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GP Week : Issue 221
OPINION miKe dOOdSOn One thing that's very clear in the current discussions about saving our sport from itself is that everyone's got an entrenched opinion, except possibly me. I'm just an observer, and in 56 years of attending GPs I've learned a bit about racing folk, so stick around. The way I see things, Formula 1 has got itself into exactly the same sort of mess that Greece is in with its eye-watering debt mountain: everybody is blaming everyone else (with good reason) for stuffing things up but none of the proposed solutions will work because the consequences of putting them into effect will do untold damage to some innocent party. Greece got into the Euro on the basis of blatantly fudged figures. In effect, it was then encouraged to gorge itself on loans which it could never afford to repay, and now the bailiffs are ready to move in. Needless to say, the politicians who failed to anticipate the bleedin' obvious by pushing Greece into the Euro-zone (it was only 15 years ago) will never be held to account. Meanwhile, everybody's sitting on their hands waiting for the sky to fall in. Formula 1 is in the poo under surprisingly similar circumstances. It allowed itself to sign up for the hugely expensive hybrid power units for the flawed reason that it wanted the prestige of having big manufacturers (Mercedes, Renault and now Honda) involved in the sport, but failed to anticipate (1) that the fans wouldn't like the muffled sound, among other things; and (2) that the price of the powerplants was more than the smaller teams would be able to afford. At the end of last year the bailiffs called on both Manor/Marussia and Caterham, with the consequences that we know. You don't have to be a soothsayer to forecast that they'll be back before very long to knock on other doors. It doesn't help for awkward interlopers like me to remind the geniuses in blazers over there in Paris that Max Mosley, for all his faults, correctly anticipated all this before stepping down as FIA President at the end of 2009. He wanted controlled budgets and a special deal for customer engines from an established supplier, Cosworth, whose business was racing, not the pursuit of publicity. Instead, we are confronted with a disaster, like Greece's, which could have been averted by the simple application of good governance. Meanwhile, everyone's blaming everyone else. Fortunately, a select few of the sport's big cheeses are sufficiently level-headed to acknowledge that they themselves are the wrong people to be offering any solutions. "It's rather predictable," Christian Horner told a press conference in Monaco. "[Force India] is going to ask for more money, [Mercedes] is going to not want to change anything and we want to change engines. So every team has got its own agenda and it's going to fight its own corner." But of course it's not just the team bosses who want to take advantage of the present confusion. There are also commercial organisations like Pirelli, which is pushing for F1 to adopt those hideous 18-inch rims. You know, the ones which crack like eggshells when your blingtastic silly-car hits a pot hole, while at the same time conveniently destroying the rubber-band tyres. Nor should we overlook the misguided advocates of a return to refuelling, who seem to have forgotten that the procedure was banned for 2010 not only because it was potentially dangerous but because it cost millions to maintain all the equipment and lug it around the world. At least the drivers seem to be largely united when it comes to ideas which will challenge them and, crucially, make the cars significantly faster than the store- bought second-division GP2s. "The first time I drove an F1 car I was scared and I don't think you get that any more," four-time champion Sebastian Vettel told a press conference at the weekend. "I would like to have a much bigger engine, more power, better tyres, more grip so the cars go faster." Fellow champion Fernando Alonso agreed. "Saving tyres from lap one and fuel from lap one, that is more frustrating than the [slow] pace itself," said the Spaniard. And Jenson Button, who I remember having a bit of a struggle in making the jump from F3 to F1 with Williams as a 20 year-old back in 2000, says, "we definitely want to be pushed more." Ex-racer David Coulthard even told the BBC in Monaco that perhaps there is now too much concentration on safety: "if you want safety, stay at home," said the Scot. "You cannot wrap us up in cotton wool." The most difficult task facing F1 is to reverse the limitation, introduced to save costs, on running the cars in tests and free practice. Making the excellent point that fans who travel long distances to attend a GP are unlikely to return if the cars are not sent out because of lack of tyres, Coulthard suggested that unlimited stocks of rubber should be available to the teams. Unfortunately, this would not overcome the hurdle of the four-engine restriction which is proving to be such an embarrassment to the two teams contracted to Renault. Christian Horner, slightly unsure of who exactly is in charge of F1, said: "I think that the sport is governed by the FIA and it's promoted by FOM. It's those guys that need to get together and say 'what do we want Formula One to be?' Yes, we want it to go quicker, we want cars to be more aggressive to drive - but you're never going to keep everybody happy." Meanwhile, Bernie Ecclestone's contribution to the plot seems to be to ignore the hullabaloo in order to promote racing in ever more vibrantly remote parts of the world where, so he insists, the natives are gagging for a dose of F1, just as they did in, say, Turkey, Valencia, Korea and India. His latest plan seems to be to take the Italian GP away from Monza in order to stage it at Mugello. Perhaps he's unaware of the fact that Mugello is far distant from any decent hotels and can only be accessed by a single twin-lane highway. Or perhaps he does know but has been given a sniff of a big cheque. OK, I give up. 17 GPWEEK.com // 17 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION too many cooks in the kitchen