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Honda saved: Nobody cares

Brackley, Saturday: News breaking in the last couple of days to suggest that the floundering Honda Formula One team has finally been saved and will compete in F1 in 2009 has been met with widespread apathy from fans of the sport, with most having “stopped caring” about the fate of the team.

Apathetic: World reacts to Honda salvation

Apathetic: World reacts to Honda salvation

“Well-connected” F1-related websites such as Planet-F1 and GrandPrix.com have notched up a healthy post count in recent weeks with speculation about the future of the Brackley-based outfit, combining the credibility of anonymous hearsay with the thrill of typing to spread scurrilous rumours about the involvement of people such as David Richards and companies such as Ferrari and Petrobras in the buyout. Only in the last few days have reliable sources like Autosport and F1 Badger finally indicated that a management buyout, led by current team principal Ross Brawn, will save the team and the career of Jenson Button. Maybe.

However, speculation about Honda’s fate has led fans to react to the latest news with disinterest. “We’re all tired of hearing about Honda,” one fan opined today. “Will they race? Won’t they race? It was all quite fun guessing to begin with, but now we’re a bit sick of hearing about it.”

Media interest in the Honda affair has dwindled as well, with British tabloid Metro choosing not to run an article about the team being saved, replacing it with exclusive photographs of Kimi Raikkonen stumbling out of a Turku nightclub. Even the specialist F1 media has abandoned the Honda story as “old hat,” with F1 Racing‘s latest editorial explaining how Michael Schumacher is to blame for the current sponsorship crisis in F1 instead of concerning itself with the future of Honda.

British fans are also said to be “not bothered” at the news that Jenson Button will race in 2009, despite rumours that the British has-been has had his salary slashed to just £7.5 million, and may have to sell one of his yachts.

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McLaren fans shunned for “Spygate denial”

Woking, Friday: Some fans of Formula One team McLaren have reported being increasingly shunned and marginalised by society in response to their controversial belief of “Spygate denial,” which holds that the espionage scandal for which McLaren were punished in 2007 never happened, or at least not to the extent that is widely reported.

F1 sources say that huge numbers of documents and graphics relating to the design of the 2007 Ferrari, as well as an on-demand flow of confidential insider information from the team, were supplied to key McLaren officials by then Ferrari figure Nigel Stepney. McLaren were eventually fined $100 million and excluded from the Constructors’ championship in the wake of the scandal.

Thief: Spygate mastermind Nigel Stepney

Thief: Spygate mastermind Nigel Stepney

However, some McLaren fans have persistently suggested that the actual espionage was limited to “a few documents here and there,” was the work of a few errant individuals and did not have the authorisation of McLaren team boss Ron Dennis.

Such remarks have caused outrage in the world of Ferrari fans and sympathisers, with members of the Ferrari Supporters’ Association calling for “Spygate denial” to be made illegal in all F1 circles.

Reginald Scrotum, Conservative MP for the Cotswold constituency of Bigotry & Shouting, referred to the emerging belief in Spygate denial as “sickening” and accused proponents of “defiling the significance of those documents stolen during the espionage.”

However, a prominent McLaren supporter and self-proclaimed Spygate denier, who asked to remain anonymous “for fear of ridicule from brainwashed Ferrari fans,” told The Runoff Area that “on the basis of the evidence available, the only balanced and unbiased conclusion is that Spygate was not as widespread as the Ferrari media mafia would have you believe. A few documents were taken, that’s true, but to paint it as a systematic theft of Ferrari’s intellectual property is both misleading and unfair.” How he managed to speak in bold type has yet to be convincingly explained.

McLaren bosses have consistently expressed a desire to “move on” from the unpleasantness of Spygate, though rumours of a complete ban on expressing views related to Spygate denial within Woking are unconfirmed.

GPDA consider superlicence action

Paris, Thursday: The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association will meet over the next few days to plan a course of action over the FIA’s recent hike of superlicence prices, with a range of potential activities ranging from “quietly paying up and pretending the whole thing never happened” to “full-blown revolution.”

Toothless: Representation of proposed GPDA action

Toothless: Representation of proposed GPDA action

GPDA director Mark Webber, speaking from his cryogenic quackery chamber in Australia, told journalists: “The drivers will not stand for the ridiculous and blatant profiteering of the FIA, which is why we are considering strike action during the Australian Grand Prix in March. Also it’ll give me a bit more time for my leg to get better, as the broken bone has healed but for some reason I’ve contracted frostbite.

