OCTOBER 23, 2006
Formula 1's new dawn
Sunday at Interlagos was a time to say goodbye to a lot. Michael Schumacher was departing but there was more beside as Marlboro, Mild Seven, Lucky Strike, Michelin and Cosworth - some of the strongest supporters that the sport has had - are also departing. Marlboro will go on paying for Ferrari but the livery should disappear if the company honours the commitment it made to other tobacco companies five years ago.
But change is no bad thing in F1. The sport needs to regenerate from time to time to keep up interest and move with the times. It needs fast young men to push those who have settled into comfortable lives.
The key point, however, is that they will all be out from under the shadow of Michael Schumacher and F1 fans are already excited about this new wave of talent that will soon be taking over. At 25 Fernando Alonso is already a double World Champion - the youngest ever. He will move to McLaren and will be paired with Lewis Hamilton. Kimi Raikkonen will head off to Ferrari to join Felipe Massa, to create a potent driver line-up - hopefully without a number one and a number two. Giancarlo Fisichella will be joined at Renault by Heikki Kovalainen and Fisichella will need to do rather better than he has this year if he wishes to keep hold of his drive as Nelson Piquet Jr is already sizing himself up for the seat. BMW will almost certainly have a better car and with Robert Kubica the team has a man who is widely tipped to be a future star. And do not forget Tonio Liuzzi, a young man who has had little chance to shine this year but comes with an impressive pedigree in the junior formulae.
And even with all these likely newcomers Nico Rosberg will remain the youngest man in the field and will no doubt benefit from his experiences this year.
With Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve, Juan Pablo Montoya and Pedro de la Rosa moving on, the old men of F1 in 2007 will be David Coulthard, Rubens Barrichello, Fisichella and the two Toyota drivers. They will all be fighting for their futures.
There is still much that needs to change but F1 is gradually being dragged away from its buccaneering roots to an era of the kind of governance that will attract the really big money, rather than the tobacco barons. There are billions of dollars that could be spent in the sport if it brushed up its image in financial circles and the taint that comes from some of the antics we have seen over the years.
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