JUNE 24, 2005
All hell had broken loose in the motor racing world. When The Mole arrived back from Indianapolis, he spent the whole morning working the phones. Miss Pringle-Featherby (of the Berkshire Pringle-Featherbys) kept up a constant flow of cups of tea and Rich Tea biscuits but The Mole remained in a deep depression.
"It is a disaster," he moaned.
"Oh, look on the bright side," said Penelope (Roedean). "If nothing else it will shake the tree and the dead wood will fall out."
"I am worried that the tree is so rotten that it will fall down," said The Mole. "How could they have been so stupid?"
"I prefer the word arrogance," said Penelope. "Total, blind arrogance."
The Mole nodded.
"I think it was a poker game that went wrong," he said. "I think Max Mosley really believed that the Michelin teams would back down at the last minute and race in the United States. He wanted them humiliated but he did not read the signs."
"How could he?" said Penelope. "He was sitting in an ivory tower in Europe, relying on telephone conversations. It was like playing poker with a blindfold. He bet the farm and he lost. And now we are moving on to the next hand and he needs to be a little more careful."
"Not very intelligent," said The Mole.
"No, Max is very smart," said Penelope. "He may be getting older but his brain is still working. The problem is arrogance. To imagine that you can do it all by telephone is astonishing."
"Well, it worked in Australia," said The Mole.
"Yes," said Penelope, "but the opposition was not as frightening. Paul Stoddart is like a terrier pulling at your trouser-leg, but taking on all the teams is battling a creature which wants to tear your heart out."
"Messy business," said The Mole.
There was a pause and then The Mole beckoned to Penelope.
"Come here," he whispered, slightly alarming his deputy. "I don't want anyone else hearing this. The rebel teams are talking about driving their trucks right past Magny-Cours next week and not stopping until they get to Paul Ricard.
"Paul Ricard!" said Penelope.
"Shh," hissed The Mole.
"Well, that means that Bernie Ecclestone is with the teams," she said. "Paul Ricard is his race track."
"His test track," corrected The Mole.
"So there would be 14 cars at Ricard?"
"Probably 16," said The Mole. "I guess Minardi would go with the rebels and switch to Michelin."
"No-one gives a damn about Jordan," said The Mole, coldly. "It would be a race for TV only. No spectators."
"And Magny-Cours?" said Penelope. "Max and Jean Todt can play I-Spy with the crowd."
"I Spy with my little eye, something beginning with E."
"Empty pitlane?" fired back Penelope.
They both smiled.
"That makes sense," Penelope said. "The major TV stations will go with The Bernard."
The Mole nodded.
"Soyou think this is the big showdown," she said.
"I think so," said The Mole. "It's just like the FISA-FOCA War of 1980-1981. Sixteen cars is not bad at all for a rebel race. And Ferrari has no sensible allies. What are they going to do? Buy some GP2 cars from Flavio, paint them red and let Michael Schumacher beat Heikki Kovalainen?"
"Well, actually Kovalainen beat him at the Race of Champions last winter," said Penelope.
"You know, this can only last a week or two," The Mole said. "This will get them all back to the negotiating table."
"Do you really think that Max and Bernie will turn on one another?"
"It looks that way, doesn't it?"
"Wow," said Penelope, "that is pretty nuclear as explosions go."
"Well," said The Mole, "Things are moving all the time and Bernie will always jump to what he believes is the winning side. If he jumps into bed with the manufacturers now, he will get a better deal in the long-term, won't he?"
"Maybe," said Penelope. "But America is screwed for F1."
"No," said The Mole. "I think not. If you think about it, everyone is annoyed but if Tony George gives them free tickets next year and F1 serves them up Danica Patrick in a Williams and Scott Speed in a Renault, they are going to come back and watch. They just will."
"Even after Bernie called her a domestic appliance?" said Penelope.
"It was a joke," said The Mole. "A poor joke perhaps but Bernie was just making waves, trying to get F1 in the newspapers. He does it all the time. In Montreal Jacques Villeneuve was hopeless, wasn't he? It is an easy way to get people talking about the sport."
"I hear Danica is pretty feisty. If someone called me a domestic appliance, I'd slap him."
"She's a fireball," said The Mole. "But race ace slaps F1 boss is a great story, isn't it? Bernie doesn't mind a bit of slapstick, as long as the money keeps coming in."
"For that sort for money, you can slap me around," said Penelope.
The Mole raised an eyebrow.
"I must go and look in my piggy-bank," he muttered with a smile.
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