Jordan takes a dim view of new practice formula

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The United States Grand Prix marks the halfway point of a Formula One season that has so far gone almost all Ferrari's way, with seven victories for Michael Schumacher in the eight races held so far.

The United States Grand Prix marks the halfway point of a Formula One season that has so far gone almost all Ferrari's way, with seven victories for Michael Schumacher in the eight races held so far.

But while what happens on the track for the rest of the year is probably predictable in terms of such results, there has been plenty of speculation this weekend about the precise format that qualifying will take for the British Grand Prix in July. Several team principals have made it clear that nothing has been agreed yet, and some are feeling downright disgruntled over the role they are portrayed as having played.

"The teams are constantly positioned as being solely and exclusively for change, and certainly this is one of those times," the McLaren team principal, Ron Dennis, said on Friday. "We've all contributed to trying to make the spectacle of qualifying better, and there is no question, looking at the current situation, that we failed so far to make Formula One better than it has been in the past in the respect of qualifying. I think everybody started simply from what's the best of what it's ever been, and everybody said the best it's ever been is when all the cars were on the circuit at the same time and the drivers were faced with getting a clear lap in a 12-lap window."

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, when that format was used, Dennis's driver Ayrton Senna electrified sessions whenever he went out for his final qualifying attempt.

"Everybody agreed with that perception, but then immediately pointed out that it meant that in the one-hour session everybody would be very slow to go out, so there would be 20 minutes of nothing happening," Dennis continued. "That was an issue that was addressed by splitting the practice sessions, and then things were tacked on as teams or interested parties were successful in politicking some sort of advantage into the regulation.

"And where we have ended up is definitely a different format. Whether it is better or not, I think time will tell. But if it isn't, I don't think any team is not prepared to change it yet again. But we've got to run probably the rest of the year in this [proposed] format or stay as we are."

The plan for racing at Silverstone is to have two 25-minute sessions in which teams are allowed four sets of tyres, two per session. The drivers' best lap time from each session, in which he will get two runs, will then be aggregated to determine his grid position.

Because this is Formula One, there is naturally some dissent among the teams. Eddie Jordan admits that his concern is purely selfish, since his cars will no longer enjoy their single-lap moments of television time.

"I was able to sell an ele-ment of time to my sponsors for not just terrestrial TV but for global feed," he said. "And I felt that was being taken away or could be taken away. Because whether we like it or not, there is not [one] person who is responsible for the production of television.

"If we are in England, the television director will follow an English driver, and if we're in Germany, it will be a German driver, and so on all the way through. And I can't have that pot-luck effect when I'm doing spreadsheets about potential income and value of media. Because anyone who thinks that a sponsor does not have a media value on every particular second that your car is appearing, then they are crazy.

"Those days of somebody coming along and saying, 'Hey, I'm a chief executive, I'd like to have my sticker on your car and we're going to have some fun and we go racing and see how it goes,' they're long gone."

The hard facts of racing are not restricted to the boardrooms. On track here, the Ferraris of Rubens Barrichello and Schumacher started setting the pace right from the start, with the Brazilian having the upper hand on Friday and again on Saturday morning. Indianapolis Motor Speedway has an unusual character. The last corner is part of the banking of the famed oval track on which the Indianapolis 500 race is held, so drivers go through this flat at 320kph and build up to 330kph down the long pit straight. But after that the infield section is tricky. One part requires brute power and low downforce, the other good handling and high downforce, so setting up the cars requires a delicate compromise. In such circumstances Ferrari inevitably excel, though the power of the Honda V10 has been pushing Jenson Button along strongly all season and this race represents possibly his best chance yet of fighting for his maiden victory.

Given the history in which "The Brickyard" is steeped, the British pretender to Schumacher's crown could not pick a better place to stake his claim.