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The Mole takes a boat trip

March 27, 2012

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning. Spring was moving in the air and he felt the need to get away from the dusty old office, and escape to a bright world without any secret files to be read.

It was a beautiful sunny day on the river bank and, leaving his coat behind him, he informed Miss Pringle-Featherby (of the Berkshire Pringle-Featherbys), his personal assistant, that he was “just going outside and may be some time”.

As he said it, The Mole thought of Captain Lawrence Oates’s last words on Scott’s Expedition to the South Pole in 1910, when he had walked out of the explorers’ tent to certain death in an Antarctic storm, aware that his poor physical state was compromising the chances of survival of his three colleagues.

The Mole left the SIS building and turned right. He walked down to the corner at Bridgefoot and turned right again, on to the approach to Vauxhall Bridge. A little further along the road he ducked to the right, into a stairwell that leads down to the river bank and at the bottom, turned briskly left into the tunnel under the road, to emerge in the sunshine on St George’s Wharf. As he walked he was thinking about Captain Oates and how that sacrificial death had made Oates a hero and an inspiration for the generations that followed, an important thing given that there were two World Wars in which stiff upper lips had often been required.

Oates had been an Eton boy and had learned how a gentleman should behave. The Mole smiled. Oates and Adam Parr had both known the right moment to depart. Chaps from Eton know these things. They are not the type to cling on and hope to survive when they know that all is lost. That is left for politicians from ghastly grammar schools and other such riff-raff.

The Mole decided when he saw the Tate-to-Tate Clipper getting ready to depart that he would take a trip up the river to Bankside Pier, by way of the jetties at Millbank, Embankment and Blackfriars. The 11.44 he would get him to Bankside by midday and he could have a quick nibble in the bar at The Swan at the Globe and then catch the 12.44 back. He would be back in the office just after one.

He hurried aboard and chose a seat by the window, in order to enjoy the riverside views. It was an agreeable environment and the catamaran moved surprisingly quickly.

So Parr is gone from Williams, The Mole said to himself. A sudden and dramatic development. And utterly unexpected. There was clearly more to it than met the eye, for Parr had given no hint of any intended change. He wanted to be judged on what the Williams team could achieve this year, for it was the structure that he had put together that is now under the microscope. But this was not about performance on the track. The team has done well this year, held back perhaps by two drivers who came with cash and have yet to prove their abilities as true F1 stars. They were good enough, but the car clearly needs an Alonso, a Hamilton, a Vettel or a Button to show its true worth.

Sir Frank Williams had no desire to see Parr depart, indeed just a few weeks ago he said that Parr was his natural successor, an odd statement given that his chairman was never really a racing person, but rather a businessman. Parr himself was happy in the role, even if some of those around him wished that he had more racing passion, like his predecessors in the team.

So what happened, thought The Mole. If both parties were happy with one another and Sir Frank was fiercely protective of Parr, what could have caused a resignation? What changed the relationship so fundamentally that Parr would have resigned in just a matter of days?

The Mole looked out at the Houses of Parliament. That was the kind of place where one found people like Adam Parr, rather than in a Formula 1 garage. Parr has a ferocious intellect, which dazzled Williams. Yet in Formula 1, being clever is not always a bonus, and one can be a victim of one’s background. Parr came across as man from Eton and Cambridge, even if his background was not that privileged. He had made it through on intellect alone, as a scholar, not as one of the hunting, shooting and fishing crowd. He had arrived at Williams with no track record in racing, but he soon crossed swords with Bernie Ecclestone over the way the sport should be going.

Ecclestone has run the sport, very successfully in many ways, for a very long time and perhaps he felt that he did not need some floppy-haired smart-arse telling him what was wrong with it. That was the story that was whispered in the F1 paddock and to The Mole it sounded entirely plausible. The irony, of course, is that Max Mosley – another fearsome intellect – had worked closely with Ecclestone for many years, to the benefit of both men. But timing was everything, thought The Mole. Parr was perhaps too smart and too much of a sign of the future, to have become close to Mr E, a man who is an expert at dealing with (and exploiting) those who think that they are super-smart, rather than the ones who really are. The really smart people keep their distance and play their cards close to their chests.

