When the chips are down

April 23, 2008

“Right,” said The Mole. “Rule number one. We are not going to mention the word Mosley. No jokes about whips, chains, hookers or whatever. We are here to talk about motor racing and Mr Mosley’s adventures have got nothing to do with motor racing.”

Once a month, maybe, The Mole, The Colonel and The Reverend O meet in the pub and, over some rather good fish and chips (and a splendid homemade Tartare Sauce) and a few drinks, they gossip about the sport. The Mole finds it very useful as it gives him some idea of what the general public is thinking.

“Well, I think it is bloody disgusting,” said The Colonel. “The blackguard should quit immediately! Disgraceful.”

“Cut off his goolies, eh?” said The Mole. “Nice to see you have such moderate views.”

“It IS all a bit eccentric,” said The Reverend O. “And, to be quite honest, I really don’t understand it. I mean sex is about love …”

“Let’s talk motor racing,” said The Mole, cutting rudely across The Reverend’s thoughts.

There was a pause.

“Is anything else happening?” said The Colonel. “It seems to me that President Von Thrasher has monopolised the news pages of late.”

“Come on, Colonel,” said The Reverend O. “There must be something positive.”

The Mole chuckled. The Reverend O was always accentuating the positive, eliminating the negative and latching on to the affirmative. The Mole liked him for that. Being a country clergyman meant that he was given to “a nice cup of tea” and polite conversations at village fetes about spectacular flower arrangements, jolly good jams and chirpy pink-cheeked babes in arms. The down side of his job amounted to the occasional little old lady “popping her clogs” (as The Colonel would say), a bit of “snogging” amongst members of the choir – usually involving different sexes (Thank goodness!) and the occasional rumble of extra-marital activity, as yet another man fell at the fence marked “Mid Life Crisis”.

“Actually,” the reverend admitted one day. “If it wasn’t for the occasional marriage break-up, I am not sure we would get any new recruits at the church.”

The Reverend’s one vice was his passion for automobile racing. He had explained that this was all because of his father, a regular spectator at Brooklands in the 1930s. In his childhood, young O had been dragged to Aintree, Oulton Park, Crystal Palace and, of course, Silverstone. He had stood on earth banks and eaten squashed egg sandwiches. But, from an early age he had been ensnared by the magic of the sport: the smell of Castrol R, the squeal of hot rubber on tarmac and the gung-ho bravado of the drivers, who seemed somehow invincible until they got killed. He had wept for Jim Clark, Mike Spence, Piers Courage and the rest of them. There were too many to count.

The Colonel, a military man, was more sanguine.

“Chaps who do dangerous things sometimes get killed,” he would say. “Simple as that.”

The one thing that they all agreed upon was that it was a good thing that Britannia ruled the waves in motorsport. The Americans could waste their (increasingly worthless) dollars on fighting wars and the Italians and French could dream of the days of renewed domination of the motor racing world, but the big worry for the three men in the pub was that one day Formula 1 would be sold to the Arabs.

“Ever since that Dodi chap got hold of Harrods, things have been sliding downhill,” said The Colonel, with his usual attention to detail.

The Mole smiled.

“How can one compete when they have money coming out of the ground?” said The Colonel. “I mean look at the price of oil!”

“I hate to rain on your parade,” said The Mole, munching on a chip, “but you seem to have forgotten that the UK has oil as well. I mean we have had significant oil revenues for the last 30-odd years. A few years ago we were producing about 10% of the oil in the world. I know production is falling and I believe that we may now be importing more than we are producing, but we still have money coming in. If our politicians were smart, they would be looking at what is happening in the Middle East and adopting similar policies, investing money so that there are new industries when the oil runs out.”

The Colonel dipped a chip into the Tartare Sauce and hrmphed.

“Do you know,” The Mole went on, “that in Norway they have this thing called the government pension fund. Each year they put a percentage of the oil revenues into it. They’ve been doing that since 1990 and they now has something like $600 billion in the fund. They are now making more money per year from the interest on their money than they are from the oil. The only good news is that oil production in the North Sea will continue for another 15 years or so, so there is still a chance for the British to build up a similar fund, particularly now that the oil price is high. Do you know that oil generates about $16bn a year in tax revenues in the UK? The problem is that the politicians are frightened to do something like that because it will mean that there would be less money for the health service, for bicycle lanes, slipways for gay whales and all that other rubbish that is considered important. It means that when the oil does run out Britain will be hit hard. The politicians don’t care because they know that by then they will not in office. It is really stupid.”

The Colonel looked rather shocked. The Reverend O had his mouth open.

“And here we are worrying about Max Mosley,” The Mole went on. “The Motorsport Association should be going after the government and showing them what is happening in the Middle East. Showing them how motorsport can help the economy, particularly the British one, and making sure that these fools in power stop messing around and give Silverstone the money it needs to develop and keep the British GP.

“I think the government should buy Silverstone, invest the money to upgrade it and get the GP squared away with Bernie for at least the next 10 years. That would cost about $350m. Each year the race generates around $150m for the country so even I can work out that it is good economics. It would stop the gradual decline that is now happening in the British motorsport industry and give everyone confidence for the future.

“If they do not do that I cannot see how the British GP can possibly survive. I mean people like to blame Bernie for asking too much money and being tough on the British Racing Drivers’ Club, but how are they supposed to survive when they are not the people getting the money? It is just impossible. Bernie wants about $22m a year. That is a bargain. He can $30-40m in the Middle East and in Asia.

“The thing that really gets on my nerves is that these politicians are spending something like $18bn on the 2012 London Olympics. They are going to get some new buildings and hopefully a few more tourists. But think about it, London already gets 15m overseas visitors a year. Total visitor spending, including domestic visitors, is about $30bn a year. How much is the Olympics going to change that? If they are really lucky they might add a billion. But look at the risks. A terrorist attack could cut the number of tourists overnight.

“And look at what happened with tourist numbers in Sydney. There was an increase around the time of the Games and then no real impact afterwards. Nothing major. So when you boil it all down, the Olympic Games is really just an ego-trip for the politicians involved and I guess lots of money in consulting fees from their friends and relatives.
“They will get one two week event at the end of it all. There is not going to be a sustainable industry created as a result.”

“I did not realise,” said the Reverend O. “Maybe Max Mosley could resign from the FIA and restore his reputation by saving the British motorsport industry.”

“No,” said The Mole. “We need a properly orchestrated campaign by someone with credibility and good connections. We need a Jackie Stewart or a Ron Dennis to do that.”

“The sooner we get rid of the Mosley thing the better,” said The Colonel.

“Quite,” said The Mole. “There are bigger fish to fry.”