Squabbles disrupt F1's China showpiece

Click to follow
The Independent Online
indy:relatedLinkBox title="565066">

The infighting among Formula One reached a new intensity here yesterday as the circus arrived to celebrate the opening of China's first grand prix circuit.

The sport's ringmaster, Bernie Ecclestone, F1's commercial rights holder, was busy upsetting Ferrari, Jordon and Minardi, while Flavio Briatore, the Renault team principal, joined in with a scathing attack on the media, condemning them for negative comments about the health of the sport

Having ripped into Ford last week when they announced their intention to close the Jaguar team at the end of 2004, Ecclestone levelled the score with Ferrari following a personal attack on him by the team's president, Luca di Montezemolo, at Monza a fortnight ago, and also charged the Jordan-Ford and Minardi teams with flogging dead horses at the back of the grid.

So much for the Brave New World in Shanghai. Having bought into the sport at an estimated cost of $240m (£134m), the Chinese have been left wondering just where it is really going. They are not alone. The internal squabbling has thus far prevented any kind of cohesive decision-making on the regulations for 2005. And with Jaguar, Jordan and Minardi all in financial straits, there are genuine prospects of only seven teams running next season.

"They [Ferrari] have a policy to win the world championship," Ecclestone said. "They don't want to take any risks, but what's a little bit bad is their selfishness over not wanting to compromise over the regulations to make the racing a little more challenging.

"The one-by-one qualifying, for example, has been a complete

disaster, and Ferrari haven't done anything to help as they won't agree to change anything. They are terribly selfish like that."

Alluding to the comments he made earlier this year to this newspaper regarding his belief that the late Ayrton Senna would have beaten Michael Schumacher had he lived, Ecclestone added: "Would Michael have won as many championships as he has done if Senna had not left us? I very much doubt it. Of course, Ayrton never had the luxuries Michael has had. Michael has never had anybody in his team who has been able, or been in a position, to challenge him, and he's certainly in the best team there is."

Ecclestone then fired a burst in the direction of Jordan and Minardi. "It doesn't look too healthy at the moment. I think in the end they are going to find it not easy to survive."

This provoked an incensed reaction from the Minardi team principal, Paul Stoddart, who retorted: "I think he has no right to say that. What happens to Jordan and Minardi is Jordan and Minardi's decision alone."

Eddie Jordan said: "I believe firmly that Formula One has to have a strong element of the private teams because manufacturers come and go as and when, and the private teams are the people who keep preserving that platform to enable manufacturers, who we all need in the championship, to enter."

"But the foundation of that championship has to be on the continual performance of private teams, so I will fight tooth and nail to be on that grid in Australia next year, but can I guarantee anything? I am not prepared to discuss that at the moment. But for sure I won't go down without a big fight."

Under the terms of the Concorde Agreement, Ecclestone is obliged to supply race organisers with a minimum of 14 cars, which means seven teams, but he has talked again of the major teams running three cars. This would not sit well with smaller teams such as Sauber-Petronas or Toyota, however, who would then find it even harder to score world championship points.

* A mellower Jacques Villeneuve has made up his differences with former team-mate Jenson Button, who he once claimed had not earned his respect. Villeneuve, who returns to Formula One here with Renault, said: "There's no vendetta with Jenson. There's no point thinking every driver is your enemy."