Silent bombs

The phone rang just as The Mole was packing his briefcase and looking forward to going home to one of Mrs Batty's outstanding Drunken Shepherd's Pies. These are so-named because a large quantity of Newcastle Brown ale is employed to ensure that the lamb is tender.

"Darling, darling," said Isabelle, his Renault spy. "We simple have to meet. Breakfast tomorrow at Laduree on the Champs Elysees. Seven thirty."

"I'll be there," The Mole agreed without a thought. Isabelle always had this effect on him.

She had said "darling" twice. The word was her code for an emergency. She had never used it twice in the same sentence - at least not in relation to The Mole.

Whatever it was she wanted to discuss, it was big. It was only after the call ended that he realised that it was too late to make the last Eurostar and, with the mess on the roads and the security at Heathrow, he doubted he could make it out to Heathrow, even with a police escort to get there. The police would be too busy handing out speeding fines to do anything constructive.

The only option was to drive, he thought, to take the Eurotunnel and get to the Hotel Plaza Athenee in the small hours.

From there it was a pleasant 15 minute walk to Laduree.

The celebrated tea room is just the sort of place that The Mole likes to go. It has an old world feel and it is where a well-raised Frenchman goes with his mother. Or with his mistress. Never with his wife.

It is where long-haired and unshaven cinema types, with their glasses perched on their foreheads, discuss their latest projects with budding (and even thrusting) starlets; and where Americans sit timidly in corners and try to say "oeufs au plat et bacon", the closest thing they can find to a proper breakfast.

At 7.35 the following morning he was there with Isabelle and a pot of Laduree's celebrated hot chocolate.

"This is the only place I know which allows one to commit six of the Seven Deadly Sins at the same time," she said wickedly. "With the chocolate I feel lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, envy and pride. It is extraordinaire."

The Mole toyed with a lovely buttery croissant and admired Isabelle. Her summer fan was fading now but he still picked up the enthralling hint of Arpege (the only perfume for grown-up girls) which instantly transported him to a warm and pleasant place.

"There is something big going on at Renault HQ," he heard Isabelle saying. "They are running about like baby ducks. No-one will tell me what is going on but I think it is to do with this McLaren thing. They are very worried."

The Mole paused to consider.

"It's funny," he said. "Flavio Briatore was quieter than a Trappist monk in Belgium."

Briatore had said that he would sue anybody who wrote anything about Renault being like McLaren. And then Max Mosley had told BBC Radio 5 that the FIA had not had any complaint about Renault but would investigate "when we get it". Mosley had added that the FIA had received a dossier from Renault which "doesn't look particularly damning".

Isabelle was looking intently at The Mole.

"It would be awful," she said.

"Maybe it is disinformation," said The Mole. "Or grey propaganda. If that is the case, it will just blow over and be forgotten."

For a moment they sat in silence.

"Can you imagine the mess that the sport would be in if there was another scandal," The Mole said finally. "It is really a shame that the FIA chose such a huge fine with so little real evidence against McLaren. It sets a very worrying precedent. But I cannot imagine that the FIA would be willing to back down and change that ruling. And there is not much chance of a back room deal because McLaren has made much of its integrity and could not easily accept another team paying half the McLaren fine or something sensible like that. And if the FIA tried to do nothing at all, McLaren would be completely justified in going to a civil court, just like Ferrari did when they had that business with Toyota. The FIA keeps saying that it did not get involved in that case because no-one asked them to be involved. So if McLaren does have evidence against another team it does not have to go to the FIA."

"I don't care about all that rubbish," said Isabelle, with a flash of her dark eyes, committing the seventh deadly sin with a burst of momentary anger. "I am just thinking about Renault. Hypothetically-speaking, can you imagine what would happen if Carlos Ghosn was faced with something like this? He always says that he will use F1 only as long as it makes commercial sense. It would be a disaster for us if something like this happened."

The Mole paused.

"Well," he said. "I am sure there is nothing to worry about. I am sure it is all just talk."

As he headed back up the autoroute towards Calais, he remembered his father telling him a story about World War II when as a boy he had watched bombs falling silently on London. Sometimes he had hoped that a fuse was wrongly set and that a bomb would not explode.

But more often than not the noiseless fall ended with a big bang and a flash of light.

The Mole sighed and hit the throttle.

September 18 2007

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