Ferrari face paddock fury as war of words intensifies

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The Independent Online

Even the greatest champions stumble, as Sir Alex Ferguson might admit. As it has been with Manchester United, so it is with Ferrari. Clearly they will be back, when their new car starts racing and their tyre supplier, Bridgestone, matches its rival, Michelin. But in the Formula One paddock there is a mood against the red team that is becoming increasingly uncompromising.

Even the greatest champions stumble, as Sir Alex Ferguson might admit. As it has been with Manchester United, so it is with Ferrari. Clearly they will be back, when their new car starts racing and their tyre supplier, Bridgestone, matches its rival, Michelin. But in the Formula One paddock there is a mood against the red team that is becoming increasingly uncompromising.

On Sunday evening eight of their rivals - McLaren-Mercedes, Renault, BAR-Honda, Williams-BMW, Red Bull, Toyota, Jordan-Toyota and Minardi-Ford - issued their usual post-race press releases but added extra pages outlining their disgust at Ferrari's refusal to cut back on testing in order to reduce costs.

In 2004 everyone abided by what became known as the Suzuka Agreement, which laid down rules for restrictions on testing in race weeks, summer holidays and end-of-season Christmas breaks. In Brazil last year the eight rival teams, plus Sauber-Petronas, came up with further cost-saving proposals created by the Minardi owner, Paul Stoddart. Ferrari refused to be party to them, and without their agreement the lack of unanimity meant that the proposals could not be adopted officially. The nine teams agreed instead to impose their own testing limitations, and have been infuriated by Ferrari's reaction in tearing up the Suzuka Agreement and actively increasing their testing this year. While teams were racing in Malaysia, Ferrari were simultaneously running their new car back in Mugello.

These are troubled times in a sport in which the alienated teams continue to threaten to form the Grand Prix World Championship. Clandestine meetings abounded throughout the weekend, provoking an angry reaction from Ferrari.

"We are actually saving money by doing more testing," a Ferrari spokesman claimed, suggesting that greater efficiency had led to cost savings. "It is not fair that Bridgestone have been able to do much less testing than Michelin because more teams run on Michelins. We are at a disadvantage as a result."

This claim is regarded as disingenuous in the extreme, as it overlooks the fact that other teams switched from Bridgestone to Michelin because Bridgestone's tyres are designed specifically around Michael Schumacher and his technical input, and that Ferrari have steadfastly blocked all proposals to revert to a single-tyre formula, which would reduce costs and increase lap times. It is this sort of thing that has angered their rivals.

In an unprecedented step, the eight teams (Sauber, who use Ferrari engines, did not participate, perhaps for obvious reasons) signed a letter to the Fiat chairman and former Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo, urging him to persuade Ferrari's sporting director, Jean Todt, to reconsider his stance.

The argument has also led to a stand-off between the international governing body of motor sport, the FIA, and the disgruntled teams, who accuse the governing body of favouring Ferrari. That was at the root of Stoddart's legal action in the opening race in Australia. Stoddart won an injunction against the FIA preventing him from running his cars to 2004 specification, and only relented in the face of alleged threats to cancel the race.

Defeat on Sunday was bitter for Ferrari, but nothing like as bitter as the ongoing acrimony that will only get nastier as the season progresses.

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