Cost cuts lifeline for British GP

Silverstone's fate rests in Ferrari's hands

Unprecedented unanimity among Ferrari's nine rivals threw the beleaguered British Grand Prix and its French counterpart a dramatic lifeline late last night and put pressure on the Ferrari sporting director, Jean Todt, as the majority of teams united, for once, behind a proposal to make serious cost reductions for 2005.

Unprecedented unanimity among Ferrari's nine rivals threw the beleaguered British Grand Prix and its French counterpart a dramatic lifeline late last night and put pressure on the Ferrari sporting director, Jean Todt, as the majority of teams united, for once, behind a proposal to make serious cost reductions for 2005.

There were more team principals' meetings than practice sessions in the build-up to today's Brazilian Grand Prix, and Minardi's owner Paul Stoddart, one of the leading players, admitted: "I have done more mileage walking up and down the paddock this weekend than all of the drivers have on the track."

At a meeting yesterday morning, Bernie Ecclestone proposed a 19-race calendar for next year, with the French and British races as the 18th and 19th events respectively. The attending teams - McLaren, Williams, Renault, Sauber, Toyota, Jaguar, Jordan, Minardi and BAR - agreed that if the significant cost saving measures proposed could be instituted by 2005, they would all agree to the French and British races being held.

Ecclestone agreed on their behalf to instigate discussions with Michelin and Bridgestone to seek their assistance in eliminating the majority of, if not all, requirements for tyre testing.

Unofficially Ferrari have said that they do not believe this will reduce costs at all, because they would simply spend their money elsewhere, but the other teams have proposed that there be only 10 days of testing once the season has begun, together with two two-hour test sessions on the Friday of each grand prix. Practice and qualifying would then go ahead on Saturday and Sunday morning, with the race on Sunday afternoon.

Stoddart continued: "The big manufacturer teams which have voted for this have been doing tens of thousands of testing miles. Do not underestimate what a coup this is for them to agree actually to do something that is going to be meaningful to the sport.

"Can you imagine - you are a competitive team who are looking to go for the world championship, and you have just given in, against probably your best interest, really radically to reduce all these costs. I think they should be applauded because I have never seen this kind of agreement go through before."

Stoddart stressed that the proposal is for the short-term, 2005, and that he does not believe it would affect the plans of Max Mosley, the president of the sport's governing body, the FIA, to introduce 2.4 litre V8 engines from 2006 onwards. It is thus a preliminary step. But the problem, as Mosley has made clear, is that sporting regulations can only be changed if the FIA receive unanimous agreement by 31 October.

That means Ferrari must agree too. This is highly unlikely. Todt is not a man for turning, nor squandering the advantage Ferrari have so assiduously built over 10 years. Even the threat that he could end up being portrayed as the man who refused to agree to proposals that could have saved two of the oldest races on the calendar is unlikely to move him.

As with many things in F1, today's dramatic proposal may turn out to be yesterday's chimera. But the significance lies in the agreement of nine of the 10 teams, and there will be a lot of horse trading in the days to come.

Up until yesterday afternoon things were looking bleak in a paddock in which three of the teams are in need of life support, but it remains to be seen whether the darkest hour really did come before a new dawn. It is the first time in a long time, however, that so many teams have been prepared to put aside their own best interests to act in those of a troubled sport, and the proposals have met with widespread approval among non-racing members of the F1 fraternity. Now it rests with Todt.

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