THE MOLE

Hope springs eternal

Miss Pringle-Featherby (of the Berkshire Pringle-Featherbys) was all in a twitter, as the members of the Motor Racing and Trade Development Department of the Secret Intelligence Service drifted into work at Vauxhall Cross. It was a dull overcast day but she was excited.

"Did you see the news?" she said, with the kind of breathless voice made famous by Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter. "Danica is coming to Formula 1."

The Mole had raised an eyebrow, but smiled a kindly smile and said nothing. He wandered over to his desk, pondering whether coffee or tea was required.

Moments later Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College) and Penelope (Wycombe Abbey) sailed into the office like a pair of sleek battleships that had lost their escort of destroyers. The latter smiled, gave the secretary (although she preferred the title "Personal Assistant") a wink and said: "Splendid. These men need to experience a bit of Girl Power!" The former ignored the remark and settled at her desk, carefully tidying her hair as a swan would smooth stray feathers.

Penelope (Benenden) was next to appear. Her head was down and she was reading. She grunted something that sounded like "Really", but Miss Pringle-Featherby could not be quite sure.

The last to arrive was Penelope (Roedean), who strode into the office, a briefcase in one hand and a copy of "Guns & Ammo" in the other.

Miss Pringle-Featherby mentioned Danica again.

"Total poppycock," she said. "Danica's only good on the ovals. She's rubbish on the road circuits. She'd be lost in F1."

Miss Pringle-Featherby looked rather crestfallen.

Penelope (Wycombe Abbey) looked up from her desk and, from beneath the fringe of her honey-coloured bob, muttered: "That's completely untrue, Danica is better on the road courses than on the ovals."

Penelope (Roedean) decided that she would not go on the attack, because Penelope (Wycombe Abbey) rarely made such an emphatic statement unless she really knew the answer.

"Well, that is the impression one gets," she said, opting for a less confrontational approach.

"I analysed the last three years and on average Danica finishes around ninth or 10th on the ovals," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey). "On road courses she was usually sixth or seventh. She had a poor year on the road courses in 2008 and averaged 12th and won on an oval, so I guess that's why people think she's no good on road courses."

"Marvellous," said Penelope (Roedean).

She paused for effect.

"So tell me," she said. "How many F1 drivers break into the sport after a career finishing eighth and ninth in the United States?"

It was a point well made.

"Danica is a decent driver, looks good in a swimsuit, but she'd would never be more than a Pedro Diniz," she went on.

It was a touch unkind, but F1 is for the very best of the best. It is a world of ultimate realism.

"Danica is very good," she went on. "But is she really good enough for the top level of F1? And does she really want it? Better to be the queen bee in a lesser series."

It was a good point.

"It strikes me that the whole idea of Danica driving for a notional American team is just a big publicity stunt," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey). "Do you remember a few years back when Bernie described Danica as a domestic appliance? It was in the week before the US Grand Prix. It made a lot of headlines. I don't suppose Bernie meant that Danica was like a toaster or a washing machine. He was just trying to get F1 into the papers. And the Americans were suitably outraged."

"You are such a cynic?" said Penelope (Roedean).

"Well, come on," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey). "This USF1 project has a lot of serious elements in the plan. The Spanish end of the operation is entirely logical. Epsilon Euskadi is an ambitious operation, with some very experienced F1 people involved. Joan Villadelprat and Sergio Rinland are both good people. They have a lot of experience. They know how F1 works. Villadelprat has been keen to run an F1 team for quite a long time and has been working towards that quietly for years.

"The American end of the operation is potentially pretty sensible too. They have the technology and the people to build F1 cars. They have the fancy Windshear wind tunnel, they have composite facilities all over the place and they have the University of North Carolina at Charlotte which churns out new racing engineers as they have a special course there."

"That is all very true," said The Mole, who had decided to join in. "But where is the money going to come from? It is all possible. It is desirable for Formula 1, which is why the sport is being so positive about the idea. They all want it to happen. If Max Mosley can get the teams to agree to accept budgets of $65m a year then it would be great to have a US team in one of the available slots. And an American driver would be wonderful for the sport. But, to be quite honest, having Scott Speed in F1 made no effect at all."

"He wasn't winning," said Penelope (Roedean). "Countries only get excited about winners. Look at Mark Webber and Australia. If he won a race the place would adopt him as a long lost son. Until he does, no-one gives a damn."

The Mole nodded.

"It is true, isn't it?" he said. "Until Lewis Hamilton came along Britain had to make do with David Coulthard, Jenson Button and Eddie Irvine. None of them were ever in the right place at the right time, or had the chance and did not make the most of it. People like winners. We will probably have to wait for another generation of drivers to see if there is a good American out there. The best guys tend to stay at home and race on ovals rather than heading off to Europe to struggle. They don't need to do it, NASCAR is big enough to give them a comfortable life, plenty of nice looking women and all the rest of it."

There are lot of Americans who have tried to do Europe," Penelope (Wycombe Abbey) said. "Including Danica but the only one to get to get to GP2 was Speed. The others all ran out of money and headed for home. Red Bull now has a NASCAR team and has given given up using Americans in F1. In any case, they have a very dodgy record with drivers. They keep wasting the good ones and promoting the wrong people."

"I still think Danica would be brilliant for F1," said Miss Pringle-Featherby. "I really do!"

The Mole smiled.

Hope springs eternal.

February 17, 2009

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