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Stoddart: I'll Miss F1

Outspoken Minardi boss Paul Stoddart is not ruling out a Formula One comeback, even though Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix is his farewell

"It's not an easy decision to make, I'm still regretting it," said the Australian as he prepared to leave the stage after selling his team to Red Bull energy drink billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz.

The chain-smoking aviation entrepreneur said five turbulent years at the helm of the sport's smallest, poorest and least successful competitors had not dampened his enthusiasm.

"There are far too many friends in this paddock and I'm going to miss it too much but for the team it was definitely the right decision," he said.

"I'd like to come back. I'm certainly not finished with Formula One," added Stoddart.

"They were probably the happiest five years of my life but also the hardest and, hopefully, with a bit of pressure off maybe it will give me time to reconsider what if anything might still be around."

Sunday is set to be the last appearance of the Minardi name, after 340 races and 21 years that have earned the team considerable respect and affection as true motor racing enthusiasts fighting against the odds.

It will also mark the end of an era, with three of the 'independent' teams disappearing -- Sauber are being sold to BMW and Jordan are to be renamed Midland.

With the exception of Williams, who are ending their partnership with BMW, the sport will be dominated next year by manufacturers and billionaires.

Russian-born Canadian businessman Alex Shnaider owns Midland while Austrian Mateschitz will have two Red Bull teams.

Stoddart, who has been a thorn in the flesh of FIA president Max Mosley over the past year, believes the sport is heading for a damaging split.

Five major carmakers, who will all have part- or fully-owned teams next year, are planning their own series from 2008 unless there are major changes to the way Formula One is run.

"With all the politics that you are now seeing developing over the last couple of weeks, you can sort of start to see some of the reasons why I wanted to do what I did," said Stoddart.

"If there are two championships, I would love to come back in the manufacturers' one."

Minardi, Italy's second team by a long way, are the fourth oldest in Formula One after Ferrari, McLaren and Williams.

They have scored just 38 points in their existence with their last coming in the six-car U.S. Grand Prix fiasco at Indianapolis in June. Despite that, they will still end the season in last place.

The Faenza-based team, whose finest hour came in 1990 when Italian Pierluigi Martini lined up on the front row of the grid at the U.S. Grand Prix, have failed to score any points in two of the five years under Stoddart's ownership.

Yet there have still been emotional and memorable moments to savour, such as Australian Mark Webber's drive to fifth place on his debut in Melbourne in 2002.

"That was the happiest day of my life, not just in Formula One. Full stop. Proudest day of my life," said Stoddart.

"That whole 10-day period in Melbourne 2002 will go down in the history books as the most popular two points ever scored in Formula One."

Other highlights have been witnessing the triumph of Renault's 24-year-old Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who made his Formula One debut as a teenager with Minardi in 2001.

"Minardi have always been an example for a lot of people," said the new champion.

"It is not the power of money that gives them their fighting spirit, it is the power of the people. They were a good thing for F1. Now it is often all about business, but with Minardi, everything was just about motor racing."

At the start of 2001, the team were in a desperate position. There was no car, no sponsor and no engine. Yet they still made it to Melbourne for the season-opener.

"That was a pretty serious effort and I will always remember the tears of pride that the guys were crying when I came off the pit wall that day," said Stoddart.

"To see 20 or 30 grown men so emotional made me feel pretty proud that we'd achieved the impossible dream."

His only regret, he said, was the paddock politics.

"Formula One is one of the world's greatest sports, it is without doubt one of the most passionate sports and it doesn't need to be run and administered in the way that it is," he said.

"In life, whether it's in democracy, in government or in basic fundamental human rights or whatever, you expect fairness and equality. We don't have that.

"That is my one regret, that Formula One in my time could not have reformed itself into a fair and equitable sport with stable technical and sporting regulations."

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