Brazilian Grand Prix, 2004: The last race of 2004, and one of the better ones in a dismal season. Nine of the ten teams agree to limits on testing, and there is optimism that the sole dissenters, Ferrari, will follow. Perhaps F1′s political Cold War is finally thawing?
Fast-forward back to the present day and Formula One has endured its most torrid season for political strife since 1982. Not only have Ferrari refused to curtail their shocking expenditure on testing, but a poor season has led them to renege on previous bans on testing in summer and winter.
At Indianapolis the Michelin-shod teams discover that their tyres were susceptible to sudden, unpredictable, total failures. The full realisation comes too late for new tyres to be supllied, as all the teams are testing as little as possible during a Grand Prix weekend due to new restrictions on engine mileage.
No compromise can be reached between the seven Michelin teams plus Bridgestone-shod Jordan and Minardi, and Ferrari and, crucially, the FIA. The race goes ahead with six participants and the watching world is disgusted.
Rather than expressing contrition for the dire turn of events, FIA President Max Mosley has invested infinitely more effort in ensuring every last iota of blame rests with Michelin, who are being driven from the sport anyway by Mosley’s U-turn on race-distance tyres and his desire for a single tyre supplier.
The aggregate qualifying system lasts just three races before being scrapped – exactly as many predicted. With the last race of the season finished and the 2006 car designs well underway, no-one has any idea exactly what next year’s qualifying system will be, or what demands it will make of the car. One lap? Multi-lap? Low fuel? Race fuel?
Unrestricted V10 engines have run in anger for the last time – their V8 replacements are understood to be 300hp less powerful and are being widely criticised. Formula One cars in 2006 will lose 75% of their performance advantage over series like Champ Cars, IRL, GP2 and A1GP.
The sport’s new Concorde Agreement, to commence from 2007, presently has three signatories: Ferrari, Midland and Red Bull – the latter now owners of two teams. Williams, bereft of a manufacturer engine deal, are expected to capitulate soon. But the new agreement is being forced through by the financial clout of the leading signees and not from a consensus-led effort to create a rules package that will provide entertainment as well as a fair and just sport.
Not one of the major issues that confronted the sport at the end of 2004 have been resolved in 2005. We’ve had plenty of political bluster and we’ve had a survey of 100,000 fans that neglected even to ask them if they think refuelling should be a part of F1. Mosley has pulled out hare-brained future schemes like rabbits from a hat: first downforce would be cut by 90%, then he suggested a collaboration with AMD could allow them to measure and limit downforce generated per car. But no solid rules package.
As usual, it seems as if Mosley is toying with Formula One and the fortunes of many team owners, towards whom he makes little effort to disguise his contempt – Ron Dennis especially.
So what state will F1 be in in another twelve months’ time? Are the dissenting manufacturers about to reveal their alternative formula? Will Ecclestone continue to sell precious Concorde Agreement slots to such unproven quantities as Alex Schnaider?
We need answers.