Trouble waiting in the wings

The political tensions that precipitated the dismal turn of events at Indianapolis last year may have gradually quietened since then, but recently FIA President Max Mosley has noticeably turned the heat up on the manufacturer-aligned (GPMA) teams who are not yet signed up to the 2007 Concorde Agreement – McLaren-Mercedes, Renault, Honda, Toyota and BMW.

Indianapolis 2005Mosley has successfully imposed a cut-off date of March 31st – that’s the Friday of the Australian Grand Prix weekend – for applications to enter the 2008 Formula One World Championship. If the manufacturer teams were to go along with Mosley it would end the current threat of a breakaway championship headed by those five teams.

To raise the stakes Mosley has proposed radical change to the 2008 technical regulations, foremost among which is the freezing of engine design for at least three years. Which is to say, not just keeping the regulations the same (which surely would be welcome) but stopping teams from making any changes at all to their engines (which surely would not).

The manufacturers have not responded kindly to this perceived bullying and the inevitable bouncing back and forth of indignant and accusatory letters has taken place. Leaving aside for one moment this writer’s firm conviction that the engine regulation freeze has the potential to be terribly damaging for the sport, it is imperative that an accommodation between the FIA and the manufacturers – even a temporary one – is made by Friday.

Why? Because the Australian Grand Prix could drive an enormous wedge between the governing body and the manufacturers.

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, Sepang, 2006At the Malaysian Grand Prix eight teams – including all the GPMA teams – signed a letter of intent to protest against Ferrari for having illegally moving wings (see Ferrari wing protested). After some discussion Ferrari were allowed to compete, but were instructed along with McLaren and BMW to modify their wings before Melbourne.

McLaren and BMW have complied with the request, but Ferrari have not, and have refused to cede any ground on their rivals’ insistence that their wings are illegal. If they turn up at Melbourne with the same aerodynamic kit and the kind of pace they had in Bahrain, expect that GPMA teams to cry foul. Especially McLaren, who fought similar bitter battles with Ferrari in 1998 and 1999 over brake pedals and barge boards.

The Concorde Agreement dispute is a political powder-keg. And the Ferrari wing furore is smouldering away. Let’s hope everyone has the foresight to keep the two well apart.

  • We were saddened and shocked to learn of the death of Indy Racing League driver Paul Dana in practice for today’s Toyota Indy 300 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.

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