Dressing up for the boys

The Mole and Penelope (Roedean) had gone to Istanbul because of alarming rumours that the Spyker and Super Aguri teams may soon to be sold. The Motor Racing and Trade Development Department of the Secret Intelligence Service is tasked with ensuring that the F1 teams remain as British as possible and so it keeps a close eye on such activity.

As they were acting as "illegals" The Mole and Penelope did not use the British Embassy facilities and instead mingled with the tourists and the F1 folk.

"Shall I wear a burqa to protect my modesty?" said Penelope.

"I think you'd look a bit out of place in one of those things in the F1 paddock," said The Mole. "You might draw attention to yourself somewhat.

"On the other hand," he added. "I am not sure that the average man in F1 looks twice at a mobile tent."

"I don't really understand it all," said Penelope. "It must be incredibly hot wearing those things over your normal clothes. If I had to wear them I would wear nothing else apart from my undies."

"Maybe that's why the chaps over there think girls dressed that way are sexy," said The Mole. "Maybe they get titillated by the idea that there is nothing but flesh under it all."

"I suppose it could be that," mused Penelope.

"Let's face it, man's brain is his ultimate erogenous zone, isn't it?" said The Mole.

"If they have a brain," said Penelope.

It was agreed that she would work the paddock in her usual assumed role as the PR representative of a sprocket supplier that no-one ever bothered to check up on. The Mole would use his usual cover of being an F1 freelance journalist, working for mysterious magazines in faraway places.

"Let's meet for a debriefing on Monday," he said. "I will be fishing from the Halic Koprusu bridge, over the Golden Horn. In the middle where there is a man selling bananas."

It was good that he mentioned the bananas as half the population of Istanbul seemed to be fishing from the bridge that day. It was windy and Penelope had decided to wear a burqa, if only because it meant that the wind did not mess up her hair. And, if she admitted it, because she liked wearing disguises.

The Mole seemed not to notice her, until she whispered "Hey, guess what I am wearing under this?" which is not the normal greeting from women in such clothing.

They leaned on the bridge parapet, watching the water as Penelope told him all she had discovered during the weekend.

"There is this guy called Tony Teixeira," she said. "He's a rather colourful type. He is a Portuguese South African businessman specialising in diamonds and oil. A few years ago he was accused in the British Parliament of gun-running for Angola's UNITA rebels and for defying United Nations sanctions by supplying oil to the rebel movement. He has also had some dealings in the molasses industry in Kenya which raised eyebrows. And he has links with two companies called Branch Energy and Executive Outcomes, which run private armies for the use of anyone with the money to pay or with oil concessions on offer."

"Mercenaries?" said The Mole.

"I suppose that is one way of putting it," said Penelope. "Anyway, Teixeira was one of the partners in the A1 Grand Prix Series. Last year you may recall his partner Sheikh Maktoum sold his 50% shareholding to some venture capitalists in the City called RAB Capital."

"Suckers," said The Mole.

"They went on to buy another 30%," she went on, ignoring him. "And paid out about $200m in total."

"Dear God," said The Mole. "Some people have more money than sense."

"Presumably the extra 30% came from Teixeira," she went on. "So it is reckoned that he has upwards of $75m to spend at the moment. And with that kind of money there are teams falling over each other to sell him shares. What I am hearing is that Spyker's Victor Muller wants Teixeira's money to help save the Spyker car company. The problem is that Michiel Mol, who is Spyker's biggest shareholder also wants the team and is looking for partners to join him and get Muller out."

"Messy," said The Mole.

"Oh yes," said Penelope. "Very. You know these Dutchmen. Anyway, there are other buyers out there as well. There is Vijay Mallya. He is an Indian who owns something called the UB Group, which has a 47% share of the beer business in India, a market value of around $2bn and is the third biggest spirits company in the world. He also owns his own airline and is currently sponsoring Toyota F1 with the Kingfisher brand. He thinks of himself as the Indian Richard Branson and wants Kingfisher to become a global brand. He is also mad about F1, has been heavily involved in running the sport in India, and was a sponsor of Benetton back in the 1990s. Now Bernie is trying to get him to put some money into the Indian GP as well and buying a team would be a good step for everyone."

"And," she went on, "there is this Spanish politician-turned-businessman called Alejandro Agag. He is one of those international people who had a Belgian father and a Spanish mother and he started out as an aide to Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. He was an important Euro MP at one point but has since gone into business, married Aznar's daughter and made a fortune buying and selling things. He is very excited about F1 and last winter bought a share of the Campos Grand Prix GP2 team. He wants to be in F1 and seems to see himself as a future replacement for Bernie Ecclestone.

The Mole laughed.

"Just what we need," he said.

"Oh," she added. "He's also a friend of Silvio Berlusconi."

The Mole sighed.

"That's not all," Penelope went on. "There is also this Dutch bloke Marcel Boekhoorn, who made a vast fortune selling the Telfort mobile phone company, a few years ago. He is the father of Giedo Van der Garde’s girlfriend and wants to see the young Dutch driver with a proper F1 drive."

"It doesn't matter if Giedo is not good enough for F1?" said The Mole.

"Has that ever stopped a driver with a big cheque?" said Penelope.

"Anyway," she added, "all these people are whizzing around the paddock, talking to teams, and to Bernie. It is all coming to a head because Spyker Cars has to pay Midland's Alex Shnaider $15m on September 15. If that payment is not made, Shnaider becomes the owner once again and can sell the team all over again."

The Mole shrugged.

"Glad to hear you have been busy," he said.

"God, it's hot in here?" Penelope replied.

"Yes," said The Mole. "I can only imagine."

August 28 2007

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