THE MOLE

Annabel's big adventure

Annabel, the new girl, was desperately keen. So keen, in fact, that she annoyed everyone else in the Motor Racing and Trade Development Department of the Secret Intelligence Service by volunteering for absolutely anything.

"She'd go to anything," said Penelope (Roedean). "Even the opening of an envelope."

"Ah yes," said The Mole, seeking to stir up a little rivalry, "but would she sleep with the boss to gain promotion?"

"I did," said Penelope (Roedean), "but I slept with your boss!"

"You too?" said The Mole, with a sweet smile.

They accepted that they had out-sniped one another to a stalemate position and went back to Annabel.

"Do you think I should give her a try?" said The Mole. "You know, give her a decent mission."

"It might calm her down," said Penelope. "She tires me out."

The Mole smiled. He would give her a try.

She was, he admitted, a funny fish. Her father was an in-bred landowner, a man who had inherited a decent estate in Northamptonshire and had never really had to worry about anything. A quintessential English country gentleman, he had grown up in big draughty country houses with Agas in the kitchens and that peculiar iron sheep fences that one sees only on English country estates.

He had read one day in the 1960s (probably in National Geographic) that Italy was a country of style and history and had determined, there and then, that his children would be educated there. When Annabel was 13 she was sent off for a year in Italy. Alas, she ended up in Bolzano, a region which had been Austrian for several generations and where everyone spoke German and so when she came back home she spoke only German and her father had to invest in a tutor to teach her Italian. It was a good investment, so impressed was he by the lady who turned up that he divorced his wife. She moved to Paris and little Annabel, who liked horses rather a lot, was shipped off to boarding school, spending her holidays wherever her parents were at any given time. She spoke four languages fluently and had a pretty good grasp of Spanish as well, having enjoyed the attentions of a man called Manuel during her year off between school and university, which was spent in southern Spain, working with Lusitano horses.

Riding horses kept her fit and when the MI6 recruiters stumbled upon her at Cambridge, she seemed like the perfect girl for the job. She was packed off to the MI6 training school, not a million miles away from Silverstone, and arrived in The Mole's department a little wet behind the ears but extraordinarily keen to do well. She was a classy girl, her only misfortune being not to have been christened Penelope. Her time in Italy had left her with the rather odd habit of nibbling on grissini bread sticks, which accentuated her two slightly-prominent front teeth and made her look a little like a hamster.

But her languages were very useful to SIS, particularly now that Spain is getting so excited about Formula 1. The Mole decided to set her off to discover more about the plans for a street race in Valencia. She had come back with afull report and news of a different kind: Juan Pablo Montoya, she insisted, has been informed by McLaren that his services would not be required after the end of 2006.

The Mole was immediately interested.

The news raised two immediate questions: What was Montoya going to do? And what was Ron Dennis planning?

Annabel was despatched to Silverstone to find out if the Austrians at Red Bull Racing were interested in hiring the Colombian. She reported back that there was no interest at all and little from the British engineers but that it was possible that Montoya could join the team if David Coulthard did not stay on.

The Mole concluded that Coulthard will get the drive next year as he is doing a decent solid job. The other drive is going to go to Tonio Liuzzi who even the Austrians have now realised is the best bet for the future.

"Well done Annabel," said The Mole, impressed at her efficiency.

On Sunday at Silverstone she came back with a follow-up report, explaining that BMW was not really interested in Montoya and that Toyota might have an opening but would almost certainly continue to use Jarno Trulli.

"I think that Juan Pablo is going to end up going back to the United States," she said.

The Mole decided to spend two days at Silverstone and so was able to see both of Lewis Hamilton's performances in GP2. He concluded that Ron Dennis has no sensible choice other than signing Hamilton to partner Fernando Alonso at McLaren in 2007.

"I've been watching races like this for about 20 years," The Mole said, "and I've never seen such an accomplished drive from such a young driver. Never!"

The Mole was sure that Dennis would have spotted the drive as well and saw Dennis quietly watching the post-race celebrations of the GP2 race, looking rather smug but keeping out of the limelight.

"I am pretty sure that they will keep him focussed on GP2 until September and then they will start him testing F1 cars and see how he does. He does not have much F1 experience but then nor did Nico Rosberg until he had won the GP2 title. After that Williams gave him thousands of miles of testing in the winter and he has done pretty well this year. The thing we all know is that Nico is not as good as Lewis. They have been competing since they were kids and Lewis has always been the best of the bunch."

"Yes," said Annabel, "amd as I recall Robert Kubica was pretty good too when they were all karting."

"Indeed," said The Mole, impressed that Annabel would know such things.

June 12 2006

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