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The Launch Season

The season of hope and hype is with us; already Toyota and Ferrari have revealed their challengers for 2007 and McLaren will do the same today. All the teams are excited about their new cars and expect great things in the coming races. It was ever so.


Ferrari F2007

One thing that seems to be common to all the launches so far (plus the Red Bull RB3, as yet un-launched but discussed by Adrian Newey recently) is that the cars are completely new – the only item retained from the previous model is the brake pedal. It’s good to know that at least everyone’s getting that darn pedal right.

Seriously, however, these launches do enable us to view the new cars and look for fresh ideas. Very often it is impossible to see any great changes, especially when the color scheme is altered, so disguising details that would be apparent otherwise. Toyota have followed in this tradition and their new car looks pretty much the same as last year’s.

The Ferrari is changed considerably, however, especially in the front suspension department. I do not pretend to understand all this talk of single and zero keels but the difference is plain to see: the lower wishbones have moved upwards. Apparently this will mean a lot of work adjusting the suspension to suit the tires and is one more change that the team will have to deal with in the coming months.

Otherwise the Ferrari red has shifted slightly to a more orange shade and white outlining has appeared at various edges. It is still very identifiable as a Ferrari, however.

Now we await first sight of the new McLaren, a car described by its drivers as the most beautiful they have ever seen. So much rides upon the performance of this car that we hardly care what it looks like. “Will it be quick?” is what we all really want to know.

And that’s the thing about launches – they are interesting from the technical point of view but nobody knows how well the cars will go until the lights go out for the start of the first race. Even testing is a notoriously bad indicator, any number of teams in the past having had their hopes buoyed by good testing times only to be brought down to earth when the races show up serious deficiencies in the car.

So pardon me if I find it hard to get excited by the launch season and have lumped three together like this. If anyone comes out with something truly ground-breaking and different, my enthusiasm will know no bounds, I promise. In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye on what is happening and long for the start of the season.

Just like everyone else, I suppose…

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Mosley on Europe

Most of the F1 news services have decided to focus on Max Mosley’s statements on the future of F1 racing in Europe and the drive from the manufacturers to have races in new markets. Ignoring (for the moment) the clear admission that it is marketing that decides where F1 will race now, it is worth taking a closer look at the blithe assumption made in Mosley’s reasoning here.


Nick Heidfeld (relevance will become clear)

Magnificent Max tells us that it’s unfair for Europe to have so many races and the rest of the world so few. He wants balance, it seems. In 2007, there will be nine races in Europe (counting the Turkish race as in Europe although, strictly speaking, it isn’t) and eight in the rest of the world – just over 50% are European therefore. That seems disproportionate unless we take the audience (that’s you and me) into account.

The FIA survey of the F1 fanbase for 2006 returned these figures for completed survey forms:

Europe 63% (59%)
North America 16% (16%)
Asia 8% (9%)
Oceania 5% (5%)
Africa 2% (5%)
South America 2% (3%)

The figures in brackets refer to the 2005 survey – and it seems that support for F1 has actually increased in Europe. Judging from these returns, it looks as though the calendar reflects the F1 audience pretty fairly. The sole anomaly is Africa which has no race at present – but that’s fine, I’ll support any move for a return to the South African Grand Prix (who remembers Kyalami?).

Surveys are not the most accurate way of assessing numbers (there are matters of language and opportunity to be taken into account) but they give us an approximate idea of the numbers watching F1 at least. And, on this evidence, it appears that F1 has got it just about right.

So it is marketing that enforces this determination to take races from Europe and put them in growing markets elsewhere. But even that looks dubious in view of the survey. The continent that has gained most new races over the last few years is Asia. This would make apparent sense when we consider the vast markets that are China and India and the Japanese passion for any form of motor sport. Yet there is an actual decrease in interest (from 9% in 2005 to 5% in 2006) in Asia according to the survey.

I would suggest that the marketing boys do a little more research before committing F1 to the continuing departure from Europe. There are more factors involved in this than sheer size of markets. Relevance counts and F1 is almost completely irrelevant to the lives of those teeming millions in Asia. In time, it may happen that the continent builds a genuine F1 fanbase but it doesn’t look as if it’s happening right now.

Like it or not, F1 is a sport that depends upon a mature economy such as Europe’s and America’s (and Australia and South Africa – I haven’t forgotten you). In countries where the vast majority are only just beginning to see beyond the possibility of a bicycle, F1 is profoundly inappropriate.

Marketing can only be effective when the product is aimed at those who can actually buy it; otherwise it is merely an insult. And it really is time that the manufacturers involved in F1 faced the fact that the market for high performance cars in developing countries will remain tiny for a long time yet. When the market is there, that is the moment to use F1 to sell your product.

Max is right when he suggests that the calendar might have to extend to twenty races, however. The more, the merrier, say the fans. And, from Nick Heidfeld’s statement that he is ready to start the new season now, the drivers would agree too.

