As the world winds down for ChristmasDecember 22, 2008
“Oh my God!” said Penelope (Roedean). “Do you realise Mole that you have not written a column for several months.”
The Mole looked rather sheepish and pretended that he was busy with a dull file marked: “Russian Grands Prix – Defunct”.
“Well, they don’t pay much,” he grumbled. “And I am a busy chap. I cannot tell you how busy things have been since the credit crunch began. Formula 1 has been in a complete blue funk. You couldn’t knock something up, could you?”
“I fear that I lack your wit and charm,” said Penelope, with a sweet smile that had “No” written all over it. “Besides,” she added. “What could I write about? What is the big secret at the moment?”
“Who’s going to buy Honda?” said The Mole.
“I can buy Honda,” she said. “I just cannot afford to run it! It’s like me, very high maintenance.”
“But a good investment,” said The Mole, flashing a sweet smile in the direction of his deputy.
Penelope raised an eyebrow, but tried not to look too severe.
“Lots of people have ambitions,” she said. “But I am not as desperate as Honda.”
The Mole laughed.
“Yes, you are,” he said. “You just won’t admit it.”
There was a pause.
“In any case, having ambition does not put Marmite on your toast,” The Mole said, suddenly feeling rather hungry and remembering the joys of Marmite on cold winter days.
He looked out across a grey and miserable Pimlico and yearned for some toast and Marmite. Comfort food.
“David Richards talks the talk and may be out in the Middle East knocking down doors,” said Penelope, “but how many of the folk out there are going to share the dream – and the business model? The team is a bargain, but the return on investment is slow. The only real value would be if you have a consumer product that needs exposure around the world and has the revenues necessary to pay the bills.”
“A new Red Bull,” said The Mole.
“Anyway,” she said. “No-one is saying it out loud but the Middle East is suffering from the credit crunch as well. They are all exposed to the debts of the western banks. They just don’t want people getting in a panic. The Chinese too. What about the Koreans? I have not been following them.”
She stopped and nibbled on the edge of a Digestive biscuit, as a gerbil nibbles a piece of cheese.
“The Koreans are interesting,” said The Mole. “I can see why they would want to be involved and it makes sense with a Korean Grand Prix coming in 2010, but if you think Honda and Toyota are doing badly in America you need to take a look at Hyundai. They were down 40% last month. They have been cutting production, bringing in shorter working hours and freezing wages for their executives. Now is not the time for them to buy an F1 team.”
“Oh,” said Penelope.
“And don’t even ask about India,” The Mole said. “Tata owns Jaguar. It’s a good brand for F1, but they have been around at Mandy Mandelson’s Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform holding out their hands and asking for public money to keep things going at Castle Bromwich, Halewood and Browns Lane.”
“I believe we are supposed to call him Baron Mandelson these days,” said Penelope. ”
“And forget Aston Martin,” said The Mole. “They just laid off a whole bunch of people.”
“I know,” said Penelope, glumly. “It is really rather depressing, isn’t it?”
The Mole nodded.
“If people don’t buy cars, then car companies don’t have money. There may be a buyer out there. But I cannot see it being a car company.”
“About as likely as a Grand Prix in Bulgaria.” said Penelope.
“About that.” said The Mole.
The conversation paused again. Away in the distance somewhere, a phone rang unanswered. The office was already running down for the Christmas break.
“I tell you what is facinating,” said The Mole. “Michael Schumacher appears on the list of mega-donors to the William J. Clinton Foundation. He’s given Clinton between $5m and $10m. That is a huge donation. Right up there with the Government of Norway and other folk like that. Why do you think he has done that?”
Penelope raised an eyebrow.
“I wish I was a charitable institution,” she sighed.
The Mole laughed.
“Well, I am sure that it is a tax write-off,” said The Mole. “Michael probably needs to lose x amount of money each year, even in Switzerland. The interesting thing is not that the money exists and needs to be lost, but why he spent it on Clinton. What does Clinton stand for?”
“Energetic ex-president with a taste for dubious office activities,” said Penelope, thinking aloud. “Not my type at all.”
“Well, the William J. Clinton Foundation focuses on global climate change, HIV/AIDS in the developing world, childhood obesity, economic development in Africa and Latin America.” said The Mole.
“So Michael wants to stop the world being overrun by fat kids,” said Penelope. “Don’t we all?”
“I guess that maybe Michael wants to transcend the tawdry world of motorsport,” said The Mole. “Maybe he wants to turn himself into some kind of Gandhi on wheels. A donation like that will get him access to the Clinton Global Initiative, which is trying to establish itself as a forum to making the world a better place. It is not a bad place to be if you want to be seen as a serious mover and shaker in the world.
“Maybe it’s the climate change thing?” said Penelope. “That would be a good career for Michael.”
“Maybe,” said Penelope.
They both sighed.
“I wish the climate here would change,” said The Mole. “England is so grey.”
“Oh, cheer up!” said Penelope. “Think of turkeys and stuffing. Presents and Christmas trees, crackers and paper crowns, carols and mulled wine. And mince pies!”
“Yes,” said The Mole, perking up. “You’re right. A merry Christmas! Good idea.”