Automania

Do we have too many categories?

GP Master

As 2006 looms ever closer, I have been rather taken aback by the plethora of single seater categories, most trying hard to be the next ‘stepping stone’ to Formula 1. Start counting – there’s A1GP, there’s the GP Masters (for the past use by date drivers), there’s GP2 (where Nico Rosberg came from), Formula Nippon, Formula Renault (where Raikkonen came from before he had his personality surgically removed), Formula Ford, F3, Formula BMW, Indycar and so it goes on. All of them cost a king’s ransom and all of them need drivers with personal fortunes, or managers that can scam the money out of sponsors, that being an art form in
itself.

Probably the first thing we have to get our heads around is that, like it or hate it, F1 is still the top rung, the pinnacle. It may have stupid rules at times, it may have certain groups making blind fortunes out of it, but it is still the top category (even if some of the drivers are not).

Being a dyed in the wool racer, I admit I will watch anything going round and round, even if it has a lawn mower engine (and there is a class for them too) but every class out there really dilutes the chance of TV coverage. It is this single item that I believe determines whether any particular class will be a success in the world market.

I had great hopes for A1GP, but its hopeless TV coverage has meant that the F1 TV crowd sniffed at it, but have drifted away. Not only was the telecasting poor,
but to offer the viewers the Sunday race on Monday night ….. forget it. And they have!

I would like to see the GP Masters on the flickering box too, but any telecasts of this group seem to be closely guarded secrets. Sure, there were a few column centimeters in the print media, but for sporting events, nothing beats live film (TV) action.

Knowing a little about international telecasting, it runs like this. The TV channels all try to outbid each other to snaffle the rights from the ‘eager to jack up the price’ promoters. If it is marketable, then the price goes up. And up. So eventually only major sponsors can grab some air time. Like Coca-Cola, so Fred’s body shop can forget it. The promoter makes money, the TV channel sells the advertising time and makes money, while the competitor is totally forgotten in the mad scramble for the dollars by people who I consider “hangers on” in motor sport.

This is where I believe the FIA has let us all down. Instead of working on a master plan to channel the cream of the drivers into F1, without the clotted cream buying their drives, the FIA has allowed this plethora of classes to expand, and as the FIA gets money from them, that means the drivers have to cough up again!

For example, when I received my first international racing license, I found it was several times more expensive than my ‘national’ license. Why? No real reason other than it was another opportunity for the FIA to get its hands into my wallet. If I wanted to move up the ladder, pay for the privilege! The FIA had spoken.

So how can we reverse this cycle? Probably start by making the FIA the promoters, and not people like Bernie E. Have an FIA master plan and have drivers follow the progression in increasingly faster cars, with the top echelon moving upwards, while the also-rans remain at the level they are best in. Reserve TV coverage rights for F1 and perhaps one or two other categories only. And control the TV coverage, so that it is current and high quality. Quality TV coverage of quality drivers will ensure the popularity of motor sport continues and grows.


Michelin spits the rubber dummy

Very shortly after the FIA announced that there would be one tyre manufacturer only in 2008, Michelin announced its withdrawal from F1 at the end of the 2006 season.

Despite being the tyre used by the championship winners Renault, Michelin will best be remembered as having reduced the US Grand Prix to a French farce when it supplied tyres that would not withstand the rigors of the banked turns found at the Indy circuit. This resulted in 14 cars withdrawing and putting the entire future of F1 racing in America back by several years.

Those difficulties prompted criticism from Max Mosley, president of the FIA, which Michelin did not appreciate, but were forced to eat humble pie. However, when the FIA announced the plans for a single tyre supplier, which by the way, all the F1 teams agreed to, Michelin could see the ‘get out of jail free’ card and announced its retirement.

Chief executive Edouard Michelin said, “This decision is the result of pro-
found differences between Michelin’s long-standing sporting philosophy and the way Formula 1 is managed by the regulating authorities, which no longer provide a clear and sustainable environment to justify long-term investments.”

