what a mess!
by Andrew Frankl European Bureau Chief
If I believe everything I read about Grand Prix racing there can only be one conclusion-the sport is in hell of a mess. Let me give you some facts.
Firstly there is the sword hanging over the Williams team vis a vis Senna's death at Imola in 1994. Frank and the other directors will attend the hearing. The charge, if I understand it correctly, is one of manslaughter emanating from the supposedly badly welded steering column which broke when Ayrton tried to take a corner resulting in a head on crash from which the great champion died. If found guilty there is a likelihood of the San Marino Grand Prix being canceled-apparently the teams simply will not dare to attend.
Then there is the saga of the French Grand Prix, the grand daddy of them all, dating back to 1906. This time the problem is local media coverage. The natives would like to attend with news-gathering cameras which are strictly verboten by F1 Czar Bernie Ecclestone. How they are going to resolve it I have no idea but with lots of circuits waiting in the wings Magny-Cours's position is looking a bit precarious at present.
Thirdly there is the drama of the Concorde agreement. This is a somewhat complicated piece of paper relating to who can do what in F1. What are the responsibilities of the teams, how many races they have to attend, the list is endless. There are two key points: who gets help with transportation- we are talking huge sums- and most importantly how is the money going to be shared amongst the teams, the organizers, Mr. Ecclestone and the FIA. Three teams- Williams, McLaren and Tyrrell refused to sign the original contract so the way things are they will not get one penny towards the cost of taking their cars and equipment to Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Canada & Japan. The last I heard they were thinking of taking the case to the European Court of Justice.. I am sure they will resolve it somehow, there is too much money involved but presently it is a mess.
Fourthly there is the never-ending saga of Alain Prost and Ligier. One minute he is buying the team from Flavio Briatore, the next minute he isn't. Peugeot are apparently keen to join the all-French team in 1998 provided Alain is prepared to work at it full time. This seems a bit silly, the former champion has been trying to get this off the ground forever so of course he is going work at it full time. The other Peugeot-Prost problem seems to be that just like Stewart with Ford, Alain would like an exclusive with the French automaker. Having said to them that it will take five years to win the championship you cannot blame Peugeot for not wanting to give them an exclusive.
There is also a great deal of pre-season moaning by teams equipped with Goodyear tyres. Never mind the fact that without the Akron giant there would have been no Grand Prix racing in 1996 or 1995. Several drivers-Jean Alesi to name but one-have been bitching like crazy because "lesser" teams with "lesser" drivers have been quicker in the rain during testing on Japanese Bridgestone tyres. Pathetic is all I can say. What is wrong with "lesser" teams winning?! For years Ligier and others have had inferior engine and facilities. The only time we saw them on TV they were in the process of being lapped.
It would do the sport a world of good if the Alesis and Bergers of this world (and they are perfectly nice people, I hasten to add) were lapped by Pedro Diniz in a TWR or Olivier Panis in a Ligier. What is wrong with new names, new winners? The big sponsors might not be too pleased but that is their tough luck. Anyway, it just shows that the word gratitude does not exist in F1's dictionary which is rather sad but predictable.
The funny thing is that Goodyear of course are working flat-out to match the competition and knowing their engineers I am sure they will. Which is why feeble whingeing seems very much out of place, especially based on one, wet weather test. Finally, spare a thought for 100 million dollar man Schumacher. I am sure he would gladly give back a couple of million or so to have a competitive car. As you will have read on The Auto Channel things are pretty dire at present, engines were blowing up as regularly as fireworks during the recent Presidential Inauguration. Must give credit to the former champ, he is a PR supremo to the end: "it was not all bad, the brakes did work very well".