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Honda pulls out of Formula One

Monte Carlo The shock news that Honda is to pull its team out of Formula One is still reverberating around the sport of motor racing.

Honda’s F1 executives, Ross Brawn and Nick Fry, are seeking new owners for the British-based team before the 700 workers receive their redundancy notices. Honda has just announced it will give the management up to three months to find a buyer.

Meanwhile motor racing’s ruling body, FIA, will host an annual dinner in Monaco on Friday to discuss the crisis and, almost as an afterthought it seems, Lewis Hamilton will be presented with his first World Drivers’ Championship regalia.

McLaren co-owner Ron Dennis said: “We know we have to reduce our costs to cater for the inevitable downturn in income that is coming in 2010 and 2011. We predict that our turnover will drop to as low as £175 million a year. Our budget comes from the advertising budgets of the companies that support us, and inevitably advertising budgets get slashed or, at least are significantly trimmed in times of economic strife.”

FIA president Max Mosley said: “The FIA would join with FOTA (Formula One Teams Association) in seeking to persuade FOM (Formula One Management) to divide the prize money so that up to 12 teams are guaranteed at least $50 million (£34 million) each. This would ensure a full grid with a strong possibility that new teams will enter the championship, filling vacancies.”

The developing economic depression will not leave many unscathed, including the wealthiest of operators.

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Street Circuits

I love street circuits, even though we will probably never see them again in F1, apart from Monaco. They are impractical, dangerous and lack passing places, a sure combination to prevent their ever being tried again by the sport. But they are also atmospheric, dramatic, somehow produce good races, and enable the spectators to get closer to the sound and sight and smell of F1 cars than anywhere else.

Senna

Ayrton Senna in a Lotus 99 at Detroit

Just the sound should be enough to convert anyone: experience this video of a Red Bull doing a demonstration run on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil – then tell me that the scream of that engine echoing off the buildings does not stir your blood. And the roads were drenched with rain – the driver was holding back!

My favorite of those street circuits that have gone is Long Beach. The sight of the cars streaming down to the hairpin after the start was one never to be forgotten. And there were always dramatic races at Long Beach; it was the one circuit where you could guarantee that uncompetitive cars suddenly came to the fore, where there were tussles between unlikely competitors and drivers in underpowered cars had a chance to make their mark.

Actually, that last statement is true of most street circuits. It was Detroit where John Watson earned his reputation as the only driver who could overtake on street circuits. And Detroit was a place where nobody could pass! Unfortunately, I could not find a decent picture of the circuit so you will just have to take my word for it that the photo of Senna up there was taken at Detroit.

Even the strange aberration of the circuit in a car park in Las Vegas gave us some great races. It was artificial and a poor excuse for a street circuit but it did let us get close to the action.

Notice that all these places are in the States. It was the only country that Bernie Ecclestone was so desperate to get into that he would accept such circuits. Now that seems to have changed (the money has moved elsewhere) and Bernie asserts boldly that F1 doesn’t really need a race in the USA at all.

So our chances of new street circuits coming along are non-existent. We must content ourselves with the annual and glorious experience that is Monaco – and fight tooth and nail to prevent it ever being taken off the calendar. It may be dangerous, cramped, outdated and whatever else its critics throw at it; but it is also the last reminder of a time when the public could experience F1 close up and the drivers had never heard of such a thing as safety.

Monaco

Monaco

It’s that man Senna in the lead again – but there’s something else interesting about this photo. Starting from the front, we have a McLaren, a Tyrrell (!), two Williams, a Benetton, a McLaren and two Ferraris. Then come a Jordan and another Benetton, but what are those two red cars behind them? They sure look like two more Ferraris to me.

Just to round it off, there are a Tyrrell, a March and a Minardi after that. But those red cars have me wondering. I suppose I could dig in the records and find out but I thought it might be more interesting to see if anyone has a better memory than I do – can you help me out?

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Olivier Panis to Retire

As reported by F1 Racing-live, Olivier Panis will retire from his position as Toyota’s test driver at the end of the year. He is hoping to race in other formulae but has decided that F1 is no longer for him.

Panis

Olivier Panis

Olivier’s career in F1 began with the Ligier team in 1994. He showed considerable promise, driving the uncompetitive car to unexpectedly high positions and, in 1996, he won the Monaco Grand Prix. Admittedly, this was after almost the entire field had spun off or collided in the wet conditions but Olivier avoided the trouble to come through at the end. And that’s what counts.

Panis continued to drive for Ligier after Prost took over the team and renamed it. In 1997 he produced some excellent early results, second in Spain and third in Brazil, but in Canada he broke his leg in a bad accident, thus putting an end to a promising season.

Thereafter, Olivier’s F1 career went downhill. He left Prost at the end of 1998 and signed for McLaren as a test driver. Returning to competition in 2001 with BAR, he found that the car was less than he’d hoped and, after two years, he departed for Toyota’s new team.

Although the Toyota improved steadily during 2003 and 2004, Olivier elected to take on a test driver role for them from 2005 onwards. And now he has decided to call it quits. He leaves F1 with a reputation for being a competent and solid driver. Always honest, Olivier could be counted on for some good quotes on F1 events. I will miss his insights into the Toyota team.

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A Bit of Fun

Today, F1 Racing-live dot com has a very good article on evolving safety measures at Grand Prix circuits. I was going to write a little post on how things have developed in this area and knew immediately that I would need some relevant photos. But then this happened:

I was looking for a photo of Monaco to show the impossibility of having runoff areas there when I came across the picture below. At first glance it seems quite normal but then one notices some strange things about it. Since when have ordinary members of the public been allowed to sit and watch the race from the inside of the Loews hairpin, for instance?

Loews

At which point, we see the Mercedes just ahead of the two Williams and presume that this is the pace car and there must have been an incident somewhere to bring it out. Only the Williams team has caught it as yet. But then we see the parked cars before the hairpin and realize that this cannot be a race; it’s a demonstration run of some kind.

The picture was so unusual that I had to include it in this article and, while I was doing that, I decided to have a bit of fun with it:

Loews and caption

Then, having made the guy in the pic ask the question, naturally I had to answer it with this:

Senna\'s lift

It is, of course, Mansell giving Senna a lift back to the pits after winning the British GP of many years ago. Senna’s car had broken down a long way from home and “Our Nige” took pity on him on his victory lap. I am pretty sure that this would not be allowed today, just as they have long banned the practice of picking up your national flag for display on your winning lap.

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