Feature: Rivals Aim to Put the Racing Back in F1

Ferrari and their rivals must take both credit and blame for the most one-sided Formula One Championship in years.

Feature: Rivals Aim to Put the Racing Back in F1

Ferrari and their rivals must take both credit and blame for the most one-sided Formula One Championship in years.

It will take time, and possibly a change of attitude, to weaken Ferrari's grip on a glamour sport that has seen television ratings in some countries plunge as Michael Schumacher keeps on winning. Changes are being mooted, with talk of driver swaps and weight penalties, but McLaren boss Ron Dennis favoured a simpler solution.

"What we need for Formula One is simple: a race. It's as simple as that," he said after Ferrari won the final round in Japan at the weekend to round out the season with 15 victories in 17 starts.

"It is not that Ferrari are particularly dominant regarding the performance of their car and drivers. It is because some of our colleagues and certainly McLaren have not done a good job. What we are experiencing at the moment is nothing different to what we have experienced in the past, with one exception," added Dennis, whose team won 15 races in 1988.

"What we've had in the past is a domination by one particular team ... The difference is of course that this time the drivers are not racing each other. I understand the position of Ferrari, but I do believe that there is no team whose actions should be on purely the basis of what is the best for that team."

Team Orders

Schumacher, chasing a record sixth title next year, is a clear number one at Ferrari, who have controversially applied 'team orders' several times this year and made their other driver Rubens Barrichello follow the leader. When McLaren won 15 of 16 races in 1988, there was a genuine battle between their drivers Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost as there was when Williams lined up Nigel Mansell against Nelson Piquet.

The teams will meet as members of the governing FIA's s Formula One commission on October 28 to discuss a range of proposals to limit such dominance in future. But Dennis saw little need for change and sensed a hidden agenda at a time when the teams were renegotiating their secretive Concorde Agreement governing revenues and commercial rights.

"It's artificial," he said of a proposal to add a kilo of ballast to a driver's car for every point won. "This isn't horse racing. This isn't a sport on which people gamble. It has not done anything for any other form of motor racing that I'm aware of ... it has never stimulated in my opinion any category of racing before so why on earth is it going to stimulate Formula One?"

Dennis thought the heart of the matter was the cash generated by the sport through television rights and the like which ended up in the pockets of third party rights holders.

"There is conservatively estimated between $300-500 million a year going out of motor racing," he added. "If that money stayed in motor racing all of the teams would be healthier. That is the primary issue that we need to address.

"These other issues, while being important, serve a very useful function of attempting to distract the team principals away from that equally important subject."

Weaknesses Detected

While Ferrari are well advanced on a new car that some say will be even better than the sensational F2002, McLaren and Williams have been busy.

"We know our weaknesses, we are working hard on them. we've worked hard on them through the year and eroded some of the gaps but there is a long way to go yet," said Dennis. "We intend to be there as fast as possible and when they (Ferrari) are being raced, hopefully by two teams, then you will have everything you want."

McLaren and partner Mercedes have recruited new people, including former Arrows technical director Mike Coughlan and the major coup of signing engine expert Werner Laurenz from Williams' partners BMW. Next year's McLaren MP4-18 is due to be introduced after the start of the season to allow it to be designed around a new Mercedes engine that the team hope will allow them to make a faster leap forwards.

Williams, runners-up this season, are planning a new wind tunnel and a more audacious car. Both are also working more closely with tyre supplier Michelin to counter Ferrari's advantage as Bridgestone's favoured team.

The fight back is already under way.

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