Bugs in the magnolias

"Thank goodness the team principals have a bit more style these days," said The Mole to himself. He was disguised as a gardener and quietly digging amongst the magnolias outside the Orangery at Great Fosters, a huge Elizabethan pile not far from Egham in Surrey, where the Formula 1 team bosses and manufacturers were meeting to discuss their plans for the future of the sport. In previous years such meetings had always been held in rather less glamorous meeting rooms in hotels at Heathrow Airport.

Great Fosters is a classy joint. In fact, thought The Mole, it is would be a nice place to bring Mrs Mole for lunch one day.

Inside the hotel Penelope (Roedean) was, rather fetchingly, disguised as a cocktail waitress, the hotel management having been told that there was a hush-hush surveillance operation going on into certain suspicious-looking members of the group meeting in the Orangery.

Outside, in a hedge close to where The Mole worked, one of the technical bods had a laser listening device trained on the tall arched windows of the Orangery. They had discussed bugging the meeting in a variety of different ways. The boffins had been very keen to emulate the great Hal Lipset, who achieved fame by being the first man to put a listening device in a Martini olive, but in the end they agreed that the laser bug was the best idea. This device measures the vibrations caused by sound waves of human voices hitting window panes and converts them back into human voices. The miracle of modern engineering mean that The Mole was able to listen to the whole thing through an earpiece, as he played in the mud.

The delegates had been through a series of reports from working committees and had discussed the timetable that they intend for the production of their planned document which will go to the FIA. The Mole cursed quietly when he realised that the whole matter was probably going to come to a head in August or September at a time when he had been intending to be down at the Villa Mole, overlooking the Bay of Angels on the Cote d'Azur.

There was then a lively discussion on whether or not the teams ought to attend the planned FIA meeting about the rules in 2008 on April 15 and the advantages and disadvantages of such a move. The conversation turned to FIA President Max Mosley and there were some vehement views expressed. This was bad news. On the face of it, The Mole concluded, there was a possible deal to be done with Bernie Ecclestone but the nine teams and five manufacturers were obviously not very keen on the FIA president, even if the FIA membership still believes him to be Mr Wonderful.

"Now that is going to be a problem," The Mole mumbled to a magnolia. "Where will it all end?"

"Pardon?" said a passing hotel guest.

"Oh nothing," said The Mole, looking up in surprise. "I was just talking to the flowers. It makes them happy and healthy, you know. Prince Charles does it and he has lovely gardens, don't he? In all them palaces."

"Um, yes, OK," said the man. "Well, I simply must be off. I'm told there is a lovely Japanese bridge thing around there somewhere."

"Away yonder," said The Mole, waving his hand in a vague sweep.

He had been trying to listen when he had been interrupted but had missed something about "an ambush".

For a while he was angry and the adrenalin flowed but then he began to find it rather difficult to stay awake. It was all rather dull. It was time to go. He could listen to the transcripts later. Even as he was dozing in the flower bed not far away in the suburbs of Reading the conversations were being transcribed at the BBC monitoring station in Caversham, which always had a few transcribers available when The Mole needed help.

He traipsed off through the spectacular sunken rose garden and headed back to Mole HQ.

"Can the FIA and Ferrari make any decisions without the other teams?" asked Penelope the following day, at the debrief.

"Who knows?" said The Mole. "There are clauses in contracts but they can be interpreted in any way people choose and so the only way to establish what they mean is to go to a proper law court, where there are grown-ups running things. It is my experience that whenever F1 people go to court they always come out looking a lot less clever than they think they are."

"Will it come to that?" asked Penelope.

"There are some mighty big egos involved in this fight," said The Mole. "But the fact is that being debunked in court is a very embarrassing business and so I would think that it will done in private."

"Unless we are there with our bugging devices," giggled Penelope.

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