Value for money

At this time of year Formula 1 people are spending a lot of time on aeroplanes, going backwards and forwards from Europe to the Middle East, Asia and Australia. The Mole and the Penelopes have seen all the latest movies, although, according to Penelope (Roedean) all "the good bits" have been cut out of the films to protect innocent minors.

The biggest problem for professional travellers is that normal people have no idea how to travel. They wander aimlessly in corridors, lose their tickets and forget to fill in the necessary forms. They try to board aeroplanes with the kind of hand luggage that GIs landing in Normandy took with them on D Day. And they do not think of other travellers when they push back their seats at the first available opportunity and leave them there.

The Mole long ago developed his own training course for dealing with such people which involves the use of a large newspaper which one opens and closes above their heads, leaving the overhead lights on all night and having biros which one can click in and out annoyingly for hours on end. The Mole is an expert at dropping things from the overhead lockers and, for the really annoying fellow traveller, he has developed a wonderful and unexpected jolt when they are sipping tomato juice or a Bloody Mary.

However, in recent times The Mole has developed the best revenge of all and he travels at the front of the aeroplane where one meets anyone who is anyone in F1 and one can observe them all worrying about how to cut costs in the sport as they sip their champagne.

"You might as well use the money," they argue. "Otherwise you have to hand it over to the taxman as corporation tax."

A good point.

The Mole long ago discovered that it is a great deal easier to spend government money than to spend one's own earnings on air fares, particularly when it comes to long-haul travel.

Spending other people's money is one of the great joys of a life in motor racing and the top men are experts at it. Max Mosley loves to cite cost-cutting when changing the rules and it really does not matter if that means the automobile manufacturers have to spend more money. If anything, increasing their budgets is a good way to get rid of such pesky people. And Bernie Ecclestone loves nothing better than a government that wants a Grand Prix to boost tourism and create the right image for a region because it allows him to play one country against another and take home more money. The Mole has long been worried about the pressure that exists on racing circuits with constant and Draconion price rises.

"How can they hope to fight Bernie if they will not work together," said Penelope (Roedean) as they sat in the Melba Brasserie, looking out across the Yarra at the back end of Flinders Street Station, which is not nearly as pretty as the front end.

"His game has always been to divide and conquer," said The Mole, "and they are always divided because they are in competition with one another and cannot trust one another to work together."

"Well, he cannot squeeze much more out of them," said Penelope, rather seriously.

The Mole laughed.

"Bernard Ecclestone is not a squeezer," he said. "He's a mangle. He loves nothing better than the public sector. It's so much easier to squeeze money from people when it's not their money. Public money is easily spent."

The Mole was perusing the wine list as he spoke.

"And, when you look at what Melbourne spent on the Commonwealth Games, you can see his argument," he went on. "Here in Melbourne they have just spent a huge amount of cash so that Australia could win all the gold medals. It does not seem to care that they beat Guernsey, the Isle of Man and the Turks and Caicos Islands. A gold medal is a gold medal and that's always good for national pride. There is always someone who will complain but such events makes them feel good about themselves.

"The thing is that Bernie is only getting $15m a year for the Grand Prix and that is not enough."

Penelope wrinkled her nose, as pretty girls do.

"Yes, but how can he get more?" she said.

"The next plan is to try and make each Grand Prix more of an event," said The Mole. "When a race comes to a city each and every year, the locals tend not to make much of a fuss. Bernie recently watched the fireworks at the end of the Commonwealth Games and concluded that every city should treat F1 in the same way. F1 should be more of a party."

"And how do you do that?" Penelope asked.

"Well," said The Mole. "You find 60 venues around the world that want a big event. It's actually not that hard to do. Then you ask them each for $50m for a big event once every three years. They do their number-crunching and realise that compared to other big events that is a pretty cheap deal and they sign up. Do the sums. Sixty venues multiplied by $50m. That is $3bn over three years."

"Yes," said Penelope.

"Compare that to 18 countries paying $15m a year, multiplied by three."

Penelope was doing the numbers in her head.

"That's $270m a year multiplied by three. Equals."

She never did finish the sentence.

The Mole smiled.

"Yes, it is more than three times the money over the same period," he said. "Impressive."

"Do you think they will pay that for one race every three years," she asked, rather breathlessly.

The Mole shrugged.

"If there are enough cities bidding against one another, they will pay whatever is necessary," he said.

"But there are paying three times as much for the same thing," said Penelope.

"Mm-hm," said The Mole. "But that won't stop him trying. Something is worth what someone will pay."

March 29 2006

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