The endangered Yak
MARCH 15, 2005
Sitting in the lounge at Changi Airport in Singapore, The Mole was surprised to see his man from Zurich. They were both on the way to Sepang where The Mole reckoned there would be plenty of action.
"And none of that political rubbish we had in Melbourne," he said. "In Malaysia we will get back to good old-fashioned Formula 1 rubbish!"
They both laughed and the conversation turned to Jacques Villeneuve, or Yak Willeneuf as they call him in Swiss-German.
"Ja," said the man from Zurich. "Yak has been a big disappointment for Sauber."
"We have hardly started," The Mole said. "It is a bit early to be beating him up already."
"Huh?" came the reply. "Since when did Formula 1 allow for former World Champions to learn how to do the job."
"No," said The Mole. "A good point."
"You know," said the Swiss, "Yak didn't do anything at Renault at the end of last year. So he gets the winter to train and get up to speed and so we go to Melbourne and what happens? His performance was rubbish."
"That's a bit harsh," said The Mole. "It was not a classic performance. Admittedly, Felipe Massa went a whole second a lap faster in the race despite having only one stop while Yak, I mean Jacques, had two stops and should have been able to go faster."
And then he paused, sighed and said: "OK, it was a rubbish."
"Formula 1 is about absolute performance," said the man from Zurich. "End of story. It cannot matter if the driver has lost his teddy bear or if his girlfriend has run off with her personal trainer. A Formula 1 driver is paid to perform. If he does not perform he must expect there to be rumours. Yak may not like the talk that is out there but questions are being asked by the important people, whether he wants to hear them or not. And remember Peter Sauber cannot afford to have a bad year. The team has to do well. It is true that Sauber does not like to fire drivers but if this level of performance continues then he will have no choice. Yak will have to go!"
"And what could Peter do instead?" asked The Mole.
"Hah!" said the man from Zurich. "This is a problem. Peter had Tonio Liuzzi ready to do a deal back in the winter but he signed Yak before he even tested Liuzzi. Now Tonio is tied into a Red Bull contract and so there is no reason to leave. The chances are that in a few races Red Bull will push out Christian Klien and let Liuzzi race for them."
"Maybe Red Bull could send Klien down to Sauber," said The Mole. "Maybe he would do better with German-speakers around him."
The Swiss shrugged.
"If it was me, I would choose Antonio Pizzonia. He is stuck as a test driver at Williams and does not want to be there. His career is going nowhere again because at the end of the year Jenson Button is going to turn up to partner Mark Webber and so the best he can hope for is a test drive in 2006."
"I have a better idea," said The Mole. "We all agree that BMW will be supplying Sauber with engines next year?"
The Swiss nodded. The Mole continued.
"Well, if BMW is so enamoured by Nick Heidfeld it might be a good idea to shift Heidfeld him to Sauber so he could be team leader of Sauber-BMW next year? As I understand it, Heidfeld's deal with Williams is on a race by race basis at the moment. And his performance in Melbourne was not that good."
The Swiss stared into the middle distance, not noticing the people passing by.
"That would not get Williams a test driver this year, would it?" he said.
"No," said The Mole. "That remains a problem.
"However," the Swiss went on. "Williams needs to be very nice to BMW at the moment. Those Bavarians do get carried away with how good they are at everything and Williams cannot really afford to upset them too much because there are not many manufacturers out there at the moment."
The Mole smiled.
"There are always alternatives when you are a team like Williams," he said. "The BMW people would be mad to go to Sauber thinking the team would do better than Williams. If it was that easy they would have done it with Ferrari engines, wouldn't they? If I was on the board of BMW and one of my executives came and suggested that we switch from Williams to Sauber, I would post him to Ouagadougou."
The two men laughed.
"I hear the nightclubs of Burkina Faso are fairly lively," said the Swiss.
"I cannot say that I do much night-clubbing," said The Mole.
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