THE MOLE

Why the Dutch want to buy out the Russians

Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College) is classically beautiful. She has lovely bone structure and a pair of startling grey eyes. She is like a statue of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war. She is perfectly formed and exquisitely toned. She is constantly being approached by photographers and artists offering her money to model for them and, dressed in a ball gown, she was the ideal woman.

"One day she will go off with an Adonis and they will make genetically-perfect children," said Penelope (Roedean) one day. "She's perfect wife material but she'll never make a mistress. There is not one ounce of naughtiness in her soul."

The truth was that Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College) had no sex appeal at all but that did not stop Penelope (Roedean) from being jealous.

She had joined The Mole from GCHQ, where she had worked on encryption algorithms before deciding that she did not like life surrounded by pale codebreakers. This was not surprising given that she had a black belt long before she left the Oxford University Karate Club, could run a mile in four and a half minutes and was a member of the Schweizer Alpen-Club and had climbed some rather frightening peaks in the Alps in her youth.

She often wore a wide hair-band on which she would rest her sunglasses which made her look a little like a snow bunny but she cared not a jot for the opinions of others. Black was always in fashion and she had a habit of wearing black polo-neck sweaters that meant that she was sometimes mistaken for an F1 magazine editor. She lived off a diet of porridge for breakfast and sushi at all other times but occasionally overdosed on chocolate which she referred to as "a chemical necessity".

That morning The Mole was planning an operation in Holland and was planning to use Penelope for a break-in.

"Utterly deniable, of course," he said.

"We need to know about this big offer from the Dutch for the Midland team," said The Mole. "It seems very odd that anyone would offer $128m for something cost $50m only 18 months ago. It is true that Alex Shnaider and Eduard Shifrin have put some money in to the team but that is small potatoes and no savvy investor is going to say no to a deal like that."

"Unless passion gets in the way," said Penelope.

"True," said The Mole. "Passion is an odd thing."

"What do we know about the Dutch?" said Penelope.

"Well it seems that they are the same group that tried to buy Minardi last summer before Red Bull arrived on the scene," said The Mole. "They seem to be mainly finance men. Michiel Mol is really a money man but is always linked to the Internet company Lost Boys. The company recently made a big chunk of cash by selling off a game development business to Sony for a decent chunk of cash. There is a guy called Peter Jan Rubingh who is big in asset management and then a couple of others called Roel Kooijman and Joep van den Nieuwenhuizen. What we do know is that Kooijman is a big wheel and is the father of Christijan Albers's girlfriend Liselore. And we are pretty sure that the ABN AMRO bank is involved as well. It's a big old bank and has about $800bn in assets and is probably looking at F1 in much the same way as the Royal Bank of Scotland, Credit Suisse and HSBC have done. It is a big bank but no-one really knows much about them. It has also been heavily involved in the Volvo Ocean Race for the last couple of years. The team is going to win the race soon and then it needs somewhere else to invest its money and F1 looks like a decent idea. When they went into sailing they set up a big team and ran two boats, so obviously they like to be in control. That programme cost about $30m over three years so they have money to spend."

Penelope nodded, carefully taking notes.

"You have to remember that Holland is mad about F1," The Mole went on. "Jos Verstappen may not have achieved a great deal but he is a big name and now there are a whole bunch of Verstappen clones on the way up but Albers seems to be in the right place at the right time.

"Teams are more valuable now we have a commercial deal but Midland is going to have to go some to stay in the top 10 in the years ahead. If you finish 11th or 12th in the Constructors' Championship in the future you are not going to get any of the money from the commercial rights so independent teams are screwed. The way things are set up, it makes sense for the big players to have two teams. There are only 12 franchises out there are so it is now a rush to buy up the ones that are not run by manufacturers. There are six manufacturers in F1 at the moment and Red Bull is going to get one in the end - and that means that not everyone can have two teams. Williams has seen that coming and done a deal with Toyota. Prodrive is sniffing around at Renault. Scuderia Toro Rosso will get Red Bull Racing chassis and Super Aguri F1 will get stuff from Honda. McLaren is aiming to do the same with Direxiv.

"The thing to do now is to get a franchise and then do a deal to buy chassis and engines from Renault, BMW or Mercedes. If you have that you have the chance of making a lot of money out of a team."

"So much for cost-cutting to protect the small teams," said Penelope.

"Quite," said The Mole.

June 5 2006

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