The Mole had little doubt that somewhere in the Parr-Williams story the presence of Ecclestone has been felt. Not long ago Bernie whispered to some hack or other that he did not think Williams was doing things in the right way. He felt that change was needed at the top, rather than in the middle management. The message was clear. Parr was not the man he thought would be good for the job. That was before the team began to perform well, of course. And before Sir Frank Williams took a further step back by leaving the board of directors of Williams.

The Mole considered the environment in F1 at the moment. Ecclestone is trying to convince teams, by any means possible, to sign up to a new Concorde Agreement that will give him carte blanche to do as he pleases with regard to the future. He does not want loose ends that will stop a sale or cloud a flotation and so, as a ruthless businessman, he will use whatever weapons he has at his disposal. Red Bull and Ferrari were easy. There are some people in F1 who can be bought. They say that these are pragmatic business decisions, but they do not help the sport.

The news that McLaren had agreed was a shock. In fact, it was such a shock that The Mole did not believe it. But then McLaren is not as independent as once it was. The team is 50 percent owned by a Bahrain government investment firm. Bahrain needs a Grand Prix more than anything to help to restore confidence in its economy and Ecclestone has the power to take away the Grand Prix. Thus The Mole could see a way in which McLaren could be convinced by its own shareholders to accept something previously unacceptable. The fact that an announcement was made, even though no deal was actually signed, was out of character for Ecclestone and the conclusion to be drawn was that he wanted that information in the public domain before the Bahrain GP happens this year, lest the McLaren management attempt a U-turn after the race is done. This way, McLaren risks facing public scrutiny for welshing on a deal. Such a move might be possible if McLaren could find someone to buy out the Bahrainis, but that is not going to happen quickly.

In the overall scheme of things, only Ferrari, Williams and McLaren really matter. Sauber does what Ferrari wants. Red Bull and Scuderia Toro Rosso obey the rules of Dietrich Mateschitz. Ferrari’s Luca di Montezemolo is a pragmatist who has proved before that Ferrari always comes first and the other F1 teams are only there to be used in his negotiations with Ecclestone. Williams is the only other brand with value. To Ecclestone the Lotuses, Force Indias, Caterhams, Marussias and HRTs are all cannon-fodder. Lotus was smart enough to jump ship and agree to a deal. The others were probably not even asked.

Mercedes may go on fighting but the German manufacturer cannot do much beyond disrupting and delaying Ecclestone’s plans. The board of directors want better results because it is embarrassing to see the factory team being beaten by two of its customers. In the end the Stuttgart folk are unlikely to get involved in a big fight over F1 money, they are more likely to cut their losses and depart. F1 is not their core business.

And Williams? Traditionally, Frank Williams has always been a Bernie man. He has done what Ecclestone wants and has prospered from doing that. There was a point at which he sided with McLaren in a previous negotiation but that did not bring the benefits that he had hoped. And it had disrupted his business. What FW wants is stability and to be able to race without politics. Bernie has given him that, even if Frank thinks that there should be a different division of revenues. Williams is still vulnerable, despite the good figures announced recently. The difference between success and failure is a sponsorship deal of monstrous proportions with the Venezuelan government. That is already fairly tenuous because President Hugo Chaves has cancer and is facing re-election this year. If Chaves dies or the opposition wins the election, Williams’s fortunes will take a tumble.

The hope is that the team will do well enough this year to attract big sponsorship and so be able to use talented youngsters such as Valtteri Bottas, rather than having to take drivers who come with cash. A fight with Ecclestone would not be good for stability.

