Penelope (Benenden) shows her geniusFebruary 7, 2012
Penelope (Benenden) is not the prettiest of The Mole’s four assistants. She is tall, has long dark hair and dark passionate eyes, which flash when she is excited. These are sometimes hidden behind reading glasses which make her seem a little bookish and serious, but is far less intimidating that her three gorgeous colleagues. That trio will turn heads wherever they go, but Penelope (Benenden) is the one who has men falling over each other to win her. The Mole long ago concluded that there must be some naughty little pheromone lurking around her, suggesting to males of the species that she would be a fireball if she took off her glasses, let down her hair and tore off her blue stockings. This, and a very good brain, gained her the respect of her fellow agents. She was not a good shot, but as an intelligence analyst, she was brilliant. The Mole used to worry about her because the poor girl had had a terrible crush on Max Mosley, but she had got over it, although The Mole suspects that there is now a certain warmness of spirit when the name Whitmarsh is mentioned.
Penelope (Benenden) and Penelope (Roedean) were deep in conversation when The Mole arrived in the office on Tuesday morning. He was not really listening, because he was stuck with 23 Across, a rare problem for a man who rattles off a cryptic crossword in eight minutes every day. His attention was piqued when he heard Penelope (Roedean) say: “I just shag them or shoot them. Or maybe a little torture. Or maybe a combination of all of the above.”
He laughed, looked across the office and said “Steady on. You’ll be getting calls from retired gentlemen in blazers if you’re not careful.”
Penelope (Roedean) smiled.
“I like a good brain,” she said. “I almost fancy Penelope here. She is awfully clever, isn’t she? A great lateral thinker.”
“As opposed to a great horizontal thinker like you?,” said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey), without looking up from her copy of Foreign Affairs, which is a learned journal about the intelligence community, rather than a pot-boiler romantic novel.
“Goodness,” said The Mole, leaning on the doorway to his office. “This sort of talk is bad for a chap’s heart.”
“Oh I don’t know,” said Penelope (Roedean). “I would have thought all that blood pumping about would force open the arteries.”
Miss Pringle-Featherby (of the Berkshire Pringle-Featherbys), The Mole’s personal assistant, was nibbling on the edge of a croissant, like the mouse she is. She blushed, as often happened when Penelope (Roedean) talked about subjects that were not prim and proper.
“Anyway, enough small talk,” said The Mole. “What have you got? It is a busy week, what with all these F1 car launches.”
“It’s all a bit la-di-da,” said Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College) from her desk, where she was leafing through a brochure for the latest version of the Walther P22, featuring an integrated laser sight. “It is the usual launch talk. The one thing that stood out was a very definitive statement from Martin Whitmarsh about engines.
“You mean the yummy Martin Whitmarsh,” said Penelope (Roedean), flashing a glance at Penelope (Benenden).
“He was very clear,” Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College) went on. “They are not building their own engines. Not in the short-term, medium-term or long-term, he said. That was pretty emphatic.”
“So what are they going to do?” said The Mole. “I am not sure about Honda. They just committed themselves to the World Touring Car Championship, which may not prove anything, but it is there nonetheless. I don’t really see McLaren doing a deal with Craig Pollock. Porsche might be an idea, but that would not be for years. What do you think?”
“Mercedes,” said Penelope (Benenden), removing her glasses. “I reckon McLaren has a devious plan to drive Mercedes out of team ownership. The Mercedes team is going into its third season and it has not achieved a whole lot up to now. Old Norbert might say that the team is new, but that’s rubbish because anyone with a brain knows that they won the World Championship in 2009 as Brawn GP and were around for years before that in various guises: BAR, Honda and so on.
“Look at Force India,” she went on. “They just announced the new VJM05 featuring Mercedes engines and all manner of technological help from McLaren. OK, it is a nice little earner for McLaren, so long as Vijay Mallya pays his bills, but I think it is more than that. That deal is the primary reason why Force India has done so well in recent years. I think that McLaren are hoping that the management in Stuttgart will get disheartened and stop listening to Norbert if the team continues to be beaten by Mercedes engine customers. McLaren has always been ahead of Mercedes but last year Force India got close on occasion and now the cowboys from India are saying that their goal in 2012 is to challenge Mercedes for fourth place in the World Championship!”
“Cowboys from India,” chuckled The Mole. “Very droll.”
“At the moment Norbert is still arguing that Force India provides Mercedes with a place to train its young drivers to be ready to replace Barney the dinosaur, and Adrian Sutil’s ridiculous behaviour in Shanghai conveniently removed him from the equation, making room for Mercedes favourites Paul di Resta and a rising German star Nico Hulkenberg. So Norbert has an heir and a spare.”
“Barney the dinosaur,” said The Mole. “I like that.”
“Well, you’ll like this one too,” said Penelope (Benenden). “Don’t you think it is strange that Unilever has signed a deal with Lotus F1 Team, when there are other better choices.”
“Lotus has black and gold and Unilever sells something smelly in gold and black,” said Penelope (Roedean).
“True,” said Penelope (Beneden), “but Unilever has stayed out of F1 forever. They are not a natural fit. So why now? Don’t you think that there might be a connection between Jerome d’Ambrosio and Unilever? The Clear brand was on his car at Virgin. He moves to Lotus and the same sponsorship pops up again. Think about it. If there was a lot of Unilever money then d’Ambrosio would not be a test driver. You have to conclude that the Unilever deal is not a lot of money, but is being given a lot of space by Lotus as a way to make the team look as though it has solid commercial partnerships with global giants that no other F1 teams has ever been able to attract. Unilever may see the sport as a way to get to Asian consumers and black and gold may be good for Rexona, but I think that the most likely reason that they have suddenly popped up in F1 is because the space was cheap and it was a deal that they could not refuse.”
“And Gerard Lopez thinks that if you give the image of having money, you are likely to get more money?” said The Mole.
“Precisely,” said Penelope (Benenden). “And let us not forget that Lopez needs money to be able to hang on to his investment in F1. We all think that the Lotus versus Lotus battle ended when Tony Fernandes bought Caterham, but I think a new Lotus-Lotus fight is developing. What would Group Lotus’s Dany Bahar think about Lopez’s attempt last autumn to buy Proton, in order to get control of Group Lotus? And what do you think Lopez makes of the announcement a few weeks ago that ART Grand Prix is being rebranded as Lotus GP? OK, it is running cars in GP2 and GP3 but ART has F1 ambitions and I cannot help but think that the plan is for Bahar and ART to buy Lotus F1 Team when it runs out of cash and Lopez has no choice but to sell. That would explain why Bahar says he is looking for investment to buy Group Lotus. Ever since the Malaysian government sold Proton to DRB-Hicom, Lotus Cars has been on the market. I reckon that Lopez and Bahar both want it, and they don’t want each other.”
“So you think we are in for another Lotus versus Lotus battle?” said The Mole.
Penelope (Benenden) nodded.