A Russian GP?

Penelope (Roedean) likes to make outrageous speeches and The Mole enjoys listening to them. Some of the other girls, notably Penelope (Wycombe Abbey), think that The Mole's deputy should talk less and think more.

"I think the Russians should be allowed a Grand Prix," said Penelope (Roedean) one morning, while filing her nails. "I think it should be at Silverstone! Look at what that bloke Roman Whathisname has done with Chelsea. Go out for a drink these days in the West End and all you ever hear is Boris This and Tatiana That. Da, da-da, da-da, da. Like having a conversation with Kimi Raikkonen! The Russians are buying all the property, benefiting from our nice tax laws and enjoying the relative safety of dear old Blighty. All they have to worry about is the occasional assassin with Polonium 210 sandwiches! I reckon that the boring old farts at the Treasury should offer tax breaks to any stray oligarch who agrees to fund the British GP. You know like that thing they used to do with Scottish forests. Let's face it, it would save us all the bother and the risks of going to Moscow."

"I suspect a Mister Ecclestone might be first in the queue to apply for F1 tax relief," said The Mole. "And that would be bound to start a scandal."

"It really is a shame," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey). "I would have simply loved to work underground in Moscow."

"It's her Dr Zhivago fantasy," said Penelope (Roedean). "She's really into fur."

The Mole smiled. Girls will be girls.

He paused for a minute and saw a glint in Penelope (Wycombe Abbey)'s eye that would have frightened Dr Hannibal Lecter. She was, The Mole always felt, quite the most dangerous of the four Penelopes. Years of tramping around the grounds of Wycombe Abbey, a rather hilly but impressively crenellated girls school with an astonishing 160 acres of land in the centre of High Wycombe, had made her exceptionally fit and at university she had excelled not only as an academic but also at shooting and as a swordswoman. The most impressive thing, however, is that she has the ability to appear like an innocent dreamy blonde. No-one ever suspected that she was an agent.

"It is really such a shame that the Cold War ended," she said. "It must have been so very exciting."

The Mole shrugged. When he had been Cultural Attache at the Moscow Embassy in the 1970s he had quite liked the place but hindsight had led him to ask whether all the John Le Carre stuff actually achieved anything.

"We played games," he said. "I used to have tea with old Putin. He's done quite well for himself since then. You know the Russians are not an easy lot of govern. They like to be told what to do. They like strong leaders. It makes them feel safe. When it comes to business it is all still a little bit too dangerous for F1. Moscow is still too much of a cowboy town. Sure, Formula 1 needs the Russian consumers but Bernie never takes financial risks and he cannot find anyone who will sign on the dotted line. I cannot remember how many Russian Grands Prix circuits there have been talked about over the years. I do remember Bernie was trying to do a deal with the Soviets back in 1980. That's kind of funny when you think about it. The ultimate capitalist sport was talking about going to the ultimate Communist city. I guess that was the closest we ever got."

"There were that Tom Walkinshaw project on Nagatino Island," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey). "That ended in gunfire as I recall."

"Something like that," said The Mole.

"Then there was one at Moscow Airport and about five others," Penelope (Roedean) chimed in. "And we have not even started on the ones in St Petersburg. It has all been talk and we've seen no action at all. Even when old Alex Shnaider showed up as a team owner. Nothing."

"This new one sounds only vaguely sensible," she went on. "Remember that guy called Hans Geist, who did all the dealing to the Austrian GP back on the calendar in the 1990s. He stayed there until 2003 and then went off to Bahrain for a while. I wonder what he's been doing since then?"

"Probably trying to convince Russians to part with money,” said The Mole

"This is at some place called Volokolamsk, which is about 80 miles to the north-west of Moscow on the M9," said Penelope (Roedean). "They have taken on Hermann Tilke and his people. This time they are being a bit more cautious saying that it will be up to F1 standard but that there are no plans for a race but that could change if a promoter came along."

"Hand in hand with a white rabbit and the Mad Hatter," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey). "No-one in Russia is going to pay Bernie's price. What's in it for them?"

It was a fair point. One might get someone in local government to come up with arguments about building up tourism and to pay for the construction of a track, but paying the annual fees as well seemed too much. Volokolamsk might have lots of churches and palaces and might even have a museum or two but who would pay $25m a year on top of the construction costs?

"Putin might do it," said The Mole. "But he's not going to do it in Volkyhamster, or whatever it is called. If it is going to be anywhere it will be in St Petersburg. That is where Bernie will be doing the talking. It's Putin's town. It used to be the old Imperial capital and I think that my mate Vlad probably has plans to switch the capital away from Moscow. Do you know they are spending $15bn on infrastructure in St Petersburg. There are tunnels under the river, ring roads, a high-speed toll road to Moscow, a new terminal for ocean liners. There is a soccer stadium, some new bridges and even a new airport.

"And yhey have already started moving some stuff out of Moscow. The Constitutional Court is on its way. Banks and oil companies have been moving all their assets to St Petersburg. There's a new development called Gazprom City.

"Believe me," he said. "If there is going to be a Grand Prix in Russia it will be in St Petersburg. Putin will get someone to pay for it."

February 26 2007

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