Motor racing: Mosley regime under attack

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DRIVERS AND pundits have been harping on about it for some time and now, under the sheer weight of worldwide pressure, the Formula One authorities must urgently reconsider their strategy and objectives on car design.

The product is palpably substandard and Sunday's soporific Spanish Grand Prix here provoked such condemnation that Max Mosley, president of the FIA, the governing body, and team principals are charged with making major decisions at a meeting later this month.

Mosley, ever conscious of safety concerns, has been intent on a course of restricting cornering speeds by introducing narrower cars and grooved tyres. The ultimate stage would impose all-weather tyres.

Ingenious designers have responded to the challenge by improving the aerodynamics, thereby compensating for the lack of grip from the tyres and creating cars which are more difficult to drive. Crucially for the viewing public, they are even more difficult to overtake.

The lobbying for action gathered momentum this weekend with Damon Hill urging a rethink because the cars were simply no fun to drive. When they become no fun to watch, the sport has a serious problem.

The drivers want a return to slick tyres and less emphasis on aerodynamics. Many designers and engineers back their demands.

Michael Schumacher's inability to manoeuvre his Ferrari past Jacques Villeneuve's BAR served to highlight Formula One's plight. The German finished third, behind the McLaren-Mercedes of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard, and had his lead in the championship reduced to six points.

Coulthard explained the problem: "With these tyres you have less contact with the road and yet lap times are not that much different. The cars are more tricky to drive.

"We need to go back to wider cars to create more drag. What happens now is that when you come up behind another car you have less downforce and start to slide."

Coulthard said the drivers had met Mosley and his senior aides to give their views. The wave of adverse publicity ought to reinforce their case.

Mosley has always argued that overtaking should not be made too easy because that would devalue the art and ultimate prove counterproductive. He prefers a strike rate more in line with football than basketball. However, a succession of goalless draws will scarcely enhance Formula One as a spectacle and once the viewers start flicking to other channels - as Williams' technical director, Patrick Head, warns - the sport may have difficulties luring them back.

Pit stops, the brilliance of Schumacher, driver errors and mechanical failures have tended to camouflage the lack of genuine racing, but no one is being fooled any longer.

Coulthard was more encouraged by the reliability of the McLaren here and believes his team are now in a position to meet the threat from Ferrari. Having registered his second finish in five races, the Scotsman is also more positive about his own prospects.

He said: "Ferrari were closer than we expected here but now we appear to be reliable so its a case of taking the car's development forward. The best is yet to come, definitely. Hopefully we can now bring out the goody bag.

"Fifth position in the championship is not ideal for me, but that is down to three non-finishes. I've closed the gap on Mika in terms of lap times and I am taking heart from that. I am still going through the learning process."

Hakkinen, too, looks ahead to Canada on Sunday week and beyond with optimism. "There is so much more to come from the car and the engine," the defending champion said. "It should be faster than it is and will find more speed. I am looking forward to Canada."

Schumacher counters with his own expression of confidence. He recorded the fastest lap in Sunday's grand prix and was not far off the pace of the McLarens in qualifying. Indeed, Eddie Irvine, in the other Ferrari, managed to split Hakkinen and Coulthard on the grid.

"I expected it to be worse than it was for us and a bigger gap here," Schumacher said. "But we were able to fight so I don't see why we shouldn't be competitive in Canada."

Schumacher would, of course, help his cause by breaking Hakkinen's monopoly on pole position this season. The German, more than anyone, craves greater opportunity for overtaking.