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Analysis: What a Difference a Year Makes

Formula One has been turned upside down this season, as Ferrari's Michael Schumacher and BAR's Jenson Button know only too well

This time last year, World Champion Schumacher was looking forward to the French Grand Prix after an astonishing eight wins from nine races while Button had become a regular podium contender.

BAR head for Magny-Cours this time with no points at all while Ferrari have one win - from a 'race' of just six cars in Indianapolis after the seven Michelin teams withdrew for tyre safety reasons.

Toyota, down among the Championship tailenders last year, have had three podium finishes and a first pole position.

For further proof of just how much has changed, look no further than the pronouncements of Max Mosley and Paul Stoddart this week and 12 months ago.

Mosley, FIA president, stunned Formula One and motorsport in general last year by announcing before the French race that he had had enough.

"To hang on is a mistake. You've got to be ready to go and I'm ready," he declared, adding for good measure that he was sick of squabbling team bosses.

Minardi owner Paul Stoddart was one of those same team bosses urging him to reconsider for the greater good of a sport entering troubled waters.

"Losing Max is, I fear, a big step backwards," he said.

Paris Meeting

The tune is very different now. Mosley, 65, is expected to stand for re-election in October while Stoddart has been calling for him to resign.

If team bosses were divided last year, then that is no longer the case either.

This month's US Grand Prix fiasco, with Michelin's tyres proving inadequate for the conditions and the teams unable to agree a race-saving compromise with Mosley, has made the positions even more entrenched.

A showdown looms between Mosley and the seven Michelin teams on Wednesday, when they are summoned to appear in front of the FIA's World Motor Sport Council meeting in Paris, that could have far-reaching consequences.

"I react badly to being pushed around," Mosley said in an interview with The Guardian newspaper. "It's not my nature to accept it. In a situation like Indianapolis I'm not going to step aside."

In that same interview, he dubbed Stoddart a 'sad case'.

The increasingly bitter battle between Mosley and the carmakers threatening to set up their own series from the start of 2008 accounts for much of the altered political landscape.

Although Stoddart is not involved in Wednesday's meeting, he has been an outspoken figure in a group of teams united against Ferrari for their refusal to join voluntary restrictions on testing.

The same teams have also been angered by Ferrari's unilateral decision to break with the other manufacturers and extend to 2012 the Concorde Agreement with the FIA and commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone that runs out at the end of 2007.

New Role

Other factors have changed the familiar Formula One environment as well.

A year ago, Ecclestone was still fending off attempts by shareholder banks to take control of his empire.

So much has the situation changed that last month, with the banks seemingly in the driving seat, Mosley said he had suggested to Ecclestone that he take on a new role as his lieutenant at the FIA.

Ecclestone did not dismiss it out of hand, even if it all sounded far too improbable.

On the track, the action has been just as different to last year's.

Until the sham 'race' at Indianapolis, Schumacher's Championship chances had been roundly dismissed and Ferrari were struggling. It could well be that they are again when, if, normal service is resumed on Sunday.

McLaren, who endured their worst form in decades last year, are now the team to beat, with Renault.

BAR were Ferrari's closest rivals at the end of 2004 but are now last and without points in the Championship, after seeing Button disqualified from third place in the San Marino Grand Prix and then being banned for two races.

Germany's Nick Heidfeld has turned his career around completely. Heading for the exit after a season with failing Jordan, he was Germany's top-ranked driver before Indianapolis with three podium finishes for Williams.

And all this, with only half the season gone...

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