Weird stuff

The Mole does not hear from Dusty Road very often but when Dusty does deliver it is usually dynamite. The problem is that Dusty is so protective of his identity that the only contact is made via postcards, sent by him to the Barristers Benevolent Association, addressed to WH Smith. When a postcard arrives a nice lady there rings The Mole and reads the numbers on the card. She has no idea what they mean and after finishing her task she destroys the card. The Mole is the only one who knows what to do with those numbers. They indicate the volume, the page, the column and the line from the Yellow Pages which gives The Mole the venue of the meeting. The other numbers are the date and the time. The meeting place is never the same.

The call from the lady at the Barristers Benevolent Association came as a surprise as The Mole had assumed that with the postal strike he would not be hearing from Dusty for a while. The postcard must have been delivered by hand, The Mole mused. It mujst be important. The numbers led him to The Spaniards Inn, on the edge of Hampstead Heath. When he arrived there was no sign of Dusty and so The Mole pottered about nursing a drink and reading about the inn, which had once been a toll house at the entrance to the Bishop of London's estates. It had expanded into a inn at a later date, presumably to keep the bishop flush with cash. The inn straddles the main road and, in the modern age, causes major traffic jams but cannot be knocked down because it has listed status. There are many wild claims about the place including an unlikely tale of two Spanish brothers who quarrelled over a lady and shot one another. It is said, he read, that the highwayman Dick Turpin used to live there and that John Keats wrote Ode to a Nightingale in the back garden and that Charles Dickens and Bram Stoker (of Count Dracula fame) were regulars and included The Spaniards Inn in their works. Karl Marx too was known to have a tipple there as well but there is no trace of The Spaniards in The Communist Manifesto. This was a shame, The Mole concluded, as it would have made better reading if The Spaniards had been there.

He was mulling all of this over when Dusty slipped quietly into the chair beside him. They ordered steak and ale pie and some beer.

"So what's the crisis?" asked The Mole.

Dusty, who for some strange reason had decided to wear a tweed deerstalker and looked alarmingly like Sherlock Holmes might have looked, paused, glanced left and right, and then began to speak in a very low voice that was little more than a whisper.

"The word down in Italy is that Jean Todt is going to be out of Ferrari by March next year," he said. "They tell me the department heads at Maranello have all been told the news and that the plan is for Ross Brawn to come in and run the Sporting Department with Stefano Domenicali and that Almondo chap staying as technical director."

"That sounds a little management-heavy," said The Mole.

"No real difference to how it is now," said Dusty. "What is really weird is that while all the spies in the F1 world are saying that Fernando Alonso is on his way to Ferrari, there has been a sudden announcement that Felipe Massa is staying on until the end of 2010. That is not expected at all. And very strange timing as well. Felipe has done well enough but he is not a Kimi Raikkonen nor a Fernando Alonso, is he?"

"No," said The Mole. "He's not. But he is managed by Nicolas Todt, the son of Jean. This means that a percentage of any money that Felipe Massa earns will end up in Todt Jr's pocket."

"Saves on the pocket money, I suppose," said Dusty.

The Mole pondered. The steak and ale pie was delivered and for a moment or two the two men ate and enjoyed.

"All my sources say that Ferrari people are talking to Alonso about a deal and that money is being found to pay the $30m that Ron Dennis wants from Fernando to buy his way out of the McLaren contract," said The Mole.

Dusty nodded.

"I hear the same things."

"So what does it mean?" said The Mole.

Dusty shrugged.

"Well I guess that if there are Alonso negotiations going on, it would be Todt doing them," he said. "But then again maybe not. Not if he is leaving."

The Mole pulled a face. It was unlikely but possible.

"Well obviously they would have to pay off Massa," Dusty went on. "Felipe has a place at Toyota if he wants it. They are waiting for him."

"So signing Massa to a new contract would mean that Ferrari would have to pay more to get rid of him," said The Mole.

"Yes," said Dusty. "And therefore it is unlikely that Todt would have done it, unless he does not know about the Alonso talks."

"Well he cannot know," said The Mole. "I mean it would look awful, wouldn't it? People would be saying: 'Look Todt is putting cash into his kid's pocket'. Wouldn't they? It's just too clumsy. And I am quite sure that Jean would never do such a thing."

"No," said Dusty. "

"The conclusion can only be that Alonso is not going to Ferrari and will be signing for Renault instead," said The Mole.

"I just cannot see it," said Dusty.

"Well he cannot stay at McLaren," said The Mole.

On this they both agreed.

"Now the other thing that is really weird," Dusty went on, "is that I am hearing from France that Todt has just bought a private racing circuit called Le Grand Sambuc. Near Aix-en-Provence."

"To house his private car collection?" said The Mole.

"I did not know he had one," said Dusty. "No, I don't think it is that. You see, he has a partner in the enterprise."

"A partner?" said The Mole. "Who would that be?"

"Flavio Briatore." said Dusty.

The Mole dropped his fork.

"I know," Dusty went on. "It makes no sense at all, but the people down that way seem to be sure that the two of them are mixed up in buying the circuit."

"Is there any evidence?" said The Mole.

"Not that I have," said Dusty. "Just whispers from the area. From people with nothing to do with F1 - and no reason to make up stories."

"So much does not make sense at the moment," said The Mole. "I still do not really understand the A1GP thing. Don't you think it is really odd that a company that is so closely linked with F1 would get itself involved in A1GP? That is huge step forward for A1GP. Massive. And that must be seen as a threat to F1. It is like Ferrari saying: 'Hey look everybody! We have our own one-make championship. We don't need F1!'"

"That would worry Bernie and Max, wouldn't it?" said Dusty.

"Absolutely," said The Mole. "That would be serious."

"There's some weird stuff going down at the moment," said Dusty.

"Indeed there is," said The Mole. "Indeed there is."

October 17 2007

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