To Infiniti and beyond

"You see there," The Mole said, standing behind Isabelle, his beautiful spy from Renault, as he pointed towards the Promenade des Anglais, down below them in Nice. "That piece of road used to be just scrubland alongside the beach. There were some paths but they were uneven and pot-holed and the whole place was infested with beggars."

"The French never liked to work much," said Isabelle, with a flash of her dark eyes.

The Mole caught a hint of her Arpege, the only perfume for grown-up girls, and went on explaining.

"In about 1820 the chaplain of the British Ambassador in Paris came to Nice and decided it would be much better if there was a proper path on which the English could stroll. So he hired the beggars and they built a flat pathway, extending all the way along the bay.

"The English are mad," Isabelle shrugged.

"Fortunately," said The Mole.

Isabelle turned and looked at the Villa Mole.

"How come you are owning this expensive place?" she asked. "Are you corrupt?"

"No, of course not," said The Mole. "My father was a clever chap and acquired it from an old lady in the 1950s at a price that would have not been out of place in the 1930s. It is really rather a splendid place for a humble civil servant, isn't it? And prices have been very silly since Sir Elton John moved into the neighbourhood."

"What is it worth?" said Isabelle.

"Oh, who knows?" said The Mole. "Six or seven million I suppose."

"Such a shame you are still married," said Isabelle, fluttering her eyelids.

She went back into the sitting room and sat down to read the Yomiuri Shimbun. The Mole provided her with a glass of very crisp white wine and bustled off to the kitchen to prepare the sashimi. Penelope (Roedean) had explained that this would be the perfect thing for such an evening as French women never eat anything substantial and sashimi requires no skill other than finding a Japanese restaurant.

When he emerged from the kitchen The Mole found Isabelle looking wistfully out to sea.

"Look at this," she said, waving the newspaper in the air. "It is just like the old days."

And with that she began to read.

"A Japanese consular official killed himself after being pressured by a Chinese public safety division agent to divulge classified diplomatic information. The Chinese agent apparently exploited a clandestine relationship the diplomat allegedly had with a Chinese woman."

"Ah yes," said The Mole. "Proper espionage. Just like the old days."

Isabelle had now spotted the impressive tray of sashimi

"Ooh-la" she said, as Frenchwomen do. "Now you are a Japanese cook too?"

"I did all the necessary cooking," said The Mole.

The two of them had always got on, ever since the day they had first met at a Renault function. She was not like the rest of them and it soon became clear that before working for Renault she had led a much more exciting life. The Mole had always suspected that she had had something to do with Operation Satanic, the operation to blow up of the Rainbow Warrier. He did once ask her but she simply smiled and said that he was a very rude man to suggest that she was old enough to have been involved.

The Mole filled her glass regularly and simply let her talk.

"Ze official line," she said, "is that Renault wants an F1 team that is cost-effective and competitive. We are supposed to say that there are no financial troubles because the balance sheet for "Renault-Nissan" looks wonderful. This is true but try looking just at just Renault! Nissan is doing big things. Renault is still selling dull sheetboxes. And, of course, zat means zat ze budget is not going to be like it was because Monsieur Ghosn. You know, he is, how do you say, 'ard on ze budgets. We have to make economies. You know the story. No extra paperclips."

"Yes," said The Mole. "I know that very well."

"So I don't think Renault is going to pay for Michael Schumacher. I don't think that Giancarlo Fisichella is a number one driver. He is not in the league of Alonso in a race. Jamais, huh? Of course, the deal with Heikki Kovalainen has been done since December. And, for sure, he will be quick but maybe he does not have the experience to be a winner straight away."

"So?" said The Mole, toying with some tuna.

"Well, who is there?" she said. "Ze Mark Webber? Maybe. He is young. He is pretty. He seems like a good boy. But really what else is there in the market? You know there are some people in Paris who think that we should hire Sebastien Bourdais. He is French and he is getting very bored winning all the races in America. We should have taken him four years ago, or whenever it was, when we took this baba cool Franck Montagny."

"This what?" said The Mole.

"What is the word you English have? 'ippy?"

"Ah, you mean hippy," said The Mole.

"Anyway," she went on. "They say that was because Bourdais and Briatore could not agree on a deal but I am sure there is more to it than that. You have to be pretty dumb to take the second best Frenchman when the best is still available, n'est-ce-pas?"

The Mole nodded.

"But Bourdais has no F1 experience," said The Mole, "and starting next year with two novices is not a good idea."

"C'est vrai," said Isabelle. "It's true. But you know Bourdais is good for America and I guess that sooner or maybe later we are going to need him to sell cars over there. I think they will change the team from Renault to Infiniti in 2007 or 2008. Nissan is making very much money and expanding the brand of Infiniti across the world. They are nice cars, huh? They make a lot of money."

The Mole noticed that Isabelle was slightly pink in the cheek and looked at the wine bottle in his hand.

It was really rather empty.

"Have another drink, my dear," he said and filled her glass again. "And tell me, do you think that Ghosn will keep Flavio on for another year or two?"

May 22 2006

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