THE MOLE

Tired and emotional

The Mole was delighted to get to the British Airways Lounge in Pudong International Airport in Shanghai. He was tired after what had been a very long Formula 1 season but at least he was in one piece, even if a gin and tonic was needed to soothe his nerves. It had been a stressful weekend in Shanghai. He was weary of being propositioned by Rolex salesmen and teenage hookers. He did not want to buy a pair of binoculars (something which every Chinese person at the Shanghai Circuit seemed to be selling) but that was not the real problem.

Shanghai is most frightening because foreigners are not allowed to drive and so one is never the master of one's own destiny. One's life is in the hands of taxi drivers who speak not a word of "Chinglish" and do not really understand where one wants to go. The Mole reckoned that he would rather be flitting through the back streets dealing with the boys from the Guonbu (the Ministry of State Security) than trying to avoid lunatics on bicycles and the truck drivers who are not very good at judging distances.

He twirled a piece of lemon around his drink and concluded that what China needs more than an F1 track is a road safety campaign before they all have cars and the death rate spirals out of control. The Mole pondered what Max Mosley, the champion of road safety, would make of it all and concluded that it was odd that Mosley should be wasting time at the Shanghai International Circuit, rather than trying to save millions of Chinese from themselves. Surely, he thought, the FIA President would be better served to be directing traffic downtown.

The Mole laughed out loud, startling a large American businessman who was sitting near by.

The Mole tried to apologise but was giggling rather a lot at the same time as he thought of the FIA President ending up as the bonnet ornament on a large Chinese truck.

The American had obviously concluded that The Mole was a gibbering fool and turned away to read an article about hybrid sports. The Mole noted that the story seemed to be about Chess Boxing, a sport in which competitors alternate rounds of boxing and with chess sessions. He started giggling again.

Almost as dumb as playing tennis on a motorbike, he thought.

Finally he managed to calm himself and began to think of the months ahead, in the office, surrounded only by the Penelopes and Miss Pringle-Featherby (of the Berkshire Pringle-Featherbys). Suddenly he longed for a few quiet evenings with Mrs Mole and the occasional drink with The Colonel. He even imagined that he might be ready for a few of the Reverend O's sermons.

The one thing he did not want to do was to spend too much time on F1. The sport was whirring along as it does, with intrigue bubbling just below the surface, but The Mole could see no easy solutions to the problems. Max Mosley would be re-elected once again by the FIA blazers, who would return to their countries believing they had done the right thing but not really caring one way or the other. And then, for a few short weeks, F1 would go quiet before the sport would start winding up again in preparation for 2006.

There would be changes. Shanghai had been quite a weekend of farewells with the departures of Peter Sauber, Paul Stoddart and Michelin's Pierre Dupasquier and the final burial of the much-abused Jordan name.

All things considered, he concluded, the most significant event was probably the departure of Dupasquier. It was he, after all, who had dreamed up the idea of a Michelin competition department back in 1973. And it was he who had led the famous Entite Tactique Competition virtually ever since. The Mole smiled at the thought of 68-year-old Pierre out on his rollerskates, checking out the Grand Prix circuits and smiled. Pierre was one of the good guys.

And he knew how to pick good men as well. His engineers at the Cataroux factory were wizards at mixing up rubber of a million different kinds with sulphur, polyester, zinc, oil and the rest of it to. There were always fears that Dupasquier's Army would break up when he departed, and Pascal Vasselon, his deputy, was obviously not happy when the competition department was restructured a year ago in preparation for the post-Dupasquier era. Vasselon took off to Toyota. Twelve months on and Gerald Brussoz, another mainstay of the Michelin team and the man who was in charge of tyre development, has departed to join Ferrari, where he will work with Bridgestone engineers to try to make the team more competitive. Without Vasselon and Brussoz Michelin will be weaker but what is more significant, at least as far as The Mole is concerned, is that Toyota and Williams have decided to leave the Michelin fold and join Bridgestone.

Vasselon, a man with an intimate knowledge of the Michelin F1 department, was already established at Toyota when the decision was made to switch to Bridgestone. And that would seem to indicate that he has little faith in the company he used to work for.

The Mole took another long swig of his G&T and looked up at the heavens and wondered whether Toyota and Williams have been really smart by changing tyres for 2006.

Click here to read previous Mole columns: The Mole Archive

Print Feature