A man called Moll

It had been a long time since The Mole had snuck off and had a really good lunch but the San Marino Grand Prix weekend offered him a good opportunity to spend some taxpayers money. In Italy good food is rather cheaper than it is in London, Paris or New York. The skill, which he learned years ago from a Fleet Street professional, was not to let that price differential show up in the expense account. The bean counters do not know the price of fish in Bologna.

The Mole's asset in Maranello is known by the codename Moll. This often confuses people who think that Moll is a woman but in fact he is named after a long dead Scuderia Ferrari star of the 1930s. Moll is just the kind of man to ask where one can find such a good restaurant in Italy and when The Mole suggested a rendezvous after the San Marino Grand Prix Moll remarked that it was time that they went to Savigno. This small town is to the south of Bologna, in a quaint world of wooded hills and valleys in the foothills of the Apennines, is conveniently located between Imola and Maranello and is off the beaten track. Conveniently, it also boasts a restaurant with a Michelin star rating, which even has a small shop next door so one can pick up gifts to take home to Mrs Mole and the cook Mrs Batty, who loves balsamic vinegar almost as much as she loves gin.

Savigno is known as the Citta del Tartufo, the city of truffles, but the hills are filled with the local porcini mushrooms, cows that make Parmesan cheese and pigs that miraculously turn into tasty dried meats and sausages. The local grapes, if left lying around long enough, transform themselves into decent wine and balsamic vinegar and the pasta trees bear copious fruit in many and varied shapes and sizes.

In short, therefore, Savigno is the perfect rendezvous for a spy with refined tastes.

The Amerigo dal 1934 restaurant provides a carefully-selected range of the local delicacies and lunch there is always a delight.

The Mole decided that on his way he would have a little fun and took his Maserati up for a run in the hills behind Imola, on the old Mille Miglia route, through the Futa and Raticosa Passes, and then turned to the west and threaded his way through the country roads to Savigno.

Moll was there to meet him and they quickly settled down to a lunch which began with the unusual combination of a funny little flat bread, Parmigiano ice cream and balsamic vinegar.

"I guess they are pretty happy up in Maranello," said The Mole, examining his parmesan ice cream rather cautiously.

Moll nodded.

"Happy enough," he said. "Michael did a good job to win. Winning is always good. Particularly when you should not be winning."

The Mole nodded.

"True," he said. "That one came out of nowhere and it was still obvious that the Ferrari was no match for the Renault. The thing I don't get was how Michael managed to qualify so well. Most of the other teams were sure he was on a three-stop strategy.

"The car was quick," said Moll.

"Yes," The Mole fired back. "It was fast in a straight line."

The parmesan ice cream was soon replaced by a rather tasty dish of passatelli and it was not until they got to the rabbit in balsamic vinegar that Moll began to give some less positive indications about the mood at Ferrari. The picture was not quite as rosy as the victory at Imola suggested.

"Well, it is obvious that the car is not quick enough," he said. "We all know that and we're trying to fix it but you know there are different groups and individuals inside the team working in different directions. Everyone is looking to be in the right place in the post-Todt era, which is fast approaching. Todt is busy running the team and the Ferrari car company and doing two jobs at the same time is never a very good idea. I think the team has lost the sense of direction that once drove us forward together. It feels a bit like Ferrari used to feel back in the old days."

The Mole was surprised to hear such talk.

"What about Michael?" he said.

"Oh, he'll be leaving," said Moll nonchalently. "He's a smart guy. He can see what is happening and the way things are going."

The Mole tried not to look shocked.

"Are you sure of that?" he asked, hiding his surprise by busying himself with some complicated rabbit surgery.

"I think so," said Moll. "That is my feeling."

For a moment there was a silence as The Mole digested the information and Moll ingested some rabbit.

The conversation turned to wind tunnels for a while and it was only after they had tried the five-year old Parmigiano made in the high Apennines (which was really very good when washed down with some of the local red) and they were testing out the ice cream with balsamic vinegar that the subject returned to drivers again.

"So I guess it is going to be Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa?" said The Mole, as casually as he could.

Moll nodded.

"Well," he said. "We are still doing this thing with Valentino Rossi but really we cannot afford to enter one car for a learner when we are trying to win World Championships. He needs to be pretty close to the pace to be convincing enough to get the drive and I think that would take a small miracle."

The Mole smiled

"You know," he said, "Miracles do happen in this part of the world."

"True," said Moll. "We saw one on Saturday."

April 25 2006

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