Our American cousins

June 11, 2009

That morning, as The Mole was savouring a cup of tea and three chocolate-topped Digestive biscuits, he received a phone call from his friend The Mandarin, at the Old Admiralty Building, overlooking Horse Guards Parade.

“They must be Trooping the Colour soon,” said The Mole.

“Yes,” said The Mandarin. “This weekend. I am sure it will be all very splendid for the tourists, but they do make an frightful racket, putting up all the grandstands.”

The Mole smiled.

“I believe they will be holding the beach volleyball there in 2012,” he said. “I am sure all those healthy American, Australian and Brazilian girls in very small bikinis will be worth watching.”

“Probably better than a bunch of guardsmen is silly bearskins,” said The Mandarin. “I suppose I might postpone my retirement until after that.”

They chatted for a while about the expenses scandals and how the British political classes are now morally bankrupt and how MPs are nothing more than professional sycophants, interested only in winning office.

“Whatever happened to respected members of the community chosen to represent their peers,” said The Mandarin.

“Damned shame,” said The Mole.

The point of the call was to organise a meeting. The Mandarin had news from the Joint Intelligence Committee. It was agreed that lunch at The Travellers was the best solution.

Three hours later the pair were were dining in the Coffee Room.

“Now look,” said The Mandarin, in a low whisper. “The JIC wants to encourage Americans to enter Formula 1. They thinks that it would be a splendid idea to take away some of the best people from over there. They are not worried about NASCAR expanding, because who cares abou that. But they really don’t want IRL recovering from the split with Champ Car. They want more US interest in Formula 1. It all helps drive business to Britain.”

The Mole nodded wisely, wondering whether the potted shrimp was a good choice for the starter.

“Do we have any indications that anyone is interested?” said The Mandarin.

“Not really,” said The Mole. “Just whispers. There is the USF1 thing, of course. Lots of people seem to think the cash is coming from Google, but my chap undercover in the San Francisco Consulate says that there is a chap called Hurley, one of the founders of Youtube, who is the money behind the team. They are also working with a big US advertising agency to get into the boardrooms of corporate America.”

“Yes,” said The Mandarin. “That’s all very well, but we need someone who is going to use British technology, rather than flying it over.”

The Mole pondered a moment.

“Well, I did hear the name Penske,” he said.

“One alway does when people talk of US people in F1,” said The Mandarin, intent on spreading a small piece of butter on a rather delicious-looking bread roll.

“No,” said The Mole. I don’t mean Roger. I mean the son.”

“The son?”

“Yes, Roger has four sons,” The Mole went on. “The youngest is called Jay. He was a bit of an athlete in his day. Wharton Business School, has dated a few actresses – as you do when you are the son of a billionaire.”

“Sounds like Gatsby,” said The Mandarin.

“Well,” The Mole went on. “It seems that he wants to make his own empire. He has a few technology companies but these days is spending more time on an IRL team with a guy called Steve Luczo, who owns Seagate, a company that makes hard drives. It has revenues of $12 billion, so he has a few tens of millions to spare. I did hear that he has been sniffing around F1. If you are trying to do something your dad has never achieved and your name is Penske, you have to aim for the F1 World Championship. Roger’s done pretty much everything else.”

The Mandarin nodded.

“The other one that I heard a whisper about is Bobby Rahal,” The Mole went on, having quietly decided that the potted shrimp was the right idea. “You know he has always been rather more international in his outlook than some of the other Americans. He was in charge of Jaguar Racing for a while but since then he’s been running Rahal Letterman Racing. They have done OK, but money for IRL is hard to find and this year Rahal Letterman is concentrating on the American Le Mans Series with a factory BMW team. They are also running the Formula BMW Americas series for Munich, so they are pretty well-connected if they want some engines.”

“Why F1?” said The Mandarin.

“Three things,” said The Mole. “I think there is a lot of potential to raise US money for international racing, I think that Bobby sees F1 as unfinished business, and I think that they need need find a way to get his son Graham into F1 without having to waste time in GP2. Graham is 20 and he’s in his third season with Newman Haas Racing. He’s the youngest guy ever to win a major open-wheeler race in the US. He wants to be an F1 driver. After Sebastien Bourdais no-one in F1 is going to take a guy from IRL unless he has won at least one championship. Graham could hang around and do that, but that would use up available time. It might be better to launch Graham into F1 with an all-American team.”

“Like USF1,” said The Mandarin.

“Could be,” said The Mole. “Could be a Rahal team. Could be a combination of the two. Who knows? But I sense that something is happening. I don’t know if either of them has put in an entry, but I think they are out there if there is major cost-cutting in F1. IRL is not really going anywhere at the moment. The viewing figures are down, even after the merger. They might have had a full field at Indianapolis but the entry is down to 24 now and about half of them are pay-drivers. NASCAR has the money pretty much sewn up these days. The open-wheeler people really messed up fighting that stupid civil war.”

“I trust that you have mentioned this to the F1 team bosses.” said The Mandarin.

The Mole nodded.

“I am not sure they are all listening,” he said.