The Mole pondered further. Perhaps, he thought, Bernie had convinced Frank to agree to his terms and Parr did not agree. That was the kind of thing that would lead to a resignation. Frank might have the utmost respect for Parr, but he and Ecclestone go back far longer and he knows that having Bernie as an enemy is not a good idea, even if you are strong. With FOTA a spent force, the individual teams are on their own.

Yes, said The Mole. That is what happened. It has to be.

36 comments

  1. Fabulous stuff, feels about right, but a shame nevertheless, and leaves Williams, perhaps, weaker in the long run?


  2. Sounds about right


  3. He wouldn’t be about to turn up at CVC, after a spot of gardening?


    • Not in a million years


    • Precisely my thoughts too, as they’ll need a Bernie-replacement at some point.

      So perhaps Parr was made a better offer than the Wiliams job, this also gets Williams onside with the new concorde deal.


  4. Brilliant writing.

    Martin


  5. I wish I had the time to read this. In few words, why did he leave?


    • Sorry, no time to explain. It is all there.


    • Ideology


    • When you need to read a swath of text, pop it in to the wonderful webapp spreeder.com – it will change the way you digest articles.


  6. Bernie being Bernie, playing six or seven levels deeper than ordinary mortals, he must have been fairly sure that his offer would have that effect on Parr, and fairly sure of the internal turmoil it would cause at Williams. And so it has happened — Williams thrown into chaos, and FW’s succession planning is set back by five years.

    That goes beyond The Deal — that’s a public humiliation by Bernie of FW. I hope it was worth it.


  7. This means that Williams now have to wait a long time to announce their signing of the new Concorde agreement, otherwise it will just look too obvious for words.
    Mr Chavez is currently back in Cuba for more cancer treatment, so it does not look particularly good for Williams. One has the impression that should Chavez die, the money will cease immediately. But wait! Why not a Venezuelan GP? Surely that would keep the money flowing, after all an Argentinian on is on the cards.
    No doubt HMTQ has given Bernie a 100 year leasing rights option on the Falklands for just £3.0 and a bit million per year, which he can sell to Cristina on an escalating basis (say 10% per year compound) starting at $800m per year, including the tv station. A five year deal to start with.

    “Never mind old chap, most of these tawdry grammar schools have been closed, so only the proper route to British power remains.” (The unions having been vanquished by the goddess Thatcher”)

    The British masses will soon be crying out for petrol, you may cry, “let them use brandy in their middle class cars”. (“Tell the under-butler, to fill the car would you”)

    Time to check if cooking oil is cheaper than diesel once again!
    (The only good thing Gordon Brown did was to let us make 2000lit per year of our own fuel without registering or paying duty. )


  8. Excellent deduction from the mole.

    One wonders if the mole is implying that by quoting Oates at the start, that Mr. Parr may not be seen of again?

    Shame really, the young Turk was a good sort for team Willy.


  9. A very plausible theory yes, but we have to dig a liitle deeper…
    why was AP recruited by Williams in the first instance?

    Surely there is enough talent within Williams to promote and then run the team. Sam Michael comes to mind and look what happened to him! Then there is the incident when AP announced the retirement of Patrick Head, without Patrick’s knowledge.

    Perhaps AP was employed to act as a buffer between Williams and FOM and that FW & PH had planned this all along…

    Only a theory, but a plausible one.


  10. Spot on Mole. I feel worried about Williams. Indeed a true race team.
    On the other hand, what is true about Chavez and its impact on Williams, could easily be true for Mr. E himself and the running of the F1 business?
    Any insights on measures taken by Mr E. to rule over his grave or run F1 from heaven?


    • ..or, hell!


  11. Deep stuff, Joe. You presented this in a wonderful way, too.
    Thank you.


    • The Mole will be upset. You should give credit where credit is due.


    • I can’t believe you don’t know who the mole is!! :)


  12. He’s butted heads with Bernie for the last 12 months on issues related to money. He also pissed off Patrick Head by announcing Patrick’s retirement before Patrick. He goes his own way, but it leads out the door.

