From the pulpit

Flashback to Thursday September 23, around 8.30am. I'm in the lobby of the Portman Ritz Carlton Hotel, Shanghai, and, due to a mix-up over timings, the car I'd expected to take me to the circuit is nowhere to be seen. No matter: everyone but everyone seems to be staying at the five-star PRCH, so I figure I'll be able to blag myself a lift with a chum.

From the pulpit

While casing the joint, ambling this way and that over the PRCH's lush, deep-pile Axminster, I spot two British B-listers (that's B-listers in terms of mainstream fame and star quality, not B-listers in terms of motor racing fame and star quality) waiting for their respective chauffeurs to front up (foreign nationals aren't allowed to drive in the People's Republic of China, you see, so hire cars are off the menu). Clearly, Bernie Ecclestone and Gareth Gates (yes, they're the semi-celebs I'm referring to) don't recognise each other, and at one point I'm amused to see them sitting next to each other on a large sofa, with no-one else about, impatiently checking their watches and loudly tutting.

Since neither is what I could accurately describe as a chum - the Formula 1 ringmaster is no-one's chum per se, and, although the Pop Idol runner-up was a weekly presence in my front room a couple years ago (not my choice of viewing, I assure you, but you have to compromise, for an easy life, don't you?), and is therefore a very familiar face, he doesn't know me from Adam - I'm not about to try to blag a ride from either of them. But - who's this? - ah, yes, here's someone who might be kind enough to give me limo-space: Christian Horner.

"Morning, Christian," I begin, breezily, "Are you going to the circuit?"
"Sure am. But you'll have to be ready to leave right now if you want a lift, because I'm leaving immediately."

Perfect. And, with that, a big six-door Merc S-class pulls up beside the PRCH's main entrance, and a white-gloved concierge ushers us in. This is the life!

Horner is an interesting chap. Supremely successful in Formula 3000 via his Arden International concern, he's in China to try to make the upgrade to F1. He's rumoured to be trying to buy either Jaguar Racing or Jordan Grand Prix - and, although both (potential) deals are mired in NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) that prevent him from discussing them with me in any detail at all, I pick up the odd insight from what he's not saying. My Jag Rac sources have already indicated to me that Ford aren't likely to sell their works F1 team to an ambitious entrepreneur such as Horner; a big multinational corporation is far more likely (as, on November 15, with Red Bull, it finally transpires).

Jordan? Jordan, Christian's silences indicate, are far more likely. But, understandably and correctly, he's playing his cards extremely close to his chest.

Fast-forward a couple of months - to Friday November 26, to be precise. I'm in Eddie Jordan's Chelsea pad, for Hobnobs and Gold Blend (made by Eddie, who offered me a latté at first but then, effing and blinding at his ostentatiously upmarket but distinctly unco-operative Italian coffee-maker, abandoned the idea and reached for a tin of Nescafé's finest instead). The will-Horner-buy-Jordan saga has been raging (well, simmering) for weeks now, and, bluntly, I want to know whether it's hot news or hot air.

Typically, Eddie ain't about to be pinned down. My sources keep telling me what Autosport (and others) have recently reported - ie, that the deal is imminent. But is it? Writing this, on the morning of Sunday December 5, getting ready to dig out my dinner suit for the annual Autosport Awards in London's Grosvenor House Hotel, I'm not so sure. I hope so, because both Christian and Eddie want it, and deserve to get what they want, but it seems to be taking such a long, long, long time... Hmmm...

It's a tricky one. So... what to do? I decide to call Paul Stoddart, of Minardi, who knows all about selling F1 teams (or, rather failing to, since no fewer than 23 separate due diligences have now been conducted on Minardi, all of them leading to... nought). What does he reckon?

"Red Bull could buy Jaguar Racing because Dietrich [Mateschitz, Red Bull's owner] didn't need to get venture capital, didn't need to put together a business case to convince anyone else to finance his plan," says Stoddy. "And that's the only kind of person who can realistically buy an F1 team at the moment - until the new Concorde Agreement has been sorted out and Bernie-versus-the-banks has been sorted out and Bernie-and-Max-versus-the-manufacturers-and-the-GPWC has been sorted out.

"Mateschitz could buy Jaguar Racing simply because that's what he wanted to do. That can't be said for the Christian Horners of this world. I'm not being disrespectful to Christian, but it's a fact. And, while we're on the subject, when Max [Mosley, FIA president] says you can run an F1 team on US$25 million a year, well, I promise you, you can't. That's simply an ill-informed statement. I defy anyone on this f***ing earth to run an F1 team on US$25 million a year. F1 is a dirty, hard, f***ing business. So what's my advice to Christian? You really wanna know? I'd tell him: 'Don't bother, mate. Honestly.'"

Wow! So... will Jordan Grand Prix become Arden Grand Prix? Search me. Some of my sources insist it's about to be announced... while others tell me it's hit the skids. Who's right? At the moment, I don't know. But we'll be keepin' 'em peeled, round these parts, to make sure you'll be the first to know, courtesy of autosport.com.

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