But wait a minute – wasn’t it Heidfeld’s motivation that I wrote an article about recently? Oh dear, that looks like it could be more evidence that Nick wasn’t really extending himself in 2006 – he seems to have recovered very quickly from what should have been an exhausting season…

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The Circuit Circus

I see that the Imola authorities are going ahead with their plans to improve the circuit in spite of the San Marino GP being dropped from the calendar for 2007. The hope is to get the race back in 2008 but I cannot help but feel that it is a forlorn hope at best.


BMW Sauber at Imola

With Bernie Ecclestone trying to get the Silverstone organizers to agree to an alternating race with France (and, of course, the BRDC is not interested in such a plan), things look pretty bleak for Imola’s chances. There is a limit to the number of races that can be run each year (18 seems to be the maximum) and Far Eastern countries are lining up with money in their hands, desperate to get into the game. India is next to get a GP, in 2010 we’re told.

Simple mathematics indicates that, if you add a new race to the calendar, somewhere another has to be dropped. And it is Europe that suffers, inevitably, since it has by far the most races. No circuit in Europe can be confident that the ax will not visit at some time in the future.

Traditionalists (like me) can bemoan the loss of old and great circuits but the facts of modern life dictate that the oldest and best are the most likely to go. “Safety” is invariably the excuse to get rid of them because that is their greatness – they present a challenge to the driver and demand a higher level of skill to achieve good lap times.

But we all know that the real reason is money. It is costing the owners of older circuits millions to keep their tracks updated to the latest FIA specifications and this makes it almost impossible to balance the books. Already it costs a small fortune to go to watch a GP – in the future the gate fee will only increase. And that means many potential spectators will stay away – after all, they can see the race on television for a fraction of the cost. The resulting squeeze on the organizers’ finances gets worse as a result.

So how do the new circuits manage? The answer has to be that a GP is seen as a status symbol for the nation and the government helps with cash injections. Notice that half of the Turkish GP’s FIA fine this year was paid by the Turkish government – they want to retain their race because it has benefits beyond mere money; there is national pride to be considered.

In Europe, F1 has been around too long for its subsidiary benefits to be recognized by governments. It’s a case of familiarity breeds contempt. It would be hard, too, for a European government to justify huge expenditure on a GP to its constituents – too many of them could not care less about the sport.

So the spread of F1 to far corners of the earth will continue and fewer old circuits will be used in the future. But, just occasionally, the traditionalists get the last laugh – and here’s an item that made me smile:

F1 Racing-live reports that practice for the A1GP race in Beijing has had to be suspended because the cars just could not negotiate the hairpin. Total chaos ensued on the first lap, it seems. How ironic that all the money and hype has been insufficient to produce a circuit that cars can actually drive around…

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Decisions from the FIA

The FIA has issued a press release detailing its plans for the future of F1. Much of the document is concerned with the intent to force greater fuel economy in racing, to spur research and development in this area, in fact.


The drive to limit the amount the teams can spend on development continues, with the engine freeze brought forward to cover 2007 as well as 2008. But more time has been given (to 2009) for the FIA to develop new rules on aerodynamic advances. Interestingly, it is specified that 18 races will be held in 2007, whereas only 17 are listed in the FIA’s calendar. This must surely give renewed hope to the Imola officials that their circuit will be used next year.

Essentially, the document tells us nothing new; it merely confirms previous suggestions and makes them official. Another and more recent press release is a bit more controversial, however.

The FIA has ruled in the matter of the politicizing of the awards ceremony at the Turkish Grand Prix. The decision is brief enough to quote in its entirety:


The World Motor Sport Council has found against the National Sporting Authority of Turkey (TOSFED) and the Organisers of the Turkish Grand Prix (MSO) on all counts.

The organisations have been fined a combined total of $5 million.

That’s a huge fine to you or me but, to TOSFED and MSO, it must amount to chickenfeed, especially as they were in danger of losing their race completely. Remembering how Jerez lost its right to hold Grands Prix in 1997, I cannot help but feel that the FIA is demonstrating massive inconsistency here. Here’s what the Wikipedia has to say on the subject of the Jerez ban:

The track itself was banned from hosting FIA-sanctioned racing again after an incident where the mayor of the town disrupted the podium ceremonies. The people chosen to present the trophies were dependent on the race order, with Daimler-Benz chairman Jurgen Schrempp only willing to make a presentation to a McLaren-Mercedes driver. As the McLarens of Häkkinen and Coulthard passed Villeneuve’s Williams on the last lap, this would have meant he could present either the trophy for first or second position or the winning constructor trophy. There was some confusion due to the late changes in position and whilst the Mayor and the president of the region presented trophies, Schrempp did nothing. FIA president Max Mosely later announced “The disruption caused embarrassment and inconvenience to those presenting the trophies and therefore, no further rounds of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship will be held at the Jerez circuit.”

Embarrassment and inconvenience, hey? What, no misuse of the award ceremony for political purposes? It seems to me that it may be a case of one rule for the rich and another for the poor.

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