    Should have stayed at Rio Tinto.


    • Adam Parr was in the Mining Industry? I can’t see how he would have fit in there…


  13. Well done mole, it was spot on, great story and very believable and it probably is too. Williams will have to choose their freinds very carefully. Mr E the master of chicainary, moving obsticles without any need for touching and gets the concorde agreement done with the top 3 teams. You have a very distinctive way of telling a tale, very good and keep up the good work…..


  14. I’m with those who think that all this amounts to an excellent CV for Parr to take to CVC and precipitate Bernie’s retirement.


  15. The whole F1 business looks very fragile indeed. If any trouble was ever happening to challenge the Bahrain GP, how many announcers/sponsors would slip away? How much bad press could Di Montezemolo stand, while in full political campaign?


  16. Brilliant work. Still can’t believe how easily FOTA self-destructed.


  17. Perhaps Parr didn’t take too kindly to Frank’s suggestion that he conduct his business from a phone booth, just like Frank did in the ’60′s and ’70′s……..


  18. Fantastic , best one yet


  19. During all the years that the Murdoch press was hacking phones and all the rest, hardly anyone who was in the know, even in Parliament, dared to say anything about it, out of fear of reprisals. Murdoch could not only swing elections, he could ruin careers. It seems the omerta over the Parr affair and the new Concorde Agreement is much the same: no one dares say anything critical of Bernie or F1 management – nothing at all. Bad things happen. The only place where we have any discussion of the Parr exit, and the Concorde Agreement that presumably lies behind it, is here, in an officially fictitious blog. What is this power that has everyone so scared? How can this be good for F1?

    It is long past time that F1 became respectable. All these private deals – some of which involve governments, and all of which involve huge sums of money – must be made more open and accountable. The great suspicion here is that underneath the surface of F1 is a web of corruption and wrongdoing. F1 is an international sport and must not only be honest and legitimate in its dealings but must also be *seen* to be playing with a straight bat. Right now it isn’t.


  20. I was very surprised to see a bewildered looking Adam Parr wandering around in the dark at 8.00pm about 1.5km away from the pits next to a service road after the Melbourne GP. It looked for all intents and purposes like a man fleeing to clear his head. Why else would a team principle be on foot in the dark near the outer boundary of the circuit at night? At the time I found it most intriguing, and the news since has only made it more so.


  21. The difference between success and failure is a sponsorship deal of monstrous proportions with the Venezuelan government. That is already fairly tenuous because President Hugo Chaves has cancer and is facing re-election this year. If Chaves dies or the opposition wins the election, Williams’s fortunes will take a tumble.

    You can bet the monstrous amounts handed illegally by PDVSA to Williams that the minute the opposition regains power in Venezuela not 1 cent more will be wasted propping up the Williams F1 team. In fact, we’ll try to recover what’s been given already…


  22. Actually it makes me wonder if there is a even more to this. Parr leaves and in return Bernie ensures that Williams has an insurance policy in the event that the Venezuelan money runs out.


    • Ah, now that’s an interesting idea…


  23. Parr to replace Bernie (oops, seem person above had the same idea)


  24. Team Willams main to left and further developed, not to close or sell or to whom you need to!!! now 2012 step forward than last season. and don’t forget the constructors ‘ Willams is not inferior to the Mclaren!


    • The last five years of racing results would seem to contradict your last comment.

      That’s not to say Williams cannot do better this year – it seems they already are. But they have a long way to go to beat Mclaren.


  25. >Mr E, a man who is an expert at dealing with (and exploiting) those who think that they are super-smart, rather than the ones who really are.

    Ah, yes. Just so. Which reminds me of a little puzzle: Would one wish to buy a used football team from this man? Or would one prefer to buy into a used football team -with- this man, and exit when he does?



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