THE MOLE

In a shoddy airport

In Indianapolis's shoddy little airport The Mole was waiting for a delayed plane. He had ended up at one of those airport snack bars, with one of his contacts. They had managed to explain to the waitress how to make a white coffee, a process which seemed to have confused her considerably.

"Try putting two espressos in a cup and then adding the same amount of milk," said The Contact.

They had managed to fight off a deluge of extras that would have come with the sandwich they were going to share. They did not need chips on the side, nor a banana, nor cookies. Even if it was included in the price. They were quite happy with half a sandwich apiece. In Indiana they build sandwiches big. Real big.

"Do you think we need a United States Grand Prix?" The Mole said, as they finally settled down.

The Contact shook his head.

"It is good to have it," he said, "because otherwise the Formula 1 World Championship could be accused of being like the baseball World Series, but the truth is that we don't need it. The F1 sponsors are not really after the US audience. There are much better places to be a sponsor if you are chasing the US market. You'd go to NASCAR, wouldn't you? None of the big name American drivers are good enough to make it in F1. Scott Speed has made zero impact. He is not winning. The Grand Prix has not had the effect that we hoped. It has been seven years and there has not been much promotion outside the state of Indiana. There are too many empty seats in the grandstands. The VIPs don't like coming here because there are no great hotels. The airport is always a mess."

The Mole paused and then remarked.

"Formula 1 always has problems with places where they don't have espresso in every restaurant."

The Contact nodded.

"The local press is not helping matters. They have been getting hot under their collars about how aloof they think F1 is," he said. "I guess that is because the F1 people make them feel like the backwater boys they are. They think that because they have a big and famous speedway, the F1 people should be bowing and scraping. The problem is that in the eyes of F1 the speedway doesn't make the locals special. The local retailers like F1, but you are not buying top-end stuff when you go shopping in Downtown Indianapolis."

"An interesting point," said The Mole. "And the locals have probably not even considered that F1 people really object to going to a country where you are fingerprinted and photographed each time you enter the place. They don't even do that in China. And getting US visas is a complete nightmare. If we did to them what they do to us, there would be uproar. They would not be able to go to their beloved Paris. Americans believe in freedom and liberty - for themselves. It is pretty irritating."

They paused for a moment, watching tubby travellers struggling by with their vast carry-ons.

"You also have to remember that Indianapolis is paying a lot less for the Grand Prix than most other races. I heard that Tony George got the deal for about $10m a year, which is peanuts compared to events in Asia and the Middle East. They are paying Bernie three times as much. Bernie wants George to pay more, raise the ticket prices and do some more promotional work. George is worried that if he does that people will stop coming and he will make a loss. Bernie does not care. He says the deal is on the table and it is up to Tony to take it or leave it.

"Don't get me wrong," he added. "I think Bernie would like to have Indianapolis on the schedule. It is a good name to have in F1 but it needs to make him more profit. I think that Indianapolis will go with motorcycle racing and F1 will be off on the road again."

"The road to nowhere," said The Mole.

"Well, that is true," said The Contact. "The other thing is that Canada and Indy are currently sharing freight costs so that creates a problem for the Canadians as well."

He paused for a moment, looked into the bottom of his coffee cup. There were no tea leaves for guidance.

"Bernie has been sniffing around a few other places in the US, but no-one is going to pay him what he wants. He could try to promote his own event but you know he had the chance to buy Long Beach a year or two back and he did not take it. That would be a disaster for TV ratings anyway. He needs something on the East Coast. Somewhere big with hotels and a bit of glitz. He needs New York or Miami. Something on Long Island, or the Connecticut coast.

"He needs a Monaco kind of race, just to get people excited. Americans don't mind spending money to go somewhere which they think is glamorous, but I guess that Indiana just doesn't cut the ice."

The Mole looked out of the window, across the airport to where a huge new terminal is being built.

"Maybe it is not too late," he said.

June 19 2007

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