been on the drawing boards for a while but has not been given the go-ahead because of the need to know the rules because engine design for a V10 which lasts one weekend is very different to engines which are due to last for a qualifying session and a race. The company may take on a new engine designer but the fact is that no matter what happens the 2004 engine is unlikely to be a consistent winner straight away. And that would mean that Gascoyne's dream to win a World Championship would have to wait until 2005 at the very earliest and it is more likely, given recent evidence, that it would take longer. Gasccoyne's contract with Renault ends in 2005 and by then he will have been with the team for five years. To date the team has not even won a race and there is no doubt that Gascoyne is frustrated.
So just as Briatore is about to solve his engine trouble, he may be on the verge of losing his technical director.
The option is to try to convince Mike to stay with Renault but, up against Toyota, Renault's commitment to the sport must look a little shaky. Everyone knows that a new Renault chairman will come in 2005 and he may not have the patience to go on messing about in F1. Carlos Ghosn is a hard man. Toyota is many times larger than Renault and given a clear indication that the aim is to win and even the big F1 teams like Ferrari, McLaren and Williams are already beginning to look over their shoulders at the Japanese manufacturer, which at the weekend won the Indianapolis 500 for the first time, becoming the first Japanese firm to win America's biggest race.
Toyota's policy is to set a target and then throw money at the problem until the goal is reached.
And right now, it looks like Mike Gascoyne is the man to whom money is being thrown.
The Mole smiled. Mike will have no trouble paying the bill at the Chevre d'Or.
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