Motor Racing: Grand prix champions nearer peace formula: Derick Allsop on moves yesterday towards solving disputes dogging the motor racing world championship

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The Independent Online
THREE of Formula One's major players, Williams-Renault, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, seemed to be edging towards retrieving their roles in the sport yesterday.

Williams were proffered a glimpse of an olive branch by Benetton-Ford, one of the two teams opposing their readmission to the world championship after missing the deadline for entries; Prost was granted time to prepare his case for a super-licence; and Senna gave the first indication that he might stay with McLaren.

Senna will today be listed among McLaren's three drivers - along with Michael Andretti and Mika Hakkinen - to give him the option of driving from the start of the championship should he wish to after testing the team's new car, possibly next week. 'McLaren is nominating me because the Fisa deadline will expire before I can test the car and make a decision,' Senna said yesterday. In a statement released in Sao Paulo he expressed confidence that the Ford Cosworth-powered McLaren would be competitive.

Andretti will give the MP4/8 its first run on Monday, probably watched by Hakkinen, who could be an observer for the rest of the year if Senna takes up his option.

The conflict between Williams and Benetton over rule changes may have taken a new twist with Benetton's managing director, Flavio Briatore, seemingly offering his opposite number, Frank Williams, a way of achieving an agreement. So far only Williams and McLaren have rejected Briatore's latest proposals to reduce costs at race meetings by banning the use of a spare car and cutting back practice sessions, which would ease expenditure on engines, tyres and other parts.

Briatore, whose recommendations will be considered at a Formula One commission meeting at Heathrow today, said: 'I think that if Frank supports this then we can start to sort out the other situation. The champions should be in the world championship, but at the moment they are not.'

Briatore's initiative implies the prospect of a compromise but his team, now housed in a new pounds 12m-plus factory in the Cotswolds, feel Williams must give ground. Benetton believe they and the other wealthier teams - Williams, McLaren and Ferrari - must create a cheaper Formula One if their poor relations and the championship are to survive.

Briatore said: 'We could have the championship at 50 per cent of the present cost. People watching the sport are interested in the fight between drivers and teams, not the technology. Unless we do something there won't be a world championship in two or three years.'

According to the current Concorde Agreement, rule changes can be ratified only with the unanimous approval of the teams. Williams who are resisting a block on technological innovations, also refuse to back a switch to majority voting power. And that is the stumbling block.

It is, ironically, the requirement of a unanimous vote which stands beween Williams and their entry to the 1993 championship. Williams, however, claim that a majority voting system would lead to anarchy. Frank Williams says his team have worked 15 years to reach their present level, but Briatore replies: 'In two years, Frank could be back to where he was 15 years ago.'

Despite Briatore's conciliatory mood, Benetton's engineering director, Tom Walkinshaw, insisted his team would go into the championship, which starts in South Africa on 14 March, without Williams if they declined to give way on the issue of a unanimous vote. Walkinshaw said: 'We've not got anything against Williams. We are trying to look after the best interests of the sport. It's up to Williams to resolve this situation, not us.'

Walkinshaw is aware that his team could be accused of forcing the issue in the knowledge that Williams's absence might present his team with the championship. He responded: 'It's nothing to do with our situation, and whether we can win it. You have to act responsibly. We believe that at the moment we, as a sport, are not acting responsibly.'

Prost's application for a super-licence was also due to be discussed today but the former Fisa president, Jean-Marie Balestre, has stepped in to support his compatriot. Balestre, president of the French motor sport federation, concedes Prost may receive a suspension for one or two races for comments about Fisa's running of Formula One, but maintains the driver should be given the opportunity to prepare his response to Fisa's declared opposition to his entry.

Balestre says the issue should not be discussed until the next Fisa World Council, scheduled for 18 March, four days after the South African Grand Prix.