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India in F1 U-turn

New Delhi, Monday: The Indian government has undertaken a hasty U-turn on its proclamation last week that Formula One is not a sport, declaring that they were “wrong” and paving the way towards an Indian Grand Prix in 2011.

Sporty: Indias only F1 team

Sporty: India's only F1 team

The government has denied that this sudden change of heart has anything to do with the recent upturn in fortunes of the Force India team, which claims to represent the country. Force India scored their first pole position on Saturday, courtesy of Giancarlo Fisichella, with the Italian also securing the team’s first points by finishing second behind the cheating Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen.

“While we obviously welcome the excellent sporting achievements of our sports teams in this activity, which is quite clearly a sport,” a spokesman for the Indian sports ministry said, “We insist that the timing of this announcement is coincidence and nothing more.

“India has plenty to celebrate in sport,” he continued. “Just look at the recent Twenty20 cricket world cup.

“Actually, don’t,” he admitted, after it was pointed out that the tournament was won by neighbours Pakistan, while India faltered in the second group stage. “But anyway, it’s just a coincidence. As are the recent questions over whether Twenty20 cricket should be considered a sport or not. Okay?”

As an emerging market, India is high on the list of target destinations for future Formula One venues. So far proposed Indian Grand Prix plans appear to have stalled, though organisers are confident of having the first race on the subcontinent ready for 2011.

“An Indian team, an Indian race – now all we need is an Indian driver to fully immerse ourselves in this most sport-like of all sports,” the spokesman said, at which point Narain Karthikeyan was observed quietly protesting in the background. He was, however, ignored.

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More trouble at FOTA dinner

Spa-Francorchamps, Saturday: Reports have emerged from the Formula One paddock that a meeting at a restaurant between members of FOTA again hit trouble during the evening.

Troubled: FOTA at the dinner table

Troubled: FOTA at the dinner table

Discussions between all parties were amicable over drinks in the foyer, but when the party was ushered to their table and began to choose their meals, trouble began. A group of team bosses, led by Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo, refused to commit to dining at the restaurant until they had seen the dessert menu, to ensure that there were no “nasty surprises” awaiting them at evening’s end.

A flustered maitre d’ informed the team principals that the desserts were subject to change at short notice, and thus a menu in advance could not be provided, but a fuming Montezemolo demanded that he and his associates be involved in any changes to the dessert menu before the evening was out. Eventually he threatened to leave entirely, and to spend the evening at another restaurant just down the road, originally founded by a rich Arab who had lost interest in the outfit, which had caused the business to struggle for survival.

Eventually agreement was reached between the FOTA members and the restaurant’s management, with concessions including a commitment to allow the diners greater say in the composition of all the menus, and the impending resignation of the head chef. The main course then continued without significant incident, though there was some whispered concern as to whether the rest of the group were prepared to pay Ross Brawn’s part of the bill.

During the main course, however, BMW’s Mario Theissen excused himself and did not return to the table, prompting much consternation among team principals when it emerged he had climbed out of the bathroom window and run away.

As the desserts arrived, Toyota’s John Howett attempted to make a similar exit, but was told, “Don’t even think about it.”

Button reveals new approach

Brackley, Tuesday: F1 world championship leader Jenson Button has vowed to change his approach to racing in the final six Grands Prix of the season, as he defends his lead in the title race from Rubens Barrichello, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel.

Quick-ish: Title hopeful Jenson Button

Quick-ish: Title hopeful Jenson Button

Since the Turkish Grand Prix in June, Button has seen his advantage reduced from 26 points to just 18, and having finished no higher than fifth in the last four Grands Prix, he has acknowledged that the world championship, once seemingly safely his, is dangerously close to slipping away.

“The last few races have been disappointing,” Button reflected after finishing seventh in Valencia while teammate Barrichello stormed to victory. “So now’s the time for me to have a new focus on the way I race, as I try to win the world championship.

“Basically I need to drive faster. So when I’m in the car, I’ll be putting my foot down more, braking less, turning the wheel just the right amount and stuff like that. Hopefully that will mean that I’ll go faster.”

Team principal Ross Brawn welcomed the announcement: “It’s great that Jenson has finally realised that he needs to drive quickly in order to secure the world championship. Frankly, I’d have thought that was obvious, but apparently not.”

While watching a video of last weekend’s European Grand Prix, Button pointed at Rubens Barrichello and said: “That’s the sort of thing I need to be doing. You know, driving quickly in a straight line, cornering quickly and all that. Hopefully in the right order too.”

Button’s realisation comes just before the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, one of the more challenging races on the calendar. “Spa is the perfect place to test my new approach,” Button revealed. “It’s a circuit that really rewards driving quickly.”

Barrichello commends beard for win

Valencia, Sunday: Victorious Brazilian Rubens Barrichello has attributed his victory in the European Grand Prix to his beard, which he claims to have grown “specially,” believing that it has allowed him to lap up to half a second quicker.

Beardy: Valencia victor Rubens Barrichello (and goatee)

Beardy: Valencia victor Rubens Barrichello (and goatee)

The goatee first appeared on Barrichello’s face at the British Grand Prix, where he outperformed his teammate Jenson Button for the first time to claim third place, the British driver languishing in sixth. Since then it has appeared in every race, with Barrichello scoring 19 points in that time, compared to Button’s 11.

Speaking after the race, Barrichello was in no doubt that the power of the beard had helped him to victory: “It may look like a small facial feature, having no conceivable effect on my abilities, but there’s no doubt in my mind that having this beard has massively improved my performance.”

