Sorting the men from the women
OCTOBER 4, 2006
The Mole's leg injury is now getting much better but the idea of spending 10 hours on cramped planes flying to China and Japan was a little more than The Mole was willing to countenance and so Penelope (Roedean) and Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College) were dispatched to Shanghai.
They were happy to go. Shanghai is an exciting place if you are a girl with expensive tastes and a small budget. You simply head down to the Fake Market and buy all the right brands at all the right prices. And, of course, there was the thrill of riding the Maglev train from "Pudding International Airport" to downtown Shanghai.
"Four hundred and thirty-one kilometres an hour," Penelope (Roedean) told The Mole breathlessly down by phone.
"I cannot imagine why anyone would be in such a hurry to get to Shanghai," said The Mole. "It is really not a lovely place at all."
This was true. If one lives on Club Floors and travels in limousines, life in Shanghai is bearable but anyone who has to get involved with real life - namely bus and taxi drivers - things are often fraught with difficulty. Communication is a real problem as raising one's voice and shouting "The Regent Hotel" - the British way to deal with foreigners - simply does not work because they have a completely different set of words for the hotel. And they are by nature an aggressive lot, so it is easy to get into fights. Even getting a cab to the race track is hard going because they do not understand works like "racing circuit" or "Grand Prix".
"The secret," Penelope (Roedean) explained, "is to say 'Effa' and to pretend to have a steering wheel in your hand. This apparently means F1 in Chinese.
"The rain is really depressing," Penelope added. "It's grey and miserable all the time and, to be quite honest, it is just hard work. The Chinese are so used to needing permission to do anything that everything takes twice as long as it should do and there are always two people to do the job of one."
The other problem is the paddock design. It might have looked good on paper but the layout means that there is no atmosphere at all and one never bumps into people, as a result the place has "about as much atmsophere as Scratchwood Services" and there is less talk than at other races because there is less action going on.
The Mole had asked for a report on the relationship between Ferrari and Red Bull.
"It is really very simple," Penelope (Roedean) wrote in a report that was fired back to London using a burst transmitter (disguised as an iPod Nano). "It is now down to a power game. Jean Todt is tryiing to insist that Red Bull honours the contract for Red Bull Racing to use Ferrari engines in 2007. There is a decent legal argument that Red Bull should have the right to do what it likes with the engines and give them to Scuderia Toro Rosso, if it chooses to do that. The last thing Todt wants is an Adrian Newey-designed Red Bull RB3 with a Renault engine in the back. Such a car might be a real challenger to Ferrari and Renault. Todt wanrts his customer teams to be either highly competitive and up the front so that it can take points away from Ferrari's other rivals. Or he wants the team down at the back as a source of revenues but no threat to anyone.
"The problem is that the engineers at Red Bull Racing know a little bit about the sport and they know that no Ferrari customer engine ever won an F1 race. Renault, on the hand, has always been very happy when its customer were successful. Red Bull is very keen to keep its engineers happy and so has been trying to convince Ferrari that it is a brilliant idea to have Toro Rosso-Ferrari driven by Italian Tonio Liuzzi and American Scott Speed (America is, after all, a big Ferrari market).
The reality is that the Toro Rosso will be pretty much the same car as the Red Bull but with enough changes to keep the team out of trouble with the FIA. So Todt ought to be happy. However he also knows that the former Minardi team will not run its cars with anything like the efficiency of Red Bull Racing.
Todt's response to this was to offer Red Bull an engine deal for both teams, in order to shut Renault out of the picture. Red Bull did not fall for that one and responded by using an entity called Red Bull F1 to sign a deal with Renault - thus calling Todt's bluff. His response was to do an engine deal with Spyker. I expect he will work towards building up that relationship, as it may one day be logical for Spyker to buy not just engines but also chassis from Ferrari. And ultimately Todt may also have ambitions to take over the entire Spyker car company and thus create a new profit centre for the Ferrari group. The brilliant thing about such a deal would be that Ferrari's rich customers could probably be convinced to buy Spykers as well as Ferraris and thus Ferrari can grow its business without losing its exclusive image.
"The problem is that if Todt insists that Red Bull Racing uses Ferrari engines in 2007, he is leaving himself open to lose Red Bull in 2008 and Ferrari might end up facing two Newey-Renaults, which is definitely not what the team wants. There is talk that manufacturers will be banned from supplying more than one customer team in 2008 but that is not really such a good idea as the engine deals are profit centres.
"My feeling," Penelope concluded, "is that Todt will now agree to Toro Rosso using Ferrari engines in the knowledge that the team is probably not good enough to make a decent impression but that it will pay well and leave the door open for a deal in 2008 as well."
The Mole paused and looked out across the rover to rainy Pimlico.
"She's a smart girl," he said. "I think she has all the makings of a good team principal. We should paint the cars pink, hire Katherine Legge and Danica Patrick and have Penelope run the show.
"That would sort the men from the women."
October 3 2006
Click here to read previous Mole columns: The Mole Archive