Analysis: F1 Survives Ford Fallout, Faces Further Hurdles

Although the International Automobile Federation (FIA) is unlikely to confirm as much until next month, it is now certain that 10 teams have met Monday's deadline to sign up for the 2005 Formula One season.

Analysis: F1 Survives Ford Fallout, Faces Further Hurdles

Although the International Automobile Federation (FIA) is unlikely to confirm as much until next month, it is now certain that 10 teams have met Monday's deadline to sign up for the 2005 Formula One season.

Despite concerns about rising costs and Ford's decision to pull out of the sport, the prospect of teams having to run three cars to make up the minimum of 20 demanded by the agreement that governs Formula One has been avoided.

However, there are still key matters to be resolved before the Australian Grand Prix opens the new campaign in March. Up to seven drivers' seats are open and uncertainty remains about how many races there will be on the 2005 calendar.

Add the court case between the sport's supremo Bernie Ecclestone and Formula One's shareholder banks, the growing threat of a breakaway series run by major carmakers and the usual scramble for sponsors for teams that inhabit the back end of the grid, and the off-season promises to be a busy time.

However, the resolution of these issues would not address the central problem facing Formula One - how to keep the sport interesting while seven-times World Champion Michael Schumacher and Ferrari remain so dominant.

If David Coulthard is not recruited to fill one of the vacant seats Formula One will lose their second most successful driver, even if the Briton's 13 career victories were matched in a single season by Schumacher this year.

The best hope of a drive for the 33-year-old, who was dropped by McLaren, is with the Red Bull Racing team which took over Ford's Jaguar operation on Monday.

The Austrian drinks company back a development programme for promising young drivers and their billionaire owner Dietrich Mateschitz may prefer to give one of his proteges a chance.

Jaguar incumbent Christian Klien, an Austrian, and Italy's Formula 3000 champion Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi have been backed by Red Bull.

Williams also have to fill a spot in their team alongside Australian Mark Webber and Briton Anthony Davidson, Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia and German Nick Heidfeld will want to impress in testing next month.

Heidfeld raced last season for Jordan. They secured an engine deal for next season at the 11th hour on Monday and have weighty financial problems to resolve before next year.

Although the deal with Toyota was described as "affordable", Irish team boss Eddie Jordan has yet to reveal where he is going to get the cash to pay for the engines.

Chinese Backer

Jordan flew to Beijing last week to talk to a potential Chinese backer and there has been speculation about the possible involvement of Formula 3000 team boss Christian Horner.

The ability of drivers to bring sponsorship with them is likely to carry a lot of weight in Jordan's deliberations, as it will in the Minardi garage.

They confirmed on Monday they would continue to use Cosworth engines next season after the sale of the Ford subsidiary to the owners of the North American Champ Car series.

The calendar issues will be settled when the FIA's Formula One commission and world motor sport council meet in Monaco on December 9-10 and the British, French and San Marino races are hanging in the balance.

There should also be movement by the end of the year on the issues of reducing costs and the predictability of the Championship although the make-up of the sport will prevent revolutionary changes.

And while everybody, barring perhaps Ferrari, agrees that something has to be done, they will not necessarily agree on how or when to do it.

As former World Champion Niki Lauda said on Tuesday: "Formula One is in a hole, there are disputes between the teams and Ecclestone. They should concentrate on the nitty-gritty so as not to frighten off any more customers."

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