The 2006 Formula One season is finally over and by and large it was a good one. There were close fought battles for both titles and it was never certain which way it was going to go, there were some great races and some not-so-great controversies...
The 2006 Formula One season is finally over and by and large it was a good one. There were close fought battles for both titles and it was never certain which way it was going to go, there were some great races and some not-so-great controversies and now, at the end of it all, it's time so say so long and farewell to some names and faces.
Of course, there's always a chance that people will return to the sport in one way or another but for the moment there are a few departures. Michael Schumacher's retirement from racing is arguably the absence that will be most felt. The seven-time champion is the most successful driver in F1's history and that kind of legacy won't be easily forgotten.
Schumacher will perhaps be remembered as much for his controversies as for his record-breaking career but no matter how one feels about the German, he made a huge contribution to the sport. He may not have gone out with a win or that eighth title but his performance at Interlagos was a reminder of just why he was so successful for so long.
"People ask me what I will miss but it is still too early to consider that," he said after Brazil. "For now all I need is peace and quiet, something that is a novelty for me. I am well aware of the unforgettable moments I have had in Formula One and of the fans' support. It is always comforting knowing that someone is supporting you in difficult times. This feeling has always been with me and I hope, in my own way, to have given the fans something to cheer."
Michelin has made its name well-known over its years in F1. The French tyre manufacturer competed in 216 Grands Prix since 1977 and notched up nine world championship titles with its partner teams. Since last year's US Grand Prix controversy Michelin's future involvement in F1 and its relationship with the FIA looked decidedly rocky.
Michelin's reasons for quitting at the end of this season focused on the constant changing of tyre rules and the FIA's intention to have a single tyre supplier from 2008, which the manufacturer did not agree with. Michelin previously left F1 in the mid-eighties and returned in 2001 and while the sport is not in its foreseeable future, another return is possible.
Michelin motorsport director Fr?d?ric Henry-Biabaud said in regard to the single tyre supplier decision: "F1 is supposed to be competition in its purest form and you eliminate a key part of that if you remove the rivalry between tyre manufacturers. I don't see the appeal in participating in a series on those terms."
Engine maker Cosworth's exit, unlike the previous two, is not through choice. Cosworth was partner this year to Williams and Toro Rosso but Toyota will team up with Williams from 2007 and it's expected to soon be confirmed that Ferrari will supply one of the Red Bull outfits, most likely Toro Rosso. Spyker MF1 will also be Ferrari-powered next season, which leaves no customer teams for Cosworth to do a deal with.
Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, James Hunt and Nelson Piquet all took titles with Cosworth engines and in 1994 the Ford Zetec-badged V8 powered Michael Schumacher's first world championship with Benetton. With a history like that the loss of the Cosworth name is indeed a shame but the marque has the potential to come back.
After its rather ignominious departure from Brazil with both Williams cars retiring on the first lap due to contact, Cosworth principal engineer Chris Jilbert said: "It really does not seem possible that there will be no Cosworth-powered cars in the F1 paddock in 2007… Let's hope that Cosworth can return to its rightful place on the grid in the future."
Schumacher may be the biggest driver name to depart but there are a couple of well-known others that said goodbye, although perhaps with less good will than Michael. Juan Pablo Montoya was dropped by McLaren mid-season after he announced his intention to leave F1 and race NASCAR in 2007, while Jacques Villeneuve was similarly ousted from BMW.
In an age when there are often complaints about the lack of characters in the sport it's ironic that we lose two of the more flamboyant personalities from the grid. Montoya and McLaren seemed ill-matched from the start and Villeneuve never recovered the flair of his championship-winning days back in 1997. Montoya has not completely ruled out a return to F1 but it's unlikely Villeneuve will be seen again.
Suzuka won't been seen next year as the Japanese event moves to Fuji and the European and San Marino GPs at the Nurgurgring and Imola are currently off the calendar. Nurburgring, however, will remain as the host of the German GP on alternate years with Hockenheim. The name MF1 Racing went as quickly as it came -- the team, which was formerly Jordan, will be Spyker F1 in 2007.
As smoking is now near-enough a sin, BAT (Lucky Strike Honda) and Japan Tobacco (Mild Seven Renault) sponsorship is exiting and while Philip Morris (Marlboro) will continue to fund Ferrari, the livery will reportedly disappear if the company falls in line with the other tobacco groups to end advertising. Australian brewer Foster's will cease its global sponsorship of F1 after a 20 year involvement.
There may yet be more departures this year -- Ferrari technical director Ross Brown is rumoured to be taking a sabbatical year in 2007, if not retiring, and not all teams have finalized their driver line ups -- but by and large those are the ones we know about so far. Some will be missed and some won't but they've all had their part to play.