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The Way It Is/ More on F1 in America and the engine rules for 2007 and '08

by Gordon Kirby
Before the start at least, everyone in Formula One was on their best behavior in Indianapolis last week. All of them talked positively about racing in America and how important the United States GP was to their teams and sponsors. As I reported from Montreal the previous week, all the F1 team bosses said it was essential to have at least one world championship race in the USA and many of them said it would be great to have two races in the United States as well as a top US driver or team.

After last year's debacle both Michelin and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway gave away many thousands of tickets this year. People who hadn't gone to the race in a few years received packets of free tickets in the mail and it's difficult to imagine that the IMS made any profit on this year's race. Of course, from both the Speedway's and the FIA's points of view this race is all about prestige rather than profits and Bernie Ecclestone and Tony George were due to sit down this week to hammer out an agreement for extending the IMS's contract to stage the USGP. All of us await the results of those negotations with baited breathe and your guess is as good as mine about the outcome.

Meanwhile, FIA president Max Mosley reiterated his declaration at the British GP three weeks ago about creating an homolgated or frozen engine formula for 2008. Mosley said this is not a matter for debate. He insists the homologated engine is inevitable and the engine manufacturers and teams must accept the FIA's plans without any further debate. But that doesn't address the questions about next year best defined by BMW's motorsports boss Dr. Mario Thiessen.

"Will there be a complete design freeze? Or will there be some sort of engine homologation?" Thiessen pointed out. "Everybody, every manufacturer, every team agrees that we support homologation and I think a compromise will be found between a complete design freeze and allowing for some development and being able to catch up for deficiences.

"There is another question, which is what to do for 2007?" Thiessen added. "If there is a very restrictive regulation for 2008 it would enforce manufacturers to develop a 2007 engine which is beyond the drawing board. The money is spent, and the engine will be tested in a few weeks. If we race that engine in 2007 only to step back to what we have today, that doesn't really make sense. So my hope is that we can come to a compromise in terms of homologation and the freezing date for us to be allowed to use the 2007 engine, which everybody has anyway, as the homologated engine. Or, do we put the regulation forward and have the homologated engine already in 2007?"

Mercedes-Benz's longtime motorsports chief Norbert Haug is a big proponent of freezing F1's engine specifications. Haug believes that the costs of competing in F1 have run amok and has been promoting the concept to the other manufacturers.

"We pushed very much from the Mercedes side for these changes over the last two years," Haug said. "The process started in Monaco this year and we are just about to get a decision. I hope it will be a unanimous one. We just need Renault and Ferrari to follow the proposal because everybody else is in line and I think everybody needs to compromise a little bit because this is what we all are doing."

Haug admits that it's difficult to prevent any race team from spending money in whatever way pleases them, but he wants to see a rules package that will enable the less financially-endowed teams to be competitive. This idea is one of motor racing's great chimeras but Haug believes it can be achieved in F1.

"You never can stop people spending money," Haug commented. "If they have money, they should spend it. I have no problem with that. But in an ideal world we would have rules where you spend $50 million or $500 million and you can be competitive with $50 million if you're smarter and work more efficiently. That's what we have to achieve and I think we are headed in that direction. (Mercedes-Benz) is spending less than in years before and we are very efficient. I'm quite pleased with the progress we have made in that direction, especially the last two years. And that's the right direction."

Haug hopes that next year's one-make tire restriction in F1 and the impending 2008 engine freeze will have a beneficial effect on controlling costs.

"(Engine costs) are probably forty percent of the total budget, which is too much," Haug remarked. "Having said that, we are testing, testing, testing, all the time. You spend 20,000 kilometers on the racetrack and you do a total of 200,000 kilometers in testing and dyno testing--ten times more just to develop the engine. Half of that is tire-testing. So we have a one-make tire rule next year and you will need to test less, not nothing, but less. So that will help and, all in all, we will save quite some costs."

Denis Chevrier, Renault's chief engine designer, confirmed that this year's defending world champion team is in agreement with Mosley and Haug.

"I think that strongly Renault is very positive about the frozen engine because of the basic request to try to make Formula One not as expensive," Chevrier said. "It is purely political, but an absolutely vital aspect for Renault to keep enjoying competing in Formula One to have a good view that Formula One is good for you. But you need as well to make the costs less."

However, Ferrari's public relations man and spokesman Luca Colajanni offered a different view.

"At Silverstone the president of the FIA gave his view of a longterm future of Formula One," Colajanni said. "There were a lot of ideas and proposals but what is important to us is that there is always a link to our road car production. For a manufacturer like Ferrari, that is the way it must be. The link between the race car and the road car is critical to Ferrari. We tend to transfer a lot of the technology that is used in Formula One to the road cars we produce. We want to avoid having a car that doesn't require that kind of technology so there is no need to transfer it to our road cars and there is no connection between Formula One and the road cars."

At this stage, Ferrari appears to be the odd man out. Will F1's greatest marque have any effect on Mosley and the FIA? Not according to the FIA president.

The race itself at Indianapolis was a bit of a disappointment with a messy multi-car shunt at the second turn taking out seven cars in one fell swoop and the Ferraris running away from the rest of what was left of field. In the end, there were only nine finishers nor was there much racing to enjoy, but that's Formula One. It's all about image rather than racing.

Clearly, Michelin played it conservatively at Indy this year, not wishing to have any of last year's problems, and Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa had the situation totally under control. A great result for Schumacher, Massa and Ferrari with Schumacher pulling to within nineteen points of defending champion Fernando Alonso and Ferrari now trailing Renault by twenty-five points in the constructor's championship.

So there may yet be a battle for this year's world driving and car building titles. In the meantime, we wait for news about F1's engine rules in 2007 and '08 and whether or not the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will continue to run America's round of the world championship.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright 2006 ~ All Rights Reserved

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