Fisichella and Stoddart ride their parallel storms

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The Independent Online

For once the powers that be in Formula One faced greater forces than themselves as the 2005 season exploded into controversial life on its first weekend.

For once the powers that be in Formula One faced greater forces than themselves as the 2005 season exploded into controversial life on its first weekend.

The first usurper was Mother Nature, who did her level best to generate an unusual grid by throwing a downpour into the first qualifying session right after Giancarlo Fisichella had taken his Renault around in 1min 33.171sec to set the fastest time. The fact that this happened just before Michael Schumacher was due to venture out - rather than afterwards - suggests that 2005 might just be the season many hope it will be, with the red Ferraris facing a greater challenge.

Fisichella, Jarno Trulli in the Toyota, Mark Webber in the BMW-Williams and Jacques Villeneuve in the Sauber Petronas all got their laps in on a track that was merely damp after morning rain. The French-Canadian demonstrated how tricky conditions were even then by spinning on his warm-up lap. His team-mate, Felipe Massa, was unfortunate enough to encounter the rainstorm as he began his own qualifying lap, by which time the Albert Park circuit was a skating rink. The session was run in the reverse order of the finish of the Brazilian GP, the last race of 2004, so others who had done well there - the Schumachers, Fernando Alonso, Rubens Barrichello, Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya - also found themselves out of luck.

Schumacher switched to wet Bridgestone tyres but could only slither into 18th place. Conditions improved slightly thereafter, but brother Ralf was only 17th, Alonso 14th, Barrichello 12th, and the McLaren duo 11th and 10th (Montoya and Raikkonen respectively).

This would not necessarily be a problem, with another qualifying session on the morning of the race, when teams have to run with their intended race fuel-loads. But under the new regulations the times from the two sessions are aggregated.

"All I can say is that we were unlucky," Schumacher said philosophically. "The weather has so often played in my favour that I can accept it was not the case this time. I had seen the rain clouds approaching and I hoped they would stay away a bit longer, but it didn't happen."

If Mother Nature controlled the happenings on the track, Australian law had a say in what happened off it. The Melbourne-born Minardi owner, Paul Stoddart, came home intent on provoking a confrontation with the FIA president, Max Mosley, by seeking to run his cars in 2004 specification rather than to the 2005 rules.

Stoddart had the necessary new parts, but was out to prove a point on behalf of the teams who have taken a stance against Ferrari since Brazil last year. When he was refused the right to run his cars unless they complied to the current rules, he won a temporary injunction to do so from the Victorian Supreme Court.

This fired up Mosley, who issued a statement threatening to take motorsport "of any kind" away from Australia if the country's law allows a judge to threaten a major sporting event. Stoddart, who eventually modified his cars to conform to the new rules, responded by pointing out that the Concorde Agreement which purports to run the sport had initially been set up - by Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone, among others - as a civil contract, and is thus subject to the law that applies in Australia and several other countries, not least the UK.

Sir Frank Williams has made it clear that the rebel teams have no real beef with Ecclestone, nor even the split of money that Ferrari may or may not receive, but are intent on having Mosley removed from office. This seemingly minor issue is not going to go away, and may yet come back to haunt the governing body.

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