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GP Week : Issue 77
GPWEEK OPINION >> eed support categories? Aoyama) actually gave the final title to one of the few non-Aprilias racing. And the same is true in the 125 class. Call it a Derbi or an Aprilia, it's just the same. But they retained at least the possibility of entry by a rival marque. This is lost to Moto2. In the early years of GP racing, there were so many support classes that some races would have to be run on Saturday rather than Sunday: by the 1960s the premier 500s were backed by 50cc (later 80cc), 125cc, 250cc and 350cc. And, of course, the sidecars. A full day's racing, and sometimes more. And there was one spell when the support classes were more important to the fans than the main event. The 500 class was a parade of outclassed singles vainly trying to keep the MV Agustas in sight. The 250/350 races of the 1960s pitted the likes of Mike Hailwood and Jim Redman on Hondas against Phil Read and Bill Ivy on Yamahas for some legendary races. And the machines ... topped for ever by Honda's still unsurpassed in-line six- cylinder 250, later bored out to become an undersize but overbearing 350. Even before the modern era racing management was talking about ways to reduce the significance of the lesser classes, so that more attention would devolve onto the premier class. The example of F1 was seen as an ideal. One by one the classes were chipped away. The 350s, by now virtual 250-plus clones, were dropped after 1982; the 80s were dispensed with after 1989. Before another ten years had passed, the sidecars were pushed out of the door to play elsewhere. And now the 250s have gone. The 125s also seem to be living on borrowed time, if only there was a viable replacement. The current MotoGP grid shows how the 125 and 250 classes served as a ladder of learning. Almost all, except for Edwards, Hayden and Spies, came up by that route. Who is to say that Moto2 might not turn out to be as good a training ground? But its very nature establishes it as merely a sideshow to the real main event. bigger wheels is madness. Thirdly, I understand that in addition to these technical stipulations, Michelin also want paying for the tyres and free track signage at races. Bernie has told the teams the value of this track signage will, if the teams agree to Michelin's proposals, be deducted from the end of year TV revenue share. Who's going to agree to that when Bridgestone, for a fee (probably not so different, overall), will carry on supplying this year's spec tyres? And this isn't meant to sound like a criticism of Michelin, who have such a rich history in motorsport, but I think we have to question the French company's commitment when everything has to be on their terms. If they're not willing to compromise, do they really care enough? F1 is a fantastic marketing opportunity for any tyre manufacturer and while Bridgestone feel they've got the maximum value out of it that they can, Hankook, for example, could get in on the act and raise their international profile. Obviously if they were to offer a similar-spec tyre to the current one gratis, that would be very attractive. The trouble is that it's all happened a bit late in the day. Tyres are the single biggest performance variable, and F1 needs consistent, reliable source of rubber. Tyre development starts even earlier than the design of a new F1 car. It would have to be signed off at board-level and a whole factory would have to be readied. If Hankook were serious about coming in we'd have been getting press releases to that effect at Christmas. Instead all we get are murmurings and non-confirmations. Kumho and Goodyear are both in financial dire straits. Continental's marketing is geared more to safety than competition. If Michelin were to come in with a Le Mans-type tyre, there's a fair chance they would be joined by Hankook and Dunlop, who also run at Le Mans. It would be very cost-effective for them. But not for Formula One it wouldn't. And for that reason, the teams would be well advised to draw a line underneath it and re-sign with Bridgestone until another tyre manufacturer puts in a more attractive bid for their business. ning a high profile chelin 21