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Minardi in Champ Cars

Paul Stoddart has brought the Minardi name into Champ Cars by buying into the CTE Racing-HVM team. He is also hoping that there will be no need for politics in the American series as there was in F1. And who can blame him after the antics he was forced to get up to for Minardi to survive in F1?

Minardi

1998 Minardi

It is good to see the Minardi name live on but, of course, the ethos of the team is long gone. In their Italian days, the team was the embodiment of all that was good in F1: a love of motor sport for its own sake, a light-hearted spirit that refused to be depressed by adversity and the best food in the paddock. Most of that had evaporated by the time Stoddart bought the outfit and now it is only a memory.

In reflecting on his foray into F1, Mr. Stoddart confirms what we all knew – that it has ceased to be a sport and is now a business. Small wonder that tiny minnows like Minardi have been squeezed out. But perhaps the most interesting point Stoddart makes is that he knows of at least one other F1 team considering making the move to Champ Cars.

One casts around quickly to see if a possible taker might be identified; but there is no obvious candidate. Red Bull already have a finger in the pie so perhaps this is what he means. But, if he has some other team in mind and especially if it is true, this is a telling comment on the fluctuating fortunes of F1 and Champ Cars.

When Champ Cars first began, it was not given much hope of survival in competition with its alter ego, the Indy Racing League. To everyone’s surprise, it has blossomed and become a major outlet for European and South American drivers who cannot get into F1 – there is currently only one American driver involved. If it now starts to siphon off teams from F1 as well, even the FIA would have to admit that there is something wrong with their sport/business.

Champ Car is attractive because it does not have the convoluted politics of F1, it relies on lower and less costly technology, but still delivers on the entertainment side. Battles between leading drivers are just as enthralling as in F1, perhaps more so since they are all in approximately equal machinery. It is a sport still and the main business of competition on the track has not been forgotten.

Perhaps F1 could learn a few things from it…

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Formula One Shows the Way!

Where F1 goes, the others follow, it seems. Autosport magazine has a report that Champ Car drivers are incensed by new tire chicanes introduced at Surfers Paradise. The system has already caused accidents in practice, in one of which Justin Wilson fractured his wrist and will not be able to drive in the race.

Justin

Justin Wilson

Echoes of F1 occur towards the end of the report with Sebastien Bourdais’ comments on the matter:

Bourdais is particularly unhappy because the current idea was proposed to the four-man driver safety committee – Bourdais, Wilson, Alex Tagliani, Oriol Servia – with (Tony) Cotman (Champ Car’s VP of Operations) sending diagrams to each, and they unanimously disapproved.

“I said to Tony, ‘What, are you trying to kill us?’ We suggested something similar to Long Beach, using rumble strips, and then we get here and discover that, hey, they’re going to run what they proposed anyway. So what was the point in asking us?”

How familiar that sounds. Compare it to this extract from the FIA’s September press release on their new high speed safety barrier:

The owners of circuits licensed for Formula One are required not to discuss safety measures with third parties (including drivers). This is to prevent self-appointed experts, with little or no understanding of the latest developments in circuit safety, causing confusion and undermining the significant safety benefits which are now being achieved.

What it amounts to is that the drivers, the people who are going to suffer the consequences of any mistakes made by the governing body, get no say in the assessment of proposed new safety measures. The arrogance of this astounds me. If the F1 drivers are “self-appointed experts”, how much more so are the delegates of the FIA and their chosen safety measure designers who have never sat in the seat of a racing car in their lives? To say that drivers, who have experienced the effects of coming into contact with various attempts to limit the dangers of racing accidents, have nothing to contribute towards the design and introduction of new systems is short-sighted, to say the least. Drivers know what it’s like and will be able to foresee problems where none occur to the “experts”.

It seems that something very similar is happening in Champ Cars now – and this just at the time when we thought the Americans had a much more sensible approach to such things. How often during the latest FIA fiasco have we gazed at the low profiles maintained by the governing bodies of Champ Cars and Indy Cars and wished that F1 could learn from them? But no, it looks as if things happen the other way around and the Statesiders are learning from F1 instead.

Ah well, if nothing else, I suppose we can always say that it proves that F1 is the pinnacle of the sport…

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Michael Schumacher (and others)

Whatever your opinion of Michael Schumacher as a man and as a driver, it has to be admitted that he has long been the champion when it comes to handling the press. No-one else is so expert at answering politely but never giving away anything that he doesn’t want to. Take these few quotes reported from Hungary, for instance:

“I know it is your job to speculate, but obviously it is my job not to get into all that.”

“It might go one way, it might go another way.”

“I don’t believe I have to comment.”

I have seen journalists construct an entire team strategy from one stray and innocent sentence buried in a driver’s comments (and rarely does it turn out to be true). But who can infer anything from Michael’s pronouncements? They state the obvious in clear and unambiguous terms.

And, if Michael says that we will have to wait until the Monza race before finding out his plans for next year, then that is exactly how long we will have to wait.

Michael Schumacher

Michael Schumacher

Two extraneous and unrelated items of news caught my attention this morning; the first, that Prodrive, due to enter Formula 1 in 2008, have been granted permission to build their factory on the site of Coventry’s Baginton Airport. Now, I’m a Coventry kid although I now live in the States, and I know exactly where they will be building. The airport is sited on a high plateau just southeast of the city and has been the home of an excellent air museum, as well as a cargo and leisure flights facility.

There is opposition to the factory from local “greens”, apparently, but I cannot see that they have a reasonable case. Apart from the fact that the airport has been there since before WWII, just across the road there is a developing industrial and commercial complex already. If there ever was an argument, it was lost years ago it seems.

I find it entirely appropriate that the Prodrive HQ should be in Coventry. The city was always the center of Britain’s car industry and lost that position only through idiotic government and corporate decisions in the seventies. Jaguar remain and Peugeot occupy the old Rootes factory, but otherwise everything has gone. Prodrive’s choice at least is a reminder of past glories.

And secondly, I see that Champ car driver, Christiano da Matta, has been seriously injured after colliding with a deer at Road America. Christiano had an emergency operation to remove a subdural hematoma and is now under observation in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Naturally, I wish Christiano a speedy recovery and return to racing, but I am also intrigued by the nature of his accident. A deer? How did a deer manage to get onto the track? If nothing else, this is a reminder of how much of America is still wilderness and the wild, wild West is still there if we care to see it.

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