A pigeon looped the loop

The novelty of wearing a cast on his leg was beginning to wear thin for The Mole. He had been, in the words of Penelope (Roedean), "a pain in the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius AND gluteus minimus!" and that meant that life for everyone in the Motor Racing and Trade Development Department of the Secret Intelligence Service was not very pleasant. And the rains in Britain have not helped at all.

"Not having an August was bad enough," said Miss Pringle-Featherby (of the Berkshire Pringle-Featherbys), "but all this bloody rain is enough to make one suicidal."

There was a sharp intake of breath around the office. Miss Pringle-Featherby never swore. She was a nice girl.

"I mean, how can you have flooding on the Hog's Back?" she said, oblivious to the shock she had caused. "How can a road that runs along a tall ridge be awash with water? It defies gravity. This country is a freak of nature!"

"I blame the Americans," said Penelope (Roedean).

Quizzical looks flew around the room.

"Yes," Penelope said. "When all else fails blame the Americans. I am sure it is all to do with their global warming."

"If not, blame Max Mosley," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey).

"Absolutely," said Penelope (Roedean).

"Is that fair?" said Annabel, the new girl, being rather too positive.

"Oh shut up!" came a chorus of grumpiness.

The Mole listened to the banter from his office, raised an eyebrow when Miss Pringle-Featherby swore as smiled when the Penelopes searched for someone to blame. If the truth be told all The Mole wanted to do was to be at home. This is the time of year when it is best to prepare new lawns, he wanted to be down at Mole Manor, scarifying, aerating and consolidating a new lawn he was planning. With his gammy leg and the weather, there was little chance that it would happen before the Spring. Perhaps, he pondered, it was time to think about retirement. The sport is in a depressing phase at the moment with the last vestiges of the old days hanging on by their finger tips and doing everything possible to stave off the inevitable change to "the way things were". In some ways the future looks bright indeed with new stars rising and new ideas poking up like shoots in the Spring but in the background is always the fear that the future will end up being as irritating as the past as worms, slugs, snails and all the rest move in and spoil the best laid plans.

The Mole sighed.

Grand Prix racing was never meant to stage races in Utopia. It was always about scrambling through from one problem to the next. It was such a shame. The arrival of CVC Capital Partners has proved nothing apart from the fact that these people like to make money and do not seem to care very much about the sport.

On his desk was a report from a deep dark source - known as SW71QJ - the identity of which was known only to The Mole. Something was happening in the world of Formula 1 television.

"Although the Formula One group has secured the commercial rights for Formula 1 until the year 2110," the report read, "we do not believe there is anything to stop the company sub-letting those rights to another individual or corporate body. We have, in fact, seen that already with Formula One Management sub-contracting the sales of trackside advertising and corporate hospitality to a third party - in this case Patrick McNally's Allsport Management - over a period of years in return for an annual payment. In this way the Formula One group has taken money while letting other people do the work. CVC Capital Partners has recently bought Allsport Management and we thought that this would lead to a consolidation of the business but nothing much seems to be happening, except that CVC now takes all the profits and leaves the current people doing the same jobs.

"The problem for CVC is that the endless arguments with the teams and the federation have meant that it could not issue a bond nor go for a stock market flotation. The new law suit over money loaned to the Formula One group has not helped matters in this respect. F1 is still seen as too risky a business by the world of high finance.

"As a result of this CVC is looking at a situation in which it has yet to recoup the money from its investment and it cannot afford to do that for too long in case nervous investors find out and confidence gets shaky. The venture capital market is all about the confidence of the investors in a company's ability to generate cash. So the fastest way out of the problem is for CVC to generate some cash by another means."

The Mole paused. It all seemed to make sense. Outside his window a high-flying pigeon looped the loop. The Mole raised an eyebrow. Anything is possible, he thought.

"The best way to generate money would be to sub-contract the rights to exploit TV sales to another entity and leave them to make more money by squeezing more from the TV companies around the world. That is an attractive deal for someone with cash - or access to it - and it would give them a large amount of power in the F1 community as everyone knows that TV is everything.

"That would give CVC instant cash, would reduce its overheads and leave it in a more relaxed situation with money coming in and time to do other things. One day when F1 has a better image perhaps a bond or a float would still be possible because the FIA deal still has 104 years to run and so the company still has something of enormous value to one day sell to stodgy financial institutions."

The Mole paused again. The more he thought about it, the more he concluded that the FIA lease of the commercial rights of the sport for $313m was a steal. The bargain of the century. No wonder some of the FIA blazers complained when they first found out about the deal. All opposition has since been locked into the cupboard at the Place de la Concorde.

"One day that cupboard door will fly open," The Mole mumbled to himself. "And the bogeyman will jump out and slay all in sight."

The Mole listened for a moment to the tittle-tattling of the girls outside his office.

"The big question," he said. "Is if the rights are up for lease, who will be stepping in to buy them?"

More importantly, he thought, will these people - if they exist at all - be good for the sport?

September 27 2006

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