A solution to F1's problems
MARCH 29, 2005
The Motor Racing and Trade Development Department had briefly gone on to a war footing when news of the out-of-court settlement between Bernie Ecclestone and the Formula 1 banks arrived. The Mole called an immediate Crisis Meeting (with capital letters) in order to assess the impact of the compromise and one of the Penelopes even turned up wearing a tin helmet. That night the lights burned late at Vauxhall Cross. The following day all was quiet until the afternoon when the FIA put out a press statement about the state of Formula 1.
"They used to drop stuff like this out of aircraft over London!" The Mole grumbled. "All is beautiful in the F1 garden. Have they forgotten the blood bath in Melbourne? This is pure propaganda."
Penelope (Roedean) shrugged in a decorous fashion.
"That is not really a surprise, is it?" she said. "It is a basic political skill, I would say. One ignores all the realities and spoon-feeds the press with photographs of The Great Leader opening hospitals and collective farms, holding koalas and kissing babies. The FIA man in Zimpopo will read this and be happy that all is going so well. He will be so happy that in a few months he will fly to Paris to vote at the elections, and then he'll do a little shopping on the Rue St Honore and fly back to Zimpopo happy to have done his duty in the automobile world."
"It is really the same story with the Ecclestone settlement," said The Mole. "What happened? Nothing apparently. There was not even a hint of a "strategic withdrawal" in the newspapers, let alone reports of a defeat for Mr E. The newspapers are all more interested in the fact that someone stole the wheels off his Mercedes-Benz at the weekend."
"I always said Chelsea was a dodgy neighbourhood," said Penelope.
"The Germans ran the story," said Miss Pringle-Featherby, trying to be helpful.
"Yes, maybe they did," said The Mole, "but, frankly, who reads the Fritzgmunder Allgemeiner?"
It was a fair point.
"So what has changed?" Miss Pringle-Featherby added innocently.
The Crisis Meeting had reached the conclusion that nothing had changed. Bernie Ecclestone would go on running the sport and the banks would let him. They need him because the company only has a guaranteed income for two more years. Nine of the teams are up in arms and only Ferrari says it supports Mr E and the support of Ferrari is, by all accounts, a fragile thing.
"As far as we can tell," said The Mole, "if you went along to the banks and offered them a billion dollars for their shares they would still accept the deal."
"I don't have a billion dollars," said Miss Pringle-Featherby. "And I don't think Daddy does either."
"Why not borrow it?" said The Mole. "You buy a house, you borrow money. Bernie is getting around $700m a year from the sport. The most recent accounts say that the company made a profit of $126.5m so I guess most of the money is being used to pay off the Eurobond."
"What the sport really needs is someone to buy the rights who does not want to make a quick profit," said Miss Pringle-Featherby.
"Why would they do that?" said The Mole. "Besides the FIA can veto any change of control."
"Yes, perhaps," said Penelope, "but what if it was the FIA that bought the shares. The federation should really control the commercial rights to the sport, don't you think? Like the International Olympic Committee and all those other sports federations. All the clubs could benefit from all that lovely cash. The man from Zimpopo could built a kart track and dream that one day there might be a Zimpopan World Champion. And borrowing the money should not be that hard. A big international organisation, recognized by the United Nations and the European Union, and producing such profits should be able to get a loan like that. It could promise the clubs an annual income to be used to promote the sport in each country, it could give the teams a much better deal in F1 and still have enough cash to pay off a $1bn bond if the term of the bond was sensible."
"Mosley would never do that," said The Mole.
"Perhaps not," said Penelope, "But if you were an ambitious young FIA politician it would be a very good way to win a vote from the man from Zimpopo, wouldn't it?"
"An ambitious young FIA politician?" mused The Mole.
There was a pause.
"Good Lord," said Penelope. "There is a dinosaur wandering through Pimlico! Look, down there by the Morpeth Arms. Oh no, it's just eaten the postman."
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