Perception management

The Mole's Chief Technical Officer is officially known as MRTDD-C2, although in the office everyone calls him Nigel. He does dull things such as analysing statistics but occasionally enjoys the cutting edge of spookdom and is allowed to bug a meeting or break into the offices of important people to see if there is anything interesting left lying around.

On the Monday morning after Bahrain, Nigel burst into the Motor Racing and Trade Development Department.

"Sir," he said to The Mole. "I think we have some perception management going on."

The Mole looked up from a most exciting report from the rather lively meeting between the GPMA and FOM on Saturday evening in Bahrain and mumbled "What?"

"Perception management, you see," said Nigel, slightly pink with enthusiasm. "In Formula 1 these days reality is irrelevant. What really matters is the perception of reality."

The Mole shook his head slowly.

"Have you gone completely mad?" he said.

"No, no. Let me explain," said Nigel. "Nowadays it is not the result that counts. It is what people think you did. Look at Nico Rosberg. He looked very good in Bahrain, didn't he? But when you analyse it carefully you see that Mark Webber qualified better, ran with a big fuel load and finished well ahead of Nico. All that you see in the papers is that Webber did a steady job and Rosberg was the star. Well, you see, it's easy to look like star when you are going through the dross at the back with an offset strategy and a lighter fuel at important moments."

"Yes, I take your point," said The Mole. "But he did do a splendid job, didn't he?"

"Not when it comes to World Championship points," said Nigel, ever the scientist. "It is indisputable that Webber did a better job but Rosberg is getting all the hype. Perception is reality."

"You sound like one of those marketing types," said The Mole. "You know the black polo neck sweater gang and slightly unshaven Welshmen who seem to believe that Don Johnson is still cool. Let me guess, when I am standing in a field in Wales, looking at a beautiful view they think I should be looking at the bottom of a nearby sheep."

"Well, sort of," said Nigel, rather quietly.

"Ba-a-ah!" said The Mole with a big smile. "Now what are you jabbering on about?"

Nigel laid out the timesheets he had in his hand and began to explain.

"Yes see," he said (as indeed he often does). "When you look at Scuderia Toro Rosso, the lap times just don't make sense. The team arrives in Bahrain with people grumbling about the resemblance between the old RB1 and the new STR01 and about the engine equivalency formula."

"Rubbish," said The Mole. "A rev-limited version of the 3-litre Cosworth V10 engine should be on a par with a 2.4-litre V8 but that does not mean that the cars have to be as slow as Minardis."

"That's true," Nigel replied. "But that is not the point. The point is that people are worried about the chassis. There has obviously been some aerodynamic development and the cars have been built in Faenza but there are still questions as to whether the FIA is correct to have ruled that it is acceptable."

"Well, what are you going to do? Stand outside the FIA offices in Monaco and wave placards?" said The Mole. "What are you going to do? Take Mosley to the European Court of Human Rights?"

"True," said Nigel. "But there is no point in stirring up a storm when you do not need to. On Friday the cars were too quick. Neel Jani was sixth fastest in the first session and then Tonio Liuzzi was sixth in the afternoon - at a time when a lot more fast cars were running. This created a lot of comment in the paddock, didn't it?"

The Mole nodded.

"You see," said Nigel. " The team also said that it had an advantage because it tested in Bahrain over the winter."

"Which it did," said The Mole.

"Yes, but the performance did not plateau out. The others did not catch up. Toro Rosso went backwards to the tune of two and a half seconds a lap."

"Yes, but the conditions were different," said The Mole.

"True but that was the same for everyone and the others only lost between half a second and a second and a half," said Nigel. "And then in qualifying what happens? They come screaming up again and qualify 15th and 16th. The lap times were suddenly two seconds a lap faster than in the morning session. Everyone else remained the same or just a little faster. And then in the race Scott Speed and Tonio Liuzzi set the ninth and 12th fastest lap times, which suggests to me that there is more potential in the car than the result suggests."

"And you think that the team was trying to avoid controversy?" said The Mole.

"I do." said Nigel.

"An interesting theory," said The Mole. "Now, run along. I'm busy."

Nigel looked a little crestfallen and left the room. The Mole smiled to himself.

"Perception management," he said to himself. "Yes, that is a good description. I wonder if Renault can explain why a man who is 60 and retiring is being replaced as the chairman of Renault F1 by a man who is 60 and not that far from retiring? Surely it would have been wiser to keep on the chap who knows about F1."

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