THE MOLE

Zuckerschotenschaumsuppe

Up in the Olympic Tower in Munich, there is a restaurant, 181m above the ground. The Mole was there with his German agent, codename Norbert, a man who is close to the action at BMW.

At that moment, however, they were not discussing the latest political developments at BMW but rather puzzling over the meaning of the word "zuckerschotenschaumsuppe".

"You know those little round things that are green," said Norbert.

"Peas?" said The Mole.

"Ja," said Norbert.

"It's rather a long word for a pea."

"We Germans have long words for everything," he said.

"I hate to think what the German word for electro-pneumatic valve actuator would be," said The Mole.

The waiter arrived and The Mole, in the finest English tradition, pointed at the items he desired in the menu.

"I will have that pea thing," he said. "Followed by some dead pig. You have to eat dead pig in Germany."

The waiter looked bemused but said "Ja, Ja" anyway and scuttled off.

"So what are that lot down there going to do?" The Mole said, indicating vaguely in the direction of where the BMW building had been a few minutes earlier - before the revolving restaurant took it elsewhere.

Norbert snorted.

"Who knows?" he said. "BMW is sometimes a very complicated company."

"Well, what do we know?" said The Mole, toying with the floral decoration on the table.

"Dr Mario Theissen wants BMW to buy the Sauber team," said Norbert. "The long-term plan is to transform Sauber into a BMW team. The team has to stay in Switzerland because otherwise Peter Sauber will not sell. Theissen's boss Dr Burkhard Goeschel seems to support the idea und I hear that a couple of the other board members like the concept. But not all of them.

"What does the boss man Helmut Panke think?" asked The Mole.

Norbert shrugged.

"He thinks BMW should be in F1," he said.

"Well, that is a start," said The Mole. "The question is whether he follows Theissen's logic and thinks that Williams is no good because they have not won the World Championship in five years."

"Nor has anyone else," said Norbert. "Ferrari has been exceptional."

"The problem is that a deal with Sauber will drive Williams away," he went on. "That means that BMW will not win any races for two or three more years. Sauber is just not ready. The relationship between Williams und BMW is strained."

"Strained?" said The Mole. "The other day someone at the team told me that there were land mines in the gap between the Williams and BMW trucks!"

"The problem seems to be that Williams is not happy with Mario Theissen," continued Norbert. "They do not think the BMW engine is being developed sufficiently. They think the traction-control is rubbish - which it is. Things have not been going well since Gerhard Berger left in 2003."

"Well, they have been doing well recently," said The Mole.

"Ja," said Norbert, "but imagine what they could do if they were getting on better."

"A good point," said The Mole.

"Und now, the problem is that Williams is rumoured to be talking to other possible partners," Norbert went on. "If BMW buys Sauber, Williams will take off. There is no point in staying. The deal that is most likely is with Toyota.

"Why would Toyota want a second team?" said The Mole.

"They already have one," said Norbert. "Und what good is it to them? If you are going to have two teams, you might as well have a good one. Any major car manufacturer would be mad not to do a deal with Williams if the opportunity arose. BMW seems to have forgotten that."

"Besides," he added, "Toyota has a good opportunity with the Lexus brand. It's got big ambitions to go global with Lexus und knock a big hole in the Mercedes und BMW market. Und they are building very good cars. Und it is a German who is saying that."

"Yes," said The Mole. "I see the Toyota thing makes a lot of sense. It would be good for Williams too. Lexus is a US brand and Williams has a lot of US sponsors: HP, Budweiser and so on. It would be good for F1 as well. It would not surprise me if old Frank wasn't after an American driver as well in a year or two. That would be a really smart move. You remember he was sniffing around at Jeff Gordon a year or so back."

"If it was me I'd go und grab Danica Patrick right now," said Norbert.

The Mole nodded. That made sense.

"A Williams-Lexus team would really hurt BMW," Norbert said. "Not only would BMW drop back through the grid but they would be giving their best weapon to the opposition."

"So the logical thing for BMW to do would be to back-pedal like crazy," said The Mole. "Send Theissen to a big new job in Kabardino-Balkaria and try to make friends with Williams again."

"That is what you might think," said Norbert. "But it is not that simple."

"Why?" said The Mole, looking at the zuckerschotenschaumsuppe, which had just arrived.

"The problem," said Norbert, "is that BMW is going to have to supply Sauber with engines next year. If it does that, even with Theissen out of the way, Williams is still going to need to be convinced that BMW is not following the Theissen strategy on a slower time-scale. There needs to be a new feeling of trust."

"Which won't be easy," said The Mole.

"Ja," said Norbert. "The whole thing is a big mess."

There was a pause.

"How's the soup?" asked Norbert.

"Never trust a green soup," said The Mole. "They often betray you."

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