The face of Formula One is set for dramatic change, if the FIA president, Max Mosley, gets his way in a meeting in Monaco on 4 May.
Cynics saw a pattern in the way things developed over the weekend here. First, there was Michael Schumacher's recent visit to Dublin as an ambassador for FIA road safety initiatives. Then there was the question about whether he saw a need for cars to be slowed down. At the same time Mosley's proposed changes were leaked, and when the full list appeared yesterday a FIA spokesman's suggestion that they had "acted quickly to put out the correct story after media speculation" was seen as a smokescreen to obscure the politicking.
The changes, which have to be ratified, are promising. Mosley, and Bernie Ecclestone want to improve the standard and safety of racing while eliminating electronic driver aids, drastically reducing the costs involved and encouraging new teams. The proposed rule changes would be unlikely to take effect until 1 January 2008. Engines would be 2.4 litre V8s with restrictions to peg horsepower back to 700-750 bhp.
They also call for a standard engine control unit. It would mean that the FIA could make certain that electronic driver aids such as traction control could be policed effectively enough to be outlawed. Manual transmissions and clutches are also part of the deal, together with the need for every car to run with standard specification brake discs, pads and callipers.
The rules would also embrace chassis stiffness specification, an increase in minimum weight to eliminate the need for ballast, and a combined tyre and aerodynamic package to achieve specific targets for cornering speeds, straight-line speeds, grip and braking performance. Only one tyre manufacturer would be allowed.
Conscious of the need to improve the show, Mosley and Ecclestone also want a qualifying session again on Friday, and there may be a reversion to a Saturday session in which cars are allowed up to four runs, though they would have to make do with engines capable of lasting for two race weekends and only two identical sets of tyres for qualifying and the race. Reaction in the paddock has been mixed, but there is a genuine desire to see improvements.
Improvements have already helped BAR-Honda to make progress. Yesterday, Jenson Button was again the fastest runner for the team. Normal service will doubtless be resumed by the red cars on their home ground tomorrow, but Button remains confident. "Our strategy has paid off in the first three races and that, combined with slick pitwork, is what will determine the outcome on Sunday," he said.
San Marino Grand Prix (Imola, It) Practice (for tomorrow's race): First session: 1 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1min 20.084sec; 2 R Barrichello (Br) Ferrari 1:21.443; 3 R Schumacher (Ger) Williams-BMW 1:22.250; 4 *A Davidson (GB) BAR-Honda 1:22.398; 5 J Button (GB) BAR-Honda 1:22.448; 6 J P Montoya (Col) Williams-BMW 1:22.796; 7 J Trulli (It) Renault 1:22.927; 8 K Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1:23.054; 9 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 1:23.083; 10 *R Zonta (Br) Toyota 1:23.161; 11 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 1:23.197; 12 M Webber (Aus) Jaguar 1:23.417; 13 G Fisichella (It) Sauber-Petronas 1:23.528; 14 F Massa (Br) Sauber-Petronas 1:23.562; 15 O Panis (Fr) Toyota 1:23.790; 16 T Sato (Japan) BAR-Honda 1:24.061; 17 *B Wirdheim (Swe) Jaguar 1:24.152; 18 C da Matta (Br) Toyota 1:24.752; 19 N Heidfeld (Ger) Jordan-Ford 1:24.955; 20 G Pantano (It) Jordan-Ford 1:25.375; 21 C Klien (Aut) Jaguar 1:25.679; 22 *T Glock (Ger) Jordan-Ford 1:26.254; 23 G Bruni (It) Minardi-Ford 1:27.933; 24 Z Baumgartner (Hun) Minardi-Ford 1:29.312; 25 *B Leinders (Bel) Minardi-Ford 1:29.414. Second session: 1 Button 1min 20.966sec; 2 Sato 1:21.159; 3 M Schumacher 1:21.164; 4 Raikkonen 1:21.586; 5 Trulli 1:21.604; 6 *Davidson 1:21.643; 7 Montoya 1:21.661; 8 Alonso 1:21.788; 9 Coulthard 1:21.795; 10 R Schumacher 1:22.057; 11 Barrichello 1:22.096; 12 Webber 1:22.167; 13 Panis 1:22.768; 14 Da Matta 1:22.780; 15 Massa 1:23.043; 16 Klien 1:23.211; 17 Fisichella 1:23.335; 18 *Wirdheim 1:23.470; 19 *Zonta 1:23.500; 20 Heidfeld 1:23.866; 21 Pantano 1:24.091; 22 Bruni 1:25.653; 23 Baumgartner 1:25.760; 24 *Leinders 1:27.025. No time: Glock.
*denotes test drivers who will not race tomorrow but are allowed to take part in practice on Friday.
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