Lucky escape for Montoya heightens Mosley alarm

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The Independent Online

You might have thought that it was only cricket and tennis in which rain stops play, but the spectators were stumped here yesterday as they found themselves watching raindrops instead of F1 cars. A series of showers sent drivers slithering back to the pits, and in particular gave Williams the headache of rebuilding yet another car after Juan Pablo Montoya nearly went aviating. The Colombian counted himself lucky to emerge unscathed after losing control on the very slippery surface, and only narrowly avoided overturning as his car pirouetted dramatically across a gravel bed before hitting a tyre wall.

You might have thought that it was only cricket and tennis in which rain stops play, but the spectators were stumped here yesterday as they found themselves watching raindrops instead of F1 cars. A series of showers sent drivers slithering back to the pits, and in particular gave Williams the headache of rebuilding yet another car after Juan Pablo Montoya nearly went aviating. The Colombian counted himself lucky to emerge unscathed after losing control on the very slippery surface, and only narrowly avoided overturning as his car pirouetted dramatically across a gravel bed before hitting a tyre wall.

Following so soon on the heels of Ralf Schumacher's accident, and the one that befell Felipe Massa in Canada - a 113g head-on collision with a tyre wall that would almost certainly have very seriously injured him had he not been wearing the mandatory HANS head and neck support - Montoya's gyration rather played into the hands of the soon-to-depart FIA president, Max Mosley. Smiling with his own inimitable brand of urbanity, Mosley staged a tour de force press conference in which he managed to convince many that he really is retiring simply because he has lost interest, to say nice things about pretty much everyone, and to take yet another oblique swipe at old enemy Ron Dennis, McLaren's team principal. But the most significant thing that he said was that he believes F1 will be living on borrowed time until the regulations to slow the cars that he is resolutely railroading through as his parting shot become effective for 2006.

Reiterating his determination to force through a very precise new aerodynamic package, 2.4 litre V8 engines (or rev-limited 3 litre V10s) and a drastic reduction in the number of tyres available per race, to cut speeds and costs and to improve the racing, Mosley said: "As far as speeds are concerned, the risks at the moment are unacceptably high. Make no mistake, it is drastic what we are going to do, but once it has been done F1 will be set on an acceptable course. I really hope that we do not have a really serious accident in the meantime, because it won't be until the beginning of 2006 that the new regulations can have their full effect. You have to remember that the energy goes up with the square of the speed, and we are right at the limit of our safety right now."

Montoya said: "The car was aquaplaning so much that I just could not keep it on the track. Luckily enough I walked away with no physical consequences at all."

Mosley's concern is that there have been too many close shaves of late, and that sooner or later somebody may not be able to do that. As the man who steered the sport through the aftermath of the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna, his view has credibility.

On track the day belonged, unexpectedly, to Toyota's Cristiano da Matta. After the latest rain shower had left Renault's Jarno Trulli sitting at the top of the times ahead of Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher, the Brazilian took late advantage as conditions improved quickly to bang in the fastest lap with 1min 15.518sec. Button's team-mate Anthony Davidson did likewise to jump up to third.

It was not the greatest day in F1's history, but Mosley said he is very optimistic for the sport's future. "I am leaving at a critical time, but we are doing what has to be done. The team owners have opened door and we are fully entitled to take drastic measures. We want to put greater emphasis on cleverness and brain work and less on spending money. The team owners have all become extremely rich because Bernie Ecclestone created a Monopoly board for them to play on where the sums of money are enormous. They are not businessmen, but just long to win races. Some have been made rich despite themselves, not by way of a deliberate business strategy."

Clearly, Mosley is leaving for good. When asked if he might change his mind, he could not resist some final trademark humour. "No," he said, "I'm not a Formula One team principal so I don't change my mind every few minutes!"

French Grand Prix practice times

First session

1 R Barrichello (Br) Ferrari 1min 15.487sec; 2 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1:15.713; 3 M Gene (Sp) Williams-BMW 1:19.348; * 4 T Glock (Ger) Jordan-Ford 1:19.428; 5 G Pantano (It) Jordan 1:19.466; 6 N Heidfeld (Ger) Jordan-Ford 1:20.531; 7 G Bruni (It) Minardi-Cosworth 1:21.203; * 8 B Leinders (Bel) Minardi 1:22.267; * 9 A Davidson (GB) BAR-Honda 1:26.552; 10 C da Matta (Br) Toyota 1:26.757; 11 O Panis (Fr) Toyota 1:27.449; 12 J Button (GB) BAR-Honda 1:28.317; * 13 R Zonta (Br) Toyota

1:29.085; 14 C Klien (Austria) Jaguar 1:29.626; 15 Z Baumgartner (Hungary) Minardi-Cosworth 1:29.877; 16 T Sato (Japan) BAR-Honda 1:30.092; * 17 B Wirdheim (Swe) Jaguar 1:30.204; 18 J Trulli (It) Renault 1:39.392. F Massa (Br) Sauber-Petronas; F Alonso (Sp) Renault; G Fisichella (It) Sauber-Petronas; D Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Mercedes; J P Montoya (Col) Williams-BMW; K Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes; M Webber (Aus) Jaguar - all no time; * Denotes test drivers who will not race tomorrow.

Second session

1 Da Matta 1:15.518; 2 Trulli 1:16.206; * 3 Davidson 1:16.231; 4 Button 1:16.397; 5 Michael Schumacher 1:16.397; 6 Alonso 1:16.454; 7 Coulthard 1:16.464; 8 Webber 1:16.745; 9 Raikkonen 1:16.794; 10 Barrichello 1:17.094; 11 Panis 1:17.303; 12 Fisichella 1:17.324; 13 Montoya 1:17.556; 14 Gene 1:17.688; * 15 Zonta 1:17.735; 16 Klien 1:17.936; 17 Sato 1:17.967; 18 Massa 1:18.614; 19 Pantano 1:18.711; * 20 Wirdheim 1:19.179; 21 Heidfeld 1:19.270; 22 Bruni 1:19.349; * 23 Glock 1:19.490; 24 Baumgartner 1:19.636; * 25 Leinders 1:19.914.

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