“Drivers of the world, unite!” he continued. “You have nothing to lose but your chains!

“And some of your salary,” Webber added. “And possibly some vital championship points. And perhaps your jobs.”

A contrasting view is offered by another high-ranking GPDA member, McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa, suggested that another form of protest could instead be used. “We can look for other, less disruptive ways of expressing our problem with the FIA and its current fee structure,” the Spaniard said. Rumours indicate that de la Rosa’s suggestion of symbolically dumping a caseload of superlicences in the Albert Park lake at the Australian Grand Prix was rejected by other drivers.

The FIA have so far stood their ground on the issue, with Bernie Ecclestone indicating that he has agreed with the sport’s governing body to avoid broadcasting the drivers’ actions. “The revolution will not be televised,” he said, “unless someone wants to buy the broadcasting rights, of course. Then it’s all yours.” Max Mosley has been reported to have responded to the driver’s rallying calls with a simple statement: “Let them eat cake,” though most commentators have agreed that this seems to be an expression of cluelessness rather than anything else.

GPDA non-members Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen have reportedly already paid for their superlicences, with Webber denouncing them as “blacklegs” in his interview earlier today.

New Force India goes “too far”

Silverstone, Tuesday: The 2009 car produced by the Force India Formula One team has already been slammed by critics as “patriotism gone too far,” days before the challenger is even officially launched at the team’s Northamptonshire base this weekend.

Early leaks from the team factory suggest that, in a radical new interpretation of the 2009 technical regulations, Force India have managed to produce a car that is fairly similar in shape to the country of India itself. Some have speculated that these plans may be illegal under the 2009 technical regulations, but Force India boss Vijay Mallya – speaking privately to one of our sources – dismissed these claims.

Unorthodox: Artists rendition of Force Indias new car

Unorthodox: Artist's rendition of Force India's new car

“India is a nice, aerodynamically streamlined country,” Mallya said. “Obviously it’s quite wide in the north, then it sort of gets all pointy towards the south, which means that it is pretty much an optimal shape for airflow. We are confident that the 2009 car is within the spirit and the letter of the Technical Regulations, and look forward to seeing how it fares in competition.”

Rumours that technical director Mike Gascoyne was dismissed last year because “he couldn’t get the Madras coast right” have yet to be confirmed but have been substantiated by a number of sources.

This is not the first time an F1 car has assumed unorthodox proportions for marketing purposes – Ligier built a car in the 1970s shaped like a giant teapot as an advertisement for title sponsors PG Tips. Rumours were abundant in 2003 that Ferrari were planning to circumvent the tobacco advertising ban by producing a car in the shape of a giant packet of cigarettes, though the FIA is believed to have declared the design illegal. And as recently as 2007, Honda considered producing an “Earth car” that was actually shaped like the Earth, though it fared quite poorly in wind tunnel testing (even compared to the car they eventually did use in 2007).

Drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil, who will be piloting the Mercedes-powered vehicles for the new season, were unavailable for comment, though Fisichella is said to be “very ‘appy” with the new designs.

Branson insists on pun ban

Brackley, Sunday: With rumours continually surfacing over a bid by Virgin boss Richard Branson to buy out The Team Formerly Known As Honda in time for March’s Australian Grand Prix, the bearded entrepreneur has dropped the first hints that he has no interest in participating in Formula One until the sport makes several changes.

Branson, whose Virgin Group is involved in record production, rail travel, soft drink manufacture, eccentrically ballooning around the world, telecommunications, air travel, and most recently taking rich people into space and for some reason bringing them back down again, told journalists that he was only interested in involving his brand in F1 if the sport addressed its “faults.”

Not funny: Billionaire killjoy Richard Branson

Branson has long been an advocate of environmental awareness, so a requirement for F1 cars to use clean fuels and operate efficiently is expected. However, the ex-hippie also suggested that people discussing Formula One should be banned from punning on his team’s name should they enter the sport.

