Dancing on a volcano

The Motor Racing and Trade Development Department of the Secret Intelligence Service exists to protect the interests of the British motorsport industry, but The Mole decided that neither he nor the Penelopes could do much at Oulton Park on Bank Holiday Monday and so he disappeared off for a weekend at the Villa Mole, overlooking the Bay of Angels on the Cote d'Azur and the girls went off to spend Easter with their Mummies and Daddies in the Home Counties or, in the case of Penelope (Roedean), to have a splendidly-wicked weekend at a grandiose country house in Stoke Poges with a young officer in the Coldstream Guards.

There are now three F1 races in four weekends and as The Mole had asked her to go and see the Big Old Boys of NASCAR in the week between the Grands Prix, Penelope sent her soldier back to barracks in Windsor on Monday and was in the office early on Tuesday morning to do a little Internet shopping. Past experience had shown that shopping for sexy little numbers in Mooresville, North Carolina, is not an easy thing to do. Clothing in the capital city of NASCAR is aimed more at the pick-up truck set than the international jet-set.

"Oh, this is hopeless," she muttered to herself, as she dredged through the Mooresville community websites. "What in the world is 'Adult Open Co-Rec Volleyball'? There are times when I think we speak a completely different language to our American cousins."

A few moments later the other Penelopes were slightly alarmed to hear a burst of hysterical laughter and a thud as Penelope (Roedean) fell to the floor. By the time Miss Pringle-Featherby (of the Berkshire Pringle-Featherbys) reached her, Penelope was incoherent. She had tears streaming down her cheeks.

"What was she reading?" asked Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College), as she sharpened an errant fingernail.

Miss Pringle-Featherby turned to the computer, read the web address and blushed.

"It's about dancing," she said.

Penelope (Roedean) howled once again.

Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College sauntered over and read the web page.

"," she said. "Shagging In The Cornelius And Lake Norman Area."

"In Mooresville, that is a kind of dancing," said Miss Pringle-Featherby.

"I guess it depends how you do it," said a strangled voice from the floor.

When The Mole arrived a few minutes later, the office was buzzing as the girls discussed the merits of square dancing, what they do at a Girl's Softball Clinic and wondering what happens at an event called "Summer Talons".

"What's going on here?" said The Mole, rather surprised by all the activity.

"We were discussing the Silverstone situation," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey), rather too gleefully.

"Good," said The Mole. "Very important business. What d'you think about it all?"

"Well, um," said Penelope, who was not at all prepared for the subject. "You see. Well. I think."

The Mole stared from one girl to the next. Smiled a confused smile and walked off towards his office.

Despite her state of disrepair (which The Mole had taken to be a fashion statement), Penelope (Roedean) came to the rescue.

"The thing we don't understand," she said, "is that this Harry Stiller fellow wants the British Racing Drivers' Club to go into partnership with the Formula One group and thinks that it all makes perfect sense."

The Mole nodded.

"Go on," he said.

"Well, we do not understand the economics," she said. "Current F1 race deals are structured so that FOM gets almost all of the money generated by an event. The promoter gets only the money from ticket sales. One must suppose that Stiller's idea of a partnership with Formula One Management would mean that FOM would pay the BRDC to use Silverstone. What is hard to understand is how the club thinks that it will make enough money to be able to share the costs of a vast rebuilding programme. Stiller is talking about new pits and grandstands, an oval track and a technology park. That's terrific but how is the BRDC going to pay its share of the construction costs?

"The FOM people could, I suppose, make allowances and not insist on as much work as they have been demanding in recent years," Penelope went on. "But that would create discord with all the other circuits that are being forced to invest heavily in infrastructure in order to keep their races on the F1 calendar."

"And your conclusion?" asked The Mole.

"Well," said Penelope. "The BRDC might easily find itself in a situation in which it would be committed to paying for projects it could not afford. And that would leave the club with few options but to sell."

The Mole rubbed his chin.

"Very astute," he said. "But why would the Formula One group want to own a racing circuit?"

"I was thinking about that one," Penelope said, quick as a flash. "It would maximise the profits from the races."

"True," fired back The Mole. "But then FOM would have to pay for the upkeep of the circuits and make the necessary investment in upgrade work."

"Oh, come on," said Penelope. "I am sure that the local governments could be cajoled into spending their money as they would be benefiting from the events, without having the responsibility of owning and running the circuits."

"Perhaps," said The Mole. "But consider this: owning or at least leasing all the circuits could lead to the creation of a much more traditional financial structure in relation to the sale of TV rights in F1. Legally-speaking, the venues have the ultimate control of the sale of TV rights. This leaves open the possibility that venues might one day get together and put pressure on FOM for a better deal. Changing the structure would make the money men a lot more comfortable."

Penelope nodded.

"And," The Mole added. "Most of these racing circuits are very poorly exploited when it comes to their real potential. They have a lot of land just sitting there doing nothing. St Modwen is not the only company that can develop property, is it? What is to stop the Formula One group doing the same thing and expanding the business in that way?"

"Gosh," said Penelope.

"I think Harry Stiller is dancing on a volcano," said The Mole.

He never did work out why all the girls started laughing hysterically at that point.

April 18 2006

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