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Schumacher leads queue to F1 exit

Written by: Staff

SAO PAULO, Oct 23 (Reuters) Michael Schumacher's Formula One swansong was the talk of yesterday's season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix but it was not the only farewell.

Tyre giants Michelin, illustrious engine makers Cosworth and two of the three last remaining tobacco sponsors in the sport also joined Ferrari's seven-times champion in heading for the exit.

Others had said their goodbyes already -- such as Japan's Suzuka circuit, replaced by Fuji from next year, and the struggling Midland team bought by Dutch luxury sportscar makers Spyker.

The season started with three world champions; just one is left -- 25-year-old Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who also said farewell to Renault before moving to McLaren.

Canadian Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 champion, was forced into retirement in August at BMW Sauber by up-and-coming Pole Robert Kubica.

Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, no champion but still one of the sport's big personalities, has left for a new future in the United States with NASCAR.

Finland's Kimi Raikkonen and Australian Mark Webber have left McLaren and Williams for Ferrari and Red Bull respectively.

Portugal's Tiago Monteiro, Japan's Sakon Yamamoto and Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa face uncertain futures at Spyker, Super Aguri and McLaren respectively with all three teams mulling alternatives.

MICHELIN ADIEU Michelin's departure for the second time in their history will reshape the sport, leaving Japan's Bridgestone as the sole provider and ending a tyre war that has raged since 2001.

The French company bows out with the statistics reading: 216 races started between 1977-1984 and 2001-2006, 102 wins with seven different teams and 20 drivers.

Winners of nine world championships, including the last two drivers' and constructors' titles with Renault, they gave notice a year early after teams and the governing FIA decided to have just one supplier from 2008.

''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,'' said motorsport director Frederic Henry-Biabaud.

''I don't see the appeal in participating in a series on those terms...if you are in the sport on your own, people will talk about tyres only if some kind of problem arises.'' Japan Tobacco, Renault's title sponsors with Mild Seven, and BAT -- founders of the BAR team taken over by Honda -- leave in response to anti-tobacco legislation.

''We are very proud of the team's sporting achievements and wish them every success in the future but our time is over,'' said BAT's marketing director Jimmi Rembiszewski.

''Public opinion and many of our stakeholders no longer think it is appropriate for F1 to be sponsored by the tobacco industry. We have listened to their views and agree.'' Their exit leaves only glamour team Ferrari, backed by Philip Morris and with Marlboro's red and white colours, as a team sponsored by tobacco.

McLaren boss Ron Dennis, whose team kicked the habit last year, said his team had more sponsorship than ever in the new smoke-free era and predicted a brighter future.

''You've got to look at the simple fact that it's going to make the demographics of our audience broader, and we can appeal to a much younger group,'' he said recently.

''We were very constrained about what we could and couldn't do when we were carrying tobacco brands on the cars.'' REUTERS DH RK1944

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