"Darlings!" said Penelope (Roedean) to the other Penelopes. "Madeleine Vionnet would have fainted. Coco Chanel would have shrieked and poor Christian Dior would have wept into his hankie. Oh dear, it was ghastly. Poor Flavio must be between girlfriends at the moment because no-one in their right mind would have allowed him to leave home wearing a blazer with contrast piping. I mean, he looked like a school prefect from the 1960s."

"Ah yes," said The Mole, who was passing by. "But you are talking about him, aren't you? And as I recall Flavio likes to be talked about."

"Yes," said Penelope, "but I'm saying he looked like a clown. As I recall Carlos Ghosn thinks that his job as Renault chairman is to sell more cars. If Renault want to use people in silly costumes to sell their road cars why don't they put Patrick Faure in a Barney the Dinosaur suit or hire Gerard Depardieu and give him a striped shirt and a string of onions. I would not buy a car from a man with contrast piping on his blazer."

"Would you buy a car from Flavio in regular clothing?" said The Mole.

"An interesting question," said Penelope. "Anyway, it is not really that interesting. Come on, everyone. It's time for a weekly status meeting."

The talk that morning was of McLaren. Engineers are leaving.

"I really don't understand what is going on at McLaren," said Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College). "The team nearly won the World Championship last year and now they are all on the move."

"I think the word 'nearly' may be quite significant," said The Mole.

"Well, you'd think that if a team nearly wins something then they would buckle down and try to do better," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey)

"Yes, that is true," said The Mole. "But you must remember that McLaren is not a normal racing team. They have this belief in something called matrix management which means that people work under a number of different managers, depending on the project they are doing. In theory this improves the flow of information inside a technology company but at the same time allows for more specialization.

"And the downside," said Penelope (Roedean), "is that employees are rather confused about who is the boss and there tend to be problems with conflicting loyalties. On top of that people who worry about their status do not like it because they cannot say: 'I am the technical director'."

"Lot of tosh," said Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College).

"Perhaps," said The Mole, "but you must remember that the team did win more Grand Prix than any other team last year."

"And still lost the World Championship," said Penelope curtly.

The question, The Mole pondered, was why are all these good people leaving the team when it is now in a vast new factory, designed to make the working environment as nice as possible. When the team pays good money and is very loyal to its employees and when it seems that success is just around the corner."

The English naturally, blame the Germans for everything but The Mole's spies say that this is not really the problem. There have been more of this sort of stuff over at the engine business, which is no longer called Ilmor but that is gone now. The Germans are in control and if it all goes horribly wrong this time they will have to take it on the collective chin in Stuttgart.

"My feeling," said Penelope (Roedean), "is that it is all just a big coincidence. Adrian Newey did not fit into the matrix management thing at all and they did not treat him with the respect that he feels he deserved and so when the contract was up he went. That has been on the cards for years. It was just fortunate that Red Bull was there to pay him a pile of money. In the case of Peter Prodromou, I think there are several points worth making. He has been at McLaren his whole career and is well paid but with matrix management you cannot climb the ladder because all the titles are very confusing and any F1 engineer worth his salt has an ego and wants to be chief designer or technical director. And let us not forget that perhaps he also liked working with Newey and perhaps liked the idea of going to a team with a fancy windtunnel in Bedford which is supposed to be the most accurate of them all. Who knows?"

"And what about Nikolas Tombazis?"

"Well, from what I gather," said The Mole, "he never fitted in at all and regretted his decision to leave Ferrari and move to England. I think he thought he was going to be the next Adrian Newey but found out that the place was full of people with similarly ambiguous titles."

The big question, they decided, was what will now happen with the drivers. Kimi Raikkonen may go if they don't sort out the latest Mercedes-Benz engine and Juan Pablo Montoya is talking openly about other teams. And both men know that Fernando Alonso is arriving in 2007.

"Yes," said Penelope (Roedean). "Poor old Fernando. Jumped ship from Renault to McLaren when it looked like the French boat was sinking and now everyone is talking about Renault staying on in F1 for the longer term."

Everyone in the room looked startled.

"Have you lost your marbles?" said The Mole.

"No," said Penelope. "I was joking. Trying to brighten up a rather dull subject."

Click here to read previous Mole columns: The Mole Archive

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