THE MOLE

Greater love hath no man

Miss Pringle-Featherby (of the Berkshire Pringle-Featherbys) came rushing into the office. Normally she was very discreet and pretty but the file she had pressed close to her chest was clearly an important despatch from aboard and she was breathless, rather pink around the cheek and slightly wild-eyed. For the first time The Mole thought her sexy. It was a bit of a shock.

"Norbert," she whispered to The Mole, not noticing his blush.

The Mole nodded in his confusion and disappeared hurriedly into his office, glad that the Penelopes were all out and about, fighting with shiny white teeth and manicured nails for the British motorsport industry.

Norbert, The Mole's man in Germany, had sent a message by burst transmitter, bouncing it off a satellite, to one of the service's secret receiving stations in Buckinghamshire.

The despatch was all about Mike Gascoyne's departure from Panasonic Toyota Racing in Cologne and explained that Mike had walked into a bullet by disagreeing with no less a figure as Yoshiaki Kinoshita.

"A heavy hitter," said The Mole to himself, feeling a little calmer now.

Kinoshita is the main man in Toyota Motorsport. In terms of the pecking order, Norbert explained, he is the top man in Toyota's motorsport activities around the globe. He has been round the block a few times with Toyota's activities in the World Rally Championship, the Le Mans project and he then spent five years with the American cousins overseeing the Toyota CART programme. In 2004 they made him the boss of the whole motorsport division and last year he added an executive vice president role at Panasonic Toyota Racing. Kinoshita-san reports directly to main board member Kazuo Okamoto, the man who takes ultimate responsibility for all Toyota's research & development activities.

Disagreeing with Kinoshita would be a bad idea for anyone in the employ of Toyota but, then again, Mike Gascoyne was not just anyone. He has always been a terrier, a man convinced that he is right and others are wrong. A success-seeking missile of a man. Backing down was just not an option if Mike believed something to be true and to be important. He could have backed down, Norbert surmised, but he felt that to do so would have compromised the team and thus reflected badly on him in the longer term. It was better to charge on at the cannons and go out in a blaze of glory and a shower of compensation.

There are not many F1 engineers who would do what Gascoyne did, and that is why he is star. He would rather depart than get involved in something he did not believe in. It was his way or the highway.

And apparently Mr Kinoshita felt the same way.

The Mole read on, hoping that Norbert would get down to the crux of the matter: what was the disagreement about? Could it be that Gascoyne was fed up with the current drivers and wanted someone better in 2007?

The Mole shook his head. Why fall on your sword over Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli?

It was probably not the cars because after the poor start in Bahrain, the Toyotas have been pretty good after the team worked out how to get the tyres and the chassis to work together. The irony of this is that Gascoyne's deputy Pascal Vasselon, the General Manager of Car Design and Development at Pansonic Toyota Racing, is a tyre man. He was hired from Michelin to give Toyota a much better understanding of why one tyre works and another does not. In Bahrain he was scratching his head.

Was the dispute about him?

Norbert did not know but said that everyone is now watching to see whether the team goes forward without Gascoyne or falls back. Love him or loathe him, Gascoyne was the driving force and with him gone, Vasselon moves into the top slot. A funny place to put a tyre man.

What else could it be? The Mole asked himself. "Perhaps a deal with Williams. Kinoshita had been talking to Frank Williams for several months about an engine deal. Could it be that Kinoshita wanted to cover his bases with a deal for Williams and Gascoyne wanted all of Toyota's resources behind the team in Cologne?

Or could it be that Gascoyne was simply missing his family back home and decided to throw himself on the bonfire by challenging the boss, a move all but guaranteed to see him on his way home to Mrs G.

The Mole sighed.

"I've always said that Cologne was a bad idea," he grumbled to himself. "You cannot get good people unless you pay them too much money and then when you have them it is hard to keep them. After a while the money is not the most important thing and they want to go home to England.

The more he thought about it, the more The Mole felt that the result was a good thing for British motorsport. Gascoyne would return to Britain and, more than likely, get a job with one of the other F1 teams. That would strengthen the industry in the UK. This was, after all, The Mole's job and usually he had to employ Black Ops to achieve it.

Dear Old Mike had done the job for him.

But better still, The Mole pondered, not only will this strengthen the British industry in the long term, it may also be a double whammy because it could damage Toyota's performance as well and make the Japanese realise that building F1 teams in Cologne was never going to be a good idea.

The Mole made a note to organise a recommendation for as medal of some sort for Mr Gascoyne, for furthering British interests in the motorsport world.

April 10 2006

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