Speculation was rife before the race about whether Barrichello’s car, which was revealed to be heavier than the McLarens at the post-qualifying weigh-in, weighed extra due to additional fuel or because of his “heavy beard” strategy contributing significant weight to the car. While this question has been largely unanswered, most parties agree that this extra mass was an advantage for the Brazilian.

Barrichello is believed to have been advised by Nigel Mansell, who famously removed his trademark moustache some time after his retirement from F1, and upon returning to the British Touring Car Championship turned out to be rubbish. “Facial hair is always the answer,” the 1992 world champion said.

From Mansell to Clay Reggazzoni, impressive facial hair has always been a trademark of some of motor sport’s greatest figures. Even Lewis Hamilton has tried to join the party with his half-hearted sideburns, a feature that almost certainly contributed to his 2008 world championship.

So far only Nick Heidfeld remains a curious anomaly in the history of the beard’s success in F1.

Thanks to “fakemansell” for his contribution.

Heidfeld takes blame for practice crash

Valencia, Saturday: BMW’s Nick Heidfeld has this morning accepted that he was responsible for the collision with Fernando Alonso in yesterday’s practice session for the European Grand Prix at Valencia.

Guilty: BMW driver Nick Heidfeld

Guilty: BMW driver Nick Heidfeld

The pair collided at the final corner of the street circuit after Alonso appeared to run up the inside of the BMW; they were summoned to see the stewards after the incident, who concluded that both parties were equally to blame.

However, Heidfeld has today confessed that the blame lies with him, explaining that Alonso was correct to believe that he was pulling into the pits and then decided, at the last minute, to stay out on the track.

“I had just completed a normal run and was heading back to the pits for the team to check the car over,” the German told reporters this morning. “So I pulled over to the right-hand side of the track as you would normally do to go into the pit entrance.

“But then the team came over the radio and told me that Luca Badoer was about to come out of his garage onto the pit lane. I didn’t want to get involved in a collision with him, so I decided to stay out. Unfortunately it meant that Fernando hit me instead.”

Badoer, Ferrari’s substitute race driver, was fined four times yesterday for speeding in the pit lane, and Heidfeld’s comments reveal that other drivers were concerned about his driving being potentially dangerous. “No one wants to get rear-ended in the pits,” Heidfeld pointed out. “That’s why we all steer well clear of Lewis these days.”

Alonso, however, was unsympathetic to the plight of the German: “Typical BMW driver,” the Spaniard fumed, in a manner eerily reminiscent of some low-quality BBC television programme or other. “Never uses his bloody indicators.”

Sato denies “curse” rumours

Tokyo, Wednesday: Former BAR-Honda and Super Aguri driver Takuma Sato has denied that the reason he is struggling to find an F1 drive is because team principals believe he is “cursed.”

Cursed? Ex-F1 driver Sato

Cursed? Ex-F1 driver Sato

Every team the Japanese driver has ever driven for has either been sold off or financially collapsed within a few years of his arrival, and superstitious team bosses are reported to have steered clear of him for fear that the same thing might happen to them, should they hire the driver.

“This is completely ridiculous,” Sato said to reporters, pausing momentarily to kick a black cat out of his way. “It’s just coincidence that every time I joined a team, they seemed to undergo a mysterious and inexplicable financial decline, culminating in the team ceasing to exist.”

Coincidence or otherwise, the rumours are reported to have influenced Scuderia Toro Rosso’s decision not to recruit Sato despite his performing well in winter testing, although team principal Franz Tost has denied this, saying that the decision was taken because Sato “wasn’t hard enough.”

It is believed, however, that Sato entered talks with Toyota with the possibility of becoming a brand ambassador early this year. Weeks later, Toyota recorded their first ever operating loss and called off the talks. Sato has found it difficult to find sponsorship in recent years, recent associations with British bank Northern Rock and chain store Woolworths failing to work out.

Sato is optimistic of his chances of finding a seat on the Formula One grid in 2010: “With three new teams entering the sport, it should be easier for me to get a drive,” he revealed. However, he also conceded that if these plans did not work out, there was a backup possibility: “I’m thinking about driving in A1GP; after all, it’s the kind of strong and well-funded series I’m looking for.”

Donnelly reprimand for attempt to fix court decision

Paris, Monday: F1’s chief steward Alan Donnelly has been formally reprimanded by the FIA for attempting to unfairly influence the outcome of the Court of Appeal’s decision on Renault’s Valencia penalty, being heard today in Paris.

Accused: F1 steward Alan Donnelly

Accused: F1 steward Alan Donnelly

Renault were given a one race ban for releasing Fernando Alonso from the pits without having properly attached one of his wheels. They have appealed the decision and a final judgement from the FIA’s Court of Appeal is expected to be announced later today or tomorrow.

However Donnelly, who as a member of the stewarding team is participating as an interested party in the hearing, has been accused of trying to interfere with the processes of the court in order to see his original decision vindicated.

Since 2006, cases in the FIA Court of Appeal have been decided by coin toss, instead of through the more thorough but also more tedious process of hearing evidence, weighing up the arguments of both sides and coming to a reasoned conclusion based on the regulations.

Donnelly apparently attempted to replace the Court of Appeal’s ceremonial coin with an almost identical replica, which featured two “head” sides instead of the more usual pattern of one head and one tail. Since heads traditionally means that the original decision will be upheld, Donnelly hoped that this coin would mean for certain that the court would be bound to agree with him.

“This is not so much a miscarriage of justice as it is an abortion of justice,” FIA President Max Mosley said in unnecessarily graphic terms. “And while administering random decisions with little or no attention paid to actual justice is a hallmark of the Court of Appeal, it is a fundamental aim of the FIA that such decisions are indeed random, not influenced by any outside party. Except Ferrari, of course.”