THE MOLE

Colourful characters

It is the school holidays in England and there are children everywhere. The Mole has been at The Front facing his grandchildren in recent days and being subjected to various forms of torture including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang songs and horrific remakes of classic stories.

The Mole is not old enough to remember Count Louis Zborowski's original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang racing cars after which the movie was named but he has read stories of how the Count and his pal Captain Clive Gallop squeezed a colossal 23-litre Zeppelin airship engine into a Mercedes racing chassis in the stables at Higham Place, the Zborowski country estate near Canterbury in Kent.

One can only assume that it was this huge engine which gave Ian Fleming (the man who wrote the James Bond books) the inspiration to write a story for children about a car which can fly.

The rest, as they say, is history.

One of The Mole's jobs this week has been reading Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island to the kids. It has been a good 45 years since The Mole last read this wonderful book and he is enjoying it more than are the (cowering) children, who seem to prefer the less frightening Walt Disney version of the story which The Mole was forced to take them to see at the local cinema. This boasted ships which float in space, Jim Hawkins surfing through the skies and a selection of weird creatures which make up the crew.

The Mole fell asleep.

Reading the book The Mole has been struck by the parallels which exist between F1 team bosses and the pirates and buccaneers of Treasure Island. Everyone in F1 is involved in the hunt to find treasure but as the hunt has turned into a quest for survival and the cast has been dropping like flies so the fighting has become more and more vicious.

There are still doubts about several teams for this year although of course people do not want one to say such things out loud. The agreement between the Formula 1 teams to help support those suffering from a lack of funding has fallen apart in the course of the last month and now Bernie Ecclestone has come up with a new idea and wants to introduce a television "tax" so that the teams which get the most television exposure to pay the most to the teams that are struggling at the back.

Television is a problem at the moment in F1 although The Mole hears that Bernie has been doing some very sweet TV rights deals in recent months. The problem is that the failure of pay-per-view television means that TV coverage is back to where it was in the mid-1990s with the host broadcasters doing their own thing. Bernie Ecclestone's digital TV service raised the standards of TV coverage considerably (although this was never seen by the mass market audiences) but now its identical silver trucks are no longer to be parked in absurdly-neat rows with their numberplates in the correct order (Velco was a marvellous invention). No longer will the school leavers of south east London have a guaranteed job when they leave school and so F1 will lose the colourful army of people with strange haircuts, nasty-looking piercings and uncouth accents.

In a few years no doubt the children to whom the Mole is reading Treasure Island will end up looking much the same but for now they are still at an agreeable age and the last few days have seen The Mole prevailed upon to have his first experiences with Playstation 2 and the Colin McRae rallying game.

After the first few accident-ridden runs through New Zealand, The Mole felt the need to reduce the blood pressure a bit and sat back in his armchair with a cup of tea and, when the palpitations began to subside, he found himself wondering how much money McRae must have made from the game. And then the thought-processes began to flit as The Mole relaxed. McRae's star seems now to be on the wane. Indeed the bagpipes are wailing for the Scottish influence in motor racing in general. A few years ago there were three Formula 1 teams being run by Scotsmen. There were even those who walked around the paddock proudly wearing tartan trews without embarrassment nor shame. But those tweedy days have gone: the Celtic Fringe has been trimmed back. The departure of the Clan Stewart was followed by the fall of Craig Pollock at BAR and then, most recently, that granite block that was Tom Walkinshaw fell with Arrows. Now the rest of Tom's empire has imploded and so he passes into F1 history as have so many other racing people over the years. His departure removes from the sport probably its most convincing exponent of being convincing. There was no doubting Tom when he was trying to sell you something, even if his views of the world were often at variance with the picture which was seen by others.

The history of motor racing is peppered with colourful characters such as Walkinshaw but when all is said and done and the stories are placed in their historical context there is rarely enough for even a small chapter in chronicles of Formula 1.

One forgets that the team bosses of today are not necessarily great figures in the history of the sport.

The Mole's department has been expecting a shake-out of F1's more colourful characters for some time. The development of the sport is moving away from the age of the buccaneers to a more corporate phase. The Mole hopes that Walkinshaw will now retire. Tom cannot have enjoyed the last 18 months and The Mole feels that it is time for him to spend some time having a rest and a rethink although he should perhaps avoid following in the ill-advised footsteps of Alain Prost and going off for a long holiday to the Seychelles leaving his former staff unemployed and out of cash. Walkinshaw made plenty of private money in his career as a motor racing mogul and The Mole thinks that now is the time to enjoy it with his family.

The Mole opened his eyes again and watched the kids quibbling over the Playstation controllers. Technology, he thought, is a marvellous thing and not just as a babysitter. If Bernie and the Uncouth Youth ever get back into business there would surely be a place for such technologies in the sport. Rallying's secret weapon at the moment is a thing called Virtual Spectator which uses clever software to show you where a car is in relation to a virtual representation of the fastest runner on that particular stage. It is like having a perpetual split time.

The same, thought The Mole, could be used in Formula 1 qualifying now we are entering the new world of one lap wonders.

And then he fell asleep.

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