“For Michelin, leaving Formula 1 in no way represents abandoning motorsports, to which the Michelin brand has been committed for 117 years.”

This leaves Honda, Red Bull, Renault, McLaren and Scuderia Toro Rosso (or is that Scuderia Tosso Roro?) to negotiate a deal with Bridgestone for 2007, as Williams and Toyota both ‘defected’ at the end of the 2005 season to use Bridgestone for 2006. Did they know something the others did not?


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned that steel and aluminium construction in bodies and chassis is looked upon as something new in the vehicle builders art, but this is not correct. A steel and aluminium chassis and aluminium mudguards first came out on a production car in 1900. I asked, what was it? The answer was a Lanchester.

So to this week. In the 1950’s the big Humber Super Snipes were known for their quiet opulence. Not quite a Rolls-Royce, but eminently affordable. However, the manufacturer then decided to get into the fuel miser stakes and fitted a diesel engine. Who made the diesel?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected] Good luck!


Formula BMW World Final

After probably the most complicated way of finding a champion, with several heats, re-heats, pre-final and a final, the Formula BMW World Final was (finally) completed with Marco Holzer (AM-Holzer Motor-sport) the winner of the first ever Formula BMW World Final and now has a test in a BMW Sauber F1 Team car to look forward to. The 17 year old, who raced in the 2005 Formula BMW ADAC Championship, had the perfect weekend winning all his heats, the Pre-Final and then the all important World Final. Second was Sebastien Buemi (ASL Team Mcke-Motor-sport) and third Nicolas Hlkenberg (Josef Kaufmann Racing).

“I cannot find the words to describe how I feel at the moment. I came to Bahrain and my goal was to finish in the top ten. I have won every race I competed in and now I have the opportunity to test the BMW Sauber F1 Team car! This result is unbelievable and I have realised the greatest dream of my life. I just want to thank my team and BMW for making this dream come true,” said a delighted Marco Holzer.

The event, however, finished on a controversial note as it was Hlkenberg who was first on the road after leading the final from lap one to the finish. Following the race he was given a ten second penalty that dropped him down to third. This was due to an incident at the end of lap ten when the Safety Car pulled off the track. The Stewards ruled he was in breach of the regulation stating ‘following the withdrawal of the Safety Car and prior to passing the green flag, the race leader will maintain the pace previously held by the Safety Car’ by reducing his speed. So the youngsters have already learned the complexities of the FIA rule book!

The highest placed driver from the Formula BMW Asia group was Thailand’s representative Robert Boughey who came 15th after starting 23rd on the grid for the final. Another stand-out driver from the back was Robert Wickens from Canada who came 6th from 27th on the grid.

Remember the names Holzer, Hulkenberg, Buemi and Wickens, you will hear more of them in a few years.

BMW are to be congratulated for having persevered with this category, and I
sincerely hope that local boy James Grunwell might be given the opportunity
to race in this category in 2006.


The “If Only” syndrome

Jaguar XK-SS

Flicking through a copy of Classic and Sports Car (a beautiful magazine if you are interested in the older category of cars), and they had a comparison in prices in some (these days) delectable motor cars. Did you know that after WW II you could buy a 1937 Mercedes Benz 540 K for just over 70,000 baht and it is now worth 49 million! Getting a little more recent, you could buy a Jaguar XK-SS in 1964 for 350,000 baht and now it is worth 46 million baht. In 1953 you could buy lots of old pre-war Bentleys for 13,000 baht. Yes, that’s what a 1927 Bentley fetched in 1953. Today? Well try getting one for under six million!

Of coursed, not all those cars from yesterday appreciated like those mentioned above. People bought Jaguar XJ-S types in 1990 for 2.4 million baht, and today that car is worth 7,000 baht. Yes, you read that correctly, seven thousand baht only! And if you really wanted to lose money in a hurry, in 1994 you bought a Rolls-Royce Silver Spur. To put it in your garage, you then spent 5.6 million baht. Today you opened the garage doors to find it is now worth a little over half a million baht. That’s right, about the price of a Honda Jazz, with no extras!