“It’s all too easy to imagine, isn’t it?” Branson asked rhetorically. “You can see it now – ‘The Virgin is leaking fluids everywhere’ – ‘The elegantly crafted rear of the Virgin is hanging out’ – ‘The Virgin scores for the first time.’ It would be abysmal. So that’s why we’re politely asking the FIA to legislate against these kinds of puns before we can even consider getting involved in Formula One.”

Jenson Button in particular will be hoping that these problems can be sorted out as soon as possible, as he plans on entering the Virgin very shortly in order to gain maximum testing time before the 2009 season opener in Australia. Brazilian ace Bruno Senna is widely expected to have a go soon afterwards.

The Virgin Group have been seen in Formula One before, with subsidiary Virgin Mobile sponsoring Jordan for a short period a few years ago. But on that occasion, with the Virgin people pulling out so soon, it can’t have been very good.

Kiribati GP attracts scepticism

Tarawa, Friday: Officials responsible for the construction of a state-of-the-art Formula One facility in the Pacific republic of Kiribati have dismissed sceptical remarks from several commentators, who have questioned the ability of the Oceania state to put on a Grand Prix in 2010.

A scattered group of islands and atolls in an expanse of ocean equivalent in size to the lower forty-eight states of America, Kiribati first gained independence from Britain in 1979, and since then enterprising individuals from the country have often pondered the plausibility of bringing Formula One to the islands.

Unsuitable? Future GP venue Kiribati

Unsuitable? Future GP venue Kiribati

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has reportedly warmly welcomed the latest proposals, which include the construction of a purpose-built motorsport facility on the atoll of Tarawa, where the country’s capital is located. No details of the plans have yet been released, though top F1 track designer Hermann Tilke has already stated: “My fans can be sure that the usual system of slow-to-medium switchback corners will dominate the new circuit. Yes, both of you.”

Most analysts to comment on the ambitious plans, however, have expressed concern about the suitability of Kiribati for hosting a Grand Prix. Three of the islets making up the Tarawa atoll have been submerged due to changing ocean currents since 1999, and with the danger of climate change looming large, it is plausible that the entire atoll could disappear within the next few years.

Plans currently suggest that the Kiribati Grand Prix will take place in March 2010, a time of year when the region is pounded by cyclones. Most commentators have agreed, however, that this is perhaps the only way that the race will be made interesting.

Teams are also reported to have expressed concern about the logistics of transferring all of their transporters and motorhomes to Kiribati in time for a race. FOTA President Luca di Montezemolo reportedly smashed a television set in anger upon hearing the news.

Alonso “dismayed” by Danica rumours

Enstone, Tuesday: Double world champion and Renault lead driver Fernando Alonso is reported to be “dismayed” at rumours that the fledgling USF1 team may be interested in testing IndyCar driver Danica Patrick when the team gets off the ground.

Danica Patrick admires website authors ability to resist the temptation of including a picture of her in a swimsuit

Sulky: Danica Patrick admires website author's ability to resist the temptation of including a picture of her in a swimsuit

Patrick, who has a single IRL victory to her name after a win at Motegi last year, is one of the Indy Racing League’s most marketable and valuable drivers despite her modest success. Explanations for this anomalous situation vary, although most hinge on the fact that Patrick has been photographed sprawling across expensive cars in minimal clothing (investigations by researchers for The Runoff Area have discovered that similar attempts to increase Jenson Button’s profile have met with less success).

Formula One has always attempted to increase its profile in the United States, usually without success, so the prospect of a popular American driver making her way to F1 in a US-run team has certainly attracted plenty of attention in the sport’s commercial circles.

Reports from Renault, however, have suggested that former champion Alonso has greeted the news with less enthusiasm, as he is said to be concerned about Patrick impinging on a niche the Spaniard has spent a number of years carving out for himself.

“Fernando is a little worried about what would happen if Danica were to enter F1,” an anonymous Renault source told us today. “The role of whingeing, blubbering prima donna has been exclusively Fernando’s property for some time now. Given Danica’s occasional outbursts over in the States, attacking drivers like Milka Duno and generally being a pain in the arse, Fernando is dismayed that such monumental arrogance might displace his own fairly modest attempts at acting like an objectionable child some of the time.”

Fans of Patrick are also said to be among the more vociferous and unbearable of IRL followers, though a spokesman for the McLaren supporters’ association claimed that they were not worried about the threat: “We’ll out-moan them any day,” he confidently suggested.