Michael Schumacher’s Formula One swansong was the talk of Sunday’s season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix but it was not the only farewell. Tyre giants Michelin, illustrious engine makers Cosworth and two of the three last remaining tobacco sponsors in the sport also joined Ferrari’s seven-times champion in heading for the exit.
The season started with three world champions; of whom just one is left — Fernando Alonso, who also said farewell to Renault before moving to McLaren. Jacques Villeneuve was forced into retirement in August at BMW Sauber by up-and-coming Robert Kubica. Juan Pablo Montoya has left for NASCAR in the United States. Kimi Raikkonen and Mark Webber have left McLaren and Williams for Ferrari and Red Bull respectively. Tiago Monteiro, Sakon Yamamoto and Pedro de la Rosa face uncertain futures at Spyker, Super Aguri and McLaren respectively with all three teams mulling alternatives.
Michelin’s departure for the second time in their history will reshape the sport, leaving Japan’s Bridgestone as the sole provider and ending a tyre war that has raged since 2001. The French company bows out with the statistics reading: 216 races started between 1977-1984 and 2001-2006, 102 wins with seven different teams and 20 drivers. Winners of nine world championships, including the last two drivers’ and constructors’ titles with Renault, they gave notice a year early after teams and the governing FIA decided to have just one supplier from 2008.
“F1 is supposed to be competition in its purest form and you eliminate a key part of that if you remove the rivalry between tyre manufacturers,” said motorsport director Frederic Henry-Biabaud.
Japan Tobacco, Renault’s title sponsors with Mild Seven, and BAT — founders of the BAR team taken over by Honda — leave in response to anti-tobacco legislation.
Their exit leaves only Ferrari, backed by Philip Morris and with Marlboro’s red and white colours, as a team sponsored by tobacco.
BMW happy with showing
BMW exceeded their own expectations in their first Formula One season since they bought Sauber, team boss Mario Theissen said on Tuesday.
The Swiss-based team ended the season in fifth place, a point ahead of big-budget Toyota, while their former partners Williams were eighth.
Sauber finished last year in eighth place. “In our first year we made it to the podium twice and that wasn’t expected,” said Theissen.