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Imola, Hockenheim and Istanbul

With the release of the FIA’s timetable for 2007, the focus has changed to circuits. Imola and Hockenheim are missing from the schedule, as expected, but both are still hoping to stage Grands Prix one way or another.

The organizers of the San Marino GP are pinning their hopes on the completion of required renovations to the Imola track before a race date in April. The existence of a four-week gap at that point in the schedule makes this seem possible. Although it would seem to contradict the FIA’s intention to reduce each participating nation to one GP, it may be that Imola will get a reprieve until some other country (India?) is ready to host one.



Things look much bleaker for Hockenheim. In its new, truncated form, it is not the most popular of circuits and the organizers’ attempt to alternate the GP with the Nurburgring seems more optimistic now that the circuit has been omitted from the FIA schedule. Increasingly, it appears that the circuit will just be quietly forgotten in the future.

Politics appears likely to do for the Istanbul race. The Turkish selection of Northern Cyprus’ leader to hand the trophy to Felipe Massa on the podium was both a deliberate political statement and a monumental blunder. Circuits have been dropped for less.

The FIA is taking the matter seriously after protests from the governments of both Cyprus and Greece, and is investigating the matter. With their determination to remain politically neutral, the banning of the Turkish GP seems inevitable, and rightly so. F1 should never be used for the political purposes of any country.

The wonderful new circuit at Istanbul Park may be lost to F1 therefore. That will be a great shame but is more than compensated for by the return of Spa-Francorchamps, indisputably the greatest circuit on the modern calendar. And it gives additional impetus to Imola’s prospects for survival. The loss of the Turkish GP would reduce the schedule to 16 races only and there would definitely be a good reason to keep the San Marino GP in that case.

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Reflections on the German GP

From a quick glance at the results in Germany, one would have to say that yes, Bridgestone have an advantage but not a huge one. Closer inspection reveals that Michelin have big problems when the weather is hot. All their teams suffered from graining on the tires and their races suffered as a result.

The list of fastest race laps shows this quite clearly. The sole Michelin interloper in the top seven cars was Raikkonen’s McLaren and his time was set in the first stint when the car was seriously light on fuel. Otherwise, it was Bridgestone all the way. Such was the superiority of Ferrari that they could go on cruise control for the majority of the race. And Toyota and Williams also showed how much the Bridgestone tires were helping.

The real surprise was Button’s performance in the Honda, however. Honda made much better use of the Michelins than did Renault and it took the brilliance of Raikkonen to keep Jenson off the podium. On this showing, Renault have cause to be worried, especially as Michelin are unlikely to come up with any miracles until after the Turkish GP.

Jenson Button

Jenson Button in the Honda RA106

So tires are the deciding factor in F1 yet again. I, for one, will not be sorry when there is only one tire manufacturer in the sport and everyone competes on a level playing field. There is a fine balance in F1 between the importance of the driver and the car – that is why there are two championships, the driver’s and the constructor’s. Competing tire companies interfere with that balance and skew results, often unfairly.

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The Dampers Controversy

It seems I was premature in congratulating the FIA for dealing with Renault’s and Ferrari’s weighted dampers so quickly and efficiently (see my post The FIA Dampens Some Ardor). The Hockenheim stewards have thrown a spanner in the works by accepting them as legal when the Renault team presented their cars for scrutineering with the dampers still fitted.

So we have the interesting situation of stewards appointed by the FIA disagreeing with a ruling by the FIA. We can look forward to a storm of protest, argument and law suits as a result and the possibility of race results being changed once everything is decided finally. Ah, the glories of Formula One.


A steward at scrutineering

Personally, I wonder what Renault were up to when they left the dubious dampers on their cars. Do they make such a performance difference that they were worth risking the ensuing fuss? And it is a risk; getting them past the stewards is one thing, but a later ruling that they are illegal could result in any points won in Germany by the Renaults being taken away. Surely it makes more sense to accept the FIA’s judgement, knowing that Ferrari will be without the tweak as well and therefore without any advantage it gives. At this stage, Renault would be better employed making sure that Alonso finishes no lower than second in the remaining races.

At least it seems that everyone is happy with the banning of BMW Sauber’s upright wings. The FIA’s reasoning that they interfere with the drivers’ vision seems a bit flimsy, given that all three BMW drivers maintain that they can see fine, thank you. Admittedly, their case is a bit weakened in that they were saying so long before the FIA made their ruling; they must have known that any objections would center on the restriction of the driver’s view of the road.

But we all know the real reason why the wings were outlawed: they are just plain ugly. Is this the first time the FIA have had to step in on a matter of aesthetics?

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Auf Wiedersehen, Hockenheim

As the owners fight to keep Hockenheim on the F1 calendar, perhaps in rotation with the Nurburgring, is there no-one who sees the irony in the fact that they have just emasculated the circuit in true modern fashion? It was never the most exciting circuit in the world, but at least it had those long blasts into the atmospheric German forests; now they are gone in the interests of safety and we are left with the usual twiddly bits surrounded by grandstands.


The Hockenheimring

Did I say “safety”? Hasn’t anyone noticed that accidents are not caused by going fast in a straight line? They happen in corners, exactly those things that we sprinkle in abundance into modern circuits. But it’s too late for Hockenheim to point this out; the deed is done and now the FIA comes with the axe. Never mind that the organizers were probably counting on the proceeds from future GPs to help pay for the “improvements”.

It was inevitable that one of the two German races would have to go, however (and Imola, of course). With countries lining up with wads of cash in their hands, desperate to have a GP, those countries with two GPs were always going to be the ones to lose. And no-one was ever fooled by talk of the “European” and “San Marino” GPs; we knew it was just a way of giving more than one to the favored nations.

And now it seems that European countries have dropped off the favored list. Whoever bids highest can have a race and, increasingly, that means the Far East. If we lose some of the most famous and best loved circuits in the world to be replaced by more sterile and “safe” chicane-fests, who cares as long as the FIA gets richer still?

Surely there has to be a limit somewhere. It’s all very well taking the money for new races in Asian countries but can it last? They may be huge markets but surely not for the stuff F1 is selling (especially with the ban on cigarette advertising). China still gets around on a bicycle and India walks. How many extra BMWs, Renaults and Toyotas are going to sell in those countries thanks to their having GPs? The races there are PR exercises only and, as such, can be guaranteed not to last for long.

I can only presume that the FIA doesn’t care. Now that they have the habit, they can shut down any GP and sell a new one as and when they please. And the sport becomes a mobile circus without tradition or soul, for sale to whoever bids the most.

Sometimes I think Montoya was right – that F1 will end up racing on ovals so we might as well go straight to NASCAR. The only bright spot on the horizon is the return of Spa next year. For how long, I wonder.

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