The Mole's trip to Magny-Cours had been a splendid one. Driving the Alvis on sunny open roads and the tree-lined route nationales of France had been a most pleasant experience and with Penelope (Wycombe Abbey) along for the ride, The Mole enjoyed turning heads in every village.

They did not rush, passing through the Champagne region on the way down to Nevers, stopping off to look at the old Reims circuit and to pick up a few bottles of this and that. And they returned by way of Sancerre, Orleans and Chartres and, inevitably, visited the old F1 track at Rouen.

In a moment of weakness The Mole even took Penelope for a spin around the old 1907 French Grand Prix circuit at Dieppe, stopping for tea in the horridly-named town of Eu, before they boarded the evening ferry for Newhaven.

It had been a nice weekend, made all the better by The Mole's discovery of a wonderful restaurant in a tiny village, hidden away from the rest of the world with no thigh-slapping, beer-guzzling, Schumacher fans, nor indeed any Formula 1 team bosses. It was, in other words, a little piece of heaven in a barren land.

The talk of the weekend had been engines, a subject that bored The Mole considerably as he knew that the dispute was really nothing more than a game designed to establish that Max Mosley was cleverer than the engine manufacturers.

Much more interesting was the paddock talk of Red Bull and Renault and of a moves relating to a second Mercedes-Benz team.

"The Direxiv thing seems to have disappeared without trace," said The Mole, when they were debriefing in the office on Monday morning. "Further evidence, if it was ever needed, that one should never trust anything in F1 unless you can see a very visible means of support."

"So Ron and his chums in the Big Bunker at Woking are looking for someone else to deal with?" said Penelope (Roedean).

"It seems so," said The Mole. "Obviously they have that curious fellow Colin Kolles knocking on the door, exuding his usual charm, but my spies tell me that this is not at all the image with which McLaren wants to be associated. It is far more likely that the old smoothy David Richards will smile his way into a deal - if he can come up with the cash."

"Knowing Ron it will be a big pile of cash," said Penelope (Roedean).

The Mole nodded.

"Huge," he said. "But you know if you look at it from Grumpy Norbert's point of view, it does make sense to have two teams running around with the Mercedes-Benz star on the nose. Ron may not be very good at letting others share his goodies but there are two things to bear in mind: the first is that even a McLaren that is slightly slower than a McLaren is better than most of the other cars; and, it is always possible that Mercedes will finish off its purchase of the team and will then be able to convince Ron that it is a good idea.

"With all that money in the bank even he might stop arguing," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey).

"If one assumes that Prodrive would simply purchased the design," The Mole said," and build the cars themselves, what would it really cost? Forty, maybe 50 million dollars, if one includes the engines. Mercedes might even be talked into giving him a bit of a discount for running in its colours or using up some of the McLaren drivers. A customer team would be pretty cheap to run so it ought to be possible for DR to find the kind of money needed. And there is always the knowledge that after a few years in F1 the team would be getting streams of TV money as well."

"There are some pretty compelling arguments in favour of such an idea," said Penelope (Roedean). "I mean, it just makes sense, particularly when Toyota, Honda, Renault and Ferrari are all planning to have other teams using at least some of their equipment in the future."

"And it would be a pretty good place for Prodrive to start out," added Penelope (Wycombe Abbey).

"What about the disruption at McLaren?" said Penelope (Roedean).

"Well, I am not a great expert," said The Mole, "but I don't really understand why it would be a big problem. The engines would come from the old Ilmor place in Brixworth, whatever it is called these days. The mechanical stuff could either sub-contracted or done in-house at Prodrive. The electronics are all done at Woking and that is not really big deal once you have the hardware boxes sorted out. The composite stuff is a bit more complicated but there is no reason why good lay-up men cannot make the chassis if the facilities available to them are good enough and they have the right experience. Modern F1 composite stuff is very complex but there are good people about and they could do what Super Aguri is doing and modify the chassis as they go along until they know how to do it all without help from McLaren.

"Anyway," he added. "I have a hunch that Prodrive has got plenty of people who know how to do this stuff. I think they have been doing sub-contract work for Formula 1 teams for years. F1 teams like to say that they do everything in-house but the reality is that there are a number of small composite companies around Britain that do very nicely out of them - and I think Prodrive has been one of them.

"If you look on their website, they are advertising a lot of composite jobs," said Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College), looking up from her computer. "It also says that they have two big autoclaves and all the usual stuff you need including three, four and five axis CNC machines and turning centres and EDM machines. Whatever they are."

"Electrical discharge machining," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey), never one to be short of an answer.

"I think that McLaren would be the best choice for Prodrive," said The Mole.

"And Prodrive would be the best choice for McLaren," added Penelope (Roedean).

"Kismet!" said The Mole.

July 21 2006

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