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Wind of change and uncertainty sweeps F1
Alan Baldwin | April 29, 2004 11:08 IST
Formula One is facing momentous change, however much Ferrari and Michael Schumacher keep on serving up the same old dominance.
The sense of inevitability that accompanied Schumacher's fourth win in four races on Sunday contrasted with the uncertainty hanging over the sport.
There were more ripples when the GPWC group of five major carmakers announced that they were ending an agreement to secure the sport's future with Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
What the two statements meant was that while the FIA had served notice of a future revolution, to be imposed if necessary, the manufacturers were again threatening to introduce their own series.
A split is not impossible but some in the sport believe the carmakers to be on the back foot, more likely to buckle than commit themselves and their shareholders to such a major financial undertaking.
"I don't think there's going to be another championship. There will be one championship, the FIA Formula One world championship," said Minardi boss Paul Stoddart.
In the meantime, the door is still open to negotiation and there will be many meetings to come.
The first will be between the FIA and teams in Monaco next week for what promises to be a highly significant gathering that could make up a few minds.
In 2008, Formula One's guiding 'Concorde Agreement' between the teams, Ecclestone and FIA expires.
Without a new one, the FIA can lay down the law to the teams providing it gives sufficient notice -- which it did with the proposals issued at Imola. But if they all agree, the changes could be introduced sooner.
The main questions now are how the teams align themselves, with the non-GPWC ones already backing the FIA, and what Ferrari decides to do.
While the FIA proposals would put the emphasis back on the driver and eliminate much of the hi-tech wizardry that has taken costs into the stratosphere, the major carmakers are unlikely to accept restrictions on electronics.
Some could leave or scale down their involvement.
As BMW board member Burkhard Goeschel said at the weekend, the German carmaker is committed to Formula One as the Williams team's engine partner only for as long as the sport reflects its aims and ambitions.
"If it is attractive and interesting for us...we will stay in Formula One. But if it is not, then we won't do it," he told Reuters.
Another cloud -- of fundamental concern to the carmakers -- is the question of who will run the show when Ecclestone, now 73, is no longer around and how the money will be shared out.
No obvious successor has been groomed and the Briton has held everything together over the years by banging heads together and taking the dictatorial approach as well as a significant chunk of the revenues.
It could be that without a new Concorde Agreement, teams return to the era when they did their own deals with the governing body and promoters.
There is also the question of what will happen when tobacco sponsorship, a mainstay of the sport, is outlawed in the European Union from the middle of 2005.
Then there is the matter of entertainment. Ferrari fans will have been delighted to see Schumacher winning on Sunday but Formula One is crying out for more battles on the track and fewer in the paddock.
"The big problem is that they all worry about their own politics, ego struggles and this and that and they all forget that this sport is made, or was made, for the public," said three-times champion Niki Lauda on Sunday.
"Nobody really thinks of the product which is delivered at the end. And that is going absolutely in the wrong direction. All we do is bore people with political discussions and rule changes for 2008."
Formula One: The Complete Coverage