F1 faces stormy future

Updated on Mar 15, 2005 04:29 PM IST

The highly political, billion-dollar sport is in the grip of a fierce and increasingly ugly power struggle.

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PTI | ByReuters

Formula One observed an uneasy truce on Sunday, covering up the self-inflicted wounds of a week of bitter in-fighting. It may not last for long.

The battle is far from over, even if the season-opening Australian Grand Prix is out of the way and much of the grand prix circus has departed for a week's vacation before regrouping in Malaysia.

Those who argue that Formula One is a sport for two hours on Sunday afternoon and a business the rest of the time were vindicated in Melbourne, where the fight for control of its commercial future was evident.

The highly political, billion-dollar sport is in the grip of a fierce and increasingly ugly power struggle.

The governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) is at odds with the major carmakers, who are planning their own series from 2008.

World champions Ferrari have the other nine teams united against them after siding with the FIA and commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone in agreeing to extend the existing commercial agreement to 2012.

In Melbourne all the simmering resentment boiled down to a battle between absent FIA president Max Mosley and Minardi's Australian-born boss Paul Stoddart.

Outspoken attacks

The chain-smoking aviation entrepreneur triggered an avalanche of headlines with outspoken attacks on Ferrari for refusing to allow the rules to be bent in his team's favour.

Stoddart had sought permission to be allowed to run last year's cars which did not conform to new aerodynamic regulations.

When the FIA-appointed stewards eventually blocked his bid, he obtained an injunction from the Victoria Supreme Court allowing him to participate in Saturday qualifying.

That, in turn, provoked the FIA's wrath and Stoddart climbed down, modifying his cars to ensure Sunday's race went ahead after threats to cancel it.

His resentment was clear, however.

"As far as I am concerned what we are doing here is rapidly pushing the Formula One world championship to its destruction," he warned on Saturday," he said.

"The wounds are getting so deep now there is not going to be any healing," he added, also calling for Mosley's resignation.

The next day bridges were being re-built as Stoddart had breakfast with the FIA spokesman and Mosley's representative. Sunday passed without further statements from either side.

The fact that Stoddart was able to modify his cars to conform to the rules begged the question as to why he had not done so in the first place.

Some felt he had humiliated himself and alienated supporters for whom much of the attraction of Minardi is the team's ability to keep going against all the odds but within the regulations.

Many suspected that it was all a pretext for a more political agenda, with teams up in arms about the way Mosley, whose term in office expires this year, pushed through rule changes on safety grounds.

Stoddart, through his injunction and potential further court hearings, was challenging both Mosley's authority and the legality of the 2005 regulations.

That is unlikely to happen now but the threat of a damaging split has not gone away. If anything it has increased.

"You've got the manufacturers, Max has completely alienated them, and they are going their own way," Stoddart said. "Now you've got someone like me who's getting pushed, I'm going to go that way now whereas before I was sitting on the fence."

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