Editorial, August 2002

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Bridgestone did for Michelin at a drizzly Silverstone, further enhancing Ferrari’s sizeable performance advantage. Superbrain Ross Brawn made the right calls. Superstar Michael Schumacher did the rest Ta da! Win number 60 for the champion elect.

Back in 1906, however; the red cars of Fiat (not yet the mother company of a Group) didn’t quite possess the complete package they do now. They were quick and were on the right tyres Michelin’s new detachable rims but they were defeated by the steady-away strategy of the similarly shod, but crucially lighter, Renaults in the Grand Prix de l’ACF at Le Mans.

This was not the first race to carry GP nomenclature, but it was the first of international note to do so. The British manufacturers stayed away, preferring to put their eggs into the Gordon Bennett Cup basket. They were even arguing that race’s case on the eve of the ‘first’ GP to no avail, the last Cup had already been run which is probably why the definitive rules of the sport at international level are still written in French, not English.

In away, though, the Brits were proved prescient. The French disliked the Gordon Bennett Cup because only three cars from each country were allowed to enter, a fact which did not sit well with the plethora of Gallic manufacturers: Panhard et Levassor, Lorraine-Dietrich, Clement-Bayard, Renault and Richard-Brasier into three just won’t go. They wanted a free market and got it.

Nowadays, of course, GP entries are limited to two cars each from 12 teams, a restriction that secures the value of each piece of the pie. The problem the sport is facing, however, is whether they can find sufficient teams with sufficient appetite and budget to tuck in. The warning signs are there: Prost (the last Gallic Grand Prix manufacturer!) has gone under and been auctioned off, while Arrows and Minardi appear to be on the cusp of financial meltdown. Currently one short of a full house, F1 might soon be two or three shy.

Motor-racing is a fantastic way of promoting your product, but it can be a hard taskmaster, too. RichardBrasier was the dominant motor-racing force of 1905, and one of its cars set the fastest lap in the ‘first’ GP. But then tyre troubles set in. They never ever recovered. Ditto Clement-Bayard: a close-run third to Fiat in ’06; finished as a GP force by ’08.

Yes, you say, but there will always be Ferrari. And yes, you are probably right Even though the Agnelli family has just sold a 34 per cent stake of F1’s most famous name, without telling its President, there’s probably no cause for alarm. For lessons have been learned during a century of racing. Companies like Michelin, for example, are in for the long haul, have built up huge data banks of information, which is why they did for Bridgestone at a drizzly Silverstone.

Er…

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