The luck of the Irish
JANUARY 8, 2004
When the girls came back to the office after the Christmas break Penelope (Wycombe Abbey) had a dreamy smile on her face. It did not take Miss Pringle-Featherby (of the Berkshire Pringle-Featherbys) too long to extract the information that Penelope had found herself a new boyfriend.
By lunchtime The Mole had most of the details. His English rose had been plucked by a large African fellow called Fetnat Dogondutchi.
"Fetnat?" said The Mole. "What an unusual name."
Miss Pringle-Featherby already had an answer for that.
"Well," she said. "It's a pretty silly story but apparently Fetnat was born on July 14 and, being in French West Africa, they name the children after whatever is indicated on the calendar of the saints. Thus if you are born on March 25 you will be called Humbert or Humberta. The problem comes when there are holidays because the Africans would simply read what was written on the calendar and rush off to have the child baptized. Kids born on Christmas Day were called Noel and those born on July 14 were called Fetnat."
"After St Fetnat?" said The Mole.
"No," said Miss Pringle-Featherby. "After the abbreviated version of Fete Nationale. There was not room to write the whole thing on the calendars."
The Mole refused to believe a word of it and, having little else to do, sent Miss Pringle-Featherby packing and logged on to Google to find out if it was true. Fetnat produced a number of doctors and football players.
Then, just for the hell of it, The Mole tried "Saint Penelope" and was appalled to discover that this search led him to some rather spicy websites which were promoting the exotic "art" films of Sasha Saint and Penelope Pumpkins.
When Miss Pringle-Featherby dropped by later with The Mole's tea and chocolate biscuit, he mentioned that there is no Saint Penelope and was somewhat surprised when prim and proper Mis Pringle-Featherby remarked, in an offhand fashion, that judging by Penelope's smile, this is what Mr Dogondutchi has been finding that out in recent days.
"You would not believe what I found when I did a search for Saint Penelope," said The Mole, moving swiftly on.
"Pornography?" said Miss Pringle-Featherby, without even the bat of an arched eyelash.
The Mole nodded sheepishly.
"It happens all the time," she said. "You get some really funny mix-ups sometimes."
"I guess I have led a very sheltered life," said The Mole, rather sadly.
Miss Pirngle-Fetaherby ignored him.
"Do you know that the FIA is not only the international automobile federation but also the Federal Investigation Agency of Pakistan. You get some very weird stories about the FIA chasing terrorists around Pakistan."
"I am sure that Max Mosley would enjoy that," said The Mole.
"And Eddie Jordan is not only the Formula 1 team owner. He is also the first African-American US district attorney in New Orleans history."
The Mole smiled. Eddie Jordan. What a funny fellow!
What a lucky fellow.
Miss Pringle-Featherby retreated into the main office to gather more information about Fetnat and The Mole allowed his mind to wander.
A few months ago everyone was worried about Jordan Grand Prix not surviving but now here Eddie Jordan is with the whip hand over Jos Verstappen and his sponsor Michel Perridon. Jordan is laughing all the way to the bank because the Dutch have left themselves with no options. They decided that they no longer wanted to negotiate with Minardi and then made the totally bizarre decision to tell the world that the talks with Minardi were over. By doing so they handed Jordan a blank cheque and he now has them dangling on the end of a rope because Jos has no choices. He has something like $15m in sponsorship and nowhere else where he can spend it.
If Verstappen and Perridon had continued talking to Minardi, Paul Stoddart's team might not have been so quick to do its deal with Zsolt Baumgartner, who has only $10m available in sponsorship. That way they could have negotiated with Jordan and got a better deal out of the Irishman. But now Jordan can do as he pleases in the knowledge that Verstappen has nowhere to go. The Dutch contingent may try to demand all kind of things in exchange for the $15m but what are they going to do if Jordan says that the money is only sufficient to buy the sidepods of his cars? He is getting $12m from Benson & Hedges and that can be increased to as much as $18m if he gets a British driver so unless Verstappen and his buddies can front up with more cash it makes no sense for Jordan to give the Dutch title sponsorship. Besides, yellow is an important part of the Jordan brand image and so it makes no sense to mess about with that for just a few extra dollars. It takes years to build new brands.
The Mole smiled at the thought of a team called Trust Jordan.
Verstappen might argue that there is nowhere else that Jordan can find $15m in sponsorship but Eddie knows that he can get at least $10m from one of the other drivers on the market and, horror of horrors, that might even be Verstappen's biggest Dutch rival Christjian Albers, who is rumoured to have a big deal with a major Dutch corporation. Worse still, the word is that the sponsor who wants to support Albers is a company which uses yellow as its corporate colour.
Jordan is smart enough to know that having Albers in his back pocket will be motivation for Verstappen to get a deal done quickly. Just in case.
The fact that Benson & Hedges is still about means that there cannot be two Dutchmen in the Jordan team because Eddie will lose out on an extra $6m if he does not take a British driver. The good news for EJ is that in addition to the extra money from Benson & Hedges he can probably get more money out of a British driver because there are at least three of them competing for the drive: Justin Wilson, Ralph Firman and Allan McNish. McNish has already been busy trying to get the backing of Ford, which is Jordan's engine supplier and a sponsor as well, supplying $5m a year of assistance towards the engine bills. If McNish can convince Ford to put up some more money or do rebuilds for free, he will be saving Jordan money and so adding to the benefits of hiring him. In addition, of course, McNish is the most experienced test driver in F1 circles and his abilities would be very useful for the team going into a season when testing is restricted and running on race weekends will be very limited. Firman has an advantage in that he is half-Irish and so there is the possibility that Jordan could use him to get more money out of the Emerald Isle. Wilson, however, also has advantages because he has a much higher profile in Britain than both McNish and Firman.
One way of the other Jordan is looking at a situation in which he is going to get at least $16m from his two races drivers (and probably more from a test driver) and so his budget will be fairly sensible. It may not be as high as he would like but it will be sufficient to get the team through the next season.
The Mole wondered whether Eddie Jordan is walking around his factory with a dreamy smile on his face.
Click here to read previous Mole columns: The Mole Archive