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India and Turkey under F1 glare

February 17, 2005 13:05 IST

India and Turkey, countries previously on the fringes of the Formula One map, will be in the Grand Prix limelight this season.

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The Russians are coming too, with the Midland Group of St Petersburg-born Canadian businessman Alex Shnaider buying the struggling Jordan team and promising to help Russian talent reach the top.

Expect also to see plenty of Red Bull being knocked back when the action starts in Melbourne on March 6. Jaguar have been taken over and renamed by Austrian energy drink billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz.

Formula One has been swept by change since the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix in October, with three of the 10 team bosses replaced and the driver merry-go-round whirling faster than ever.

Christian Horner has taken the helm at Red Bull, Colin Kolles at Jordan and Nick Fry at BAR.

Two teams, two and a half if you include Honda buying a 45 percent stake in championship runners-up BAR, have changed ownership.

Following successful first races in China and Bahrain last season, Turkey will make its grand prix debut in August at a new Hermann Tilke-designed circuit being built on the Asian side of Istanbul.

That race, taking the calendar to an unprecedented 19 rounds, will plug another hole in commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone's global masterplan as well as adding another non-EU venue to the list.

INDIAN ARRIVAL

Yet Narain Karthikeyan, signed by Jordan as India's first Formula One driver, has so far been the season's most-talked about newcomer.

With the debut of the 'fastest Indian on wheels', the country's already strong interest in Formula One promises to take off.

The team's statement announcing his arrival spelt out exactly what it really meant, giving Formula One "exceptional appeal in India with the potential for an enormous new audience and business market".

Ecclestone, keen to look outside the EU with its ban on tobacco advertising later this year, stoked the fire when he told the BBC last week that he expected India to have a race in the next three years.

Hyderabad had hoped to host one by 2007 but the chief architect of that plan was voted out in regional elections last year by opponents determined to focus on food and farming rather than Formula One.

Mexico could join the calendar next year, although land disputes concerning the earmarked area near the Caribbean resort of Cancun have put that in doubt.

Ecclestone has also talked of a return to South Africa, possibly one in Russia and a second in the United States.

Britain, France and the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola all escaped the axe, despite being threatened, but some already fear that 19 races could put an intolerable burden on team personnel.

NEW FACES

For the first time since 1967, France will start a season without a grand prix driver on the grid following the retirement of Olivier Panis.

Others to have quit the stage, involuntarily, since the start of 2004 include Brazilian Cristiano da Matta, Hungarian Zsolt Baumgartner, Italians Gianmaria Bruni and Giorgio Pantano, and Germany's Timo Glock.

Only two teams start with the same driver lineup as last year, Ferrari and BAR. But BAR have a new boss.

Williams, with Australian Mark Webber and Germany's Nick Heidfeld moving in from Jaguar and Jordan respectively, have two men who have yet to win a race between them.

Webber has yet to finish higher than fifth place in three seasons in Formula One.

There will be at least four rookies, possibly five if highly-rated Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi gets the nod over Austrian Christian Klien at Red Bull.

Minardi and Jordan, the tail-end teams, both have two drivers with no Formula One race experience.

Apart from the high-profile Karthikeyan, Jordan have recruited Tiago Monteiro as Portugal's first driver since Pedro Lamy was at Minardi in 1996. Minardi have signed Dutch hope Christijan Albers and Austrian Patrick Friesacher.

Further up the grid, there will be plenty of interest in Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya's move to McLaren from Williams, Italian Giancarlo Fisichella's switch to Renault from Sauber and Canadian former champion Jacques Villeneuve's Sauber debut.

David Coulthard, who could easily have joined the ranks of the departed after being dropped by McLaren, has found a welcome at Red Bull while Ralf Schumacher will make his Toyota debut after leaving Williams.

Melbourne is a new start for all of them.

Alan Baldwin
Source:
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