Teams line up behind Mosley's plan

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The Independent Online

There was nothing new in Michael Schumacher's fourth consecutive 2004 victory here on Sunday, but change is most definitely in the wind in Formula One.

There was nothing new in Michael Schumacher's fourth consecutive 2004 victory here on Sunday, but change is most definitely in the wind in Formula One.

The new rules package controversially mooted by the FIA could be implemented as early as 2006, rather than the 2008 date mentioned. A meeting in Monaco next Tuesday is set to spring surprises on at least one major team, assuming they send a representative.

Six teams have aligned themselves with the initiative, the brainchild of the governing body president, Max Mosley, and the F1 commercial rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone. They are BAR, Williams, Sauber, Toyota, Jordan and Minardi. But on the very day that it was revealed that the US advertising giant Interpublic had paid Ecclestone $93m (£52m) to take the rights to the troubled British Grand Prix off their hands, Ecclestone, Mosley, the German banker and Formula One management representative, Dr Gerhard Gribkowsky, and the FIA race director and safety delegate, Charlie Whiting, were all in Maranello visiting the Ferrari president, Luca di Montezemolo. It is safe to say they were not merely there for afternoon tea and scones. Indeed, during the weekend, the Ferrari technical director, Ross Brawn, let slip that had he been asked for a wish-list on future F1 regulations, it would have looked like the paper published by the FIA. With Renault likely to throw in their lot with the so-called independents because the team principal, Flavio Briatore, has an interest in the Mecachrome company that is already preparing a prototype 2.4 litre V8 engine, and Ford's interest in attracting 'independent' customers for their powerplants, that could leave McLaren and Mercedes - the architects of the moribund Grand Prix World Championship - between somewhere rocky and somewhere hard.

One of the biggest sticking points will be the standard engine electronic control unit. No manufacturers want to see any restriction on electronics, since it would strike at the very heart of the technological progress and excellence imagery on which they base their Formula One involvement and advertising. It is, however, an absolute cornerstone of Mosley's game plan. Take control of the electronics and, hey presto! - you get the control you need to police things such as traction control, which he has long been determined to kick out once and for all.

Restrict track testing, and teams initiate more in-house test programmes on static rigs. But restrict electronics in this way and what do you replace them with?

In the post-tobacco era, the governing body believes that banks and pharmaceutical and technology companies will flock to fill the void, but one team representative, pointing to the initials of a major computer company emblazoned on his jacket, said: "These guys won't be here if they have no technological reasons to be."

Ferrari's return to domination, so reminiscent of 2002, has many people frightened again for the sport's future. "At least Premier League football has had Arsenal stemming the Manchester United tide," one team principal said. On Austrian television earlier this season, the former champion Niki Lauda was his usual candid self when a co-commentator asked him what he thought viewers should do. "Turn off your television sets," he replied.

While Sunday's race, like Bahrain, served up some excitement away from the lead battle, that is the fear that stalks the sport's powerbrokers. Formula One is quite poorly again, and that's why they are determined to take positive remedial surgery now, while the patient can still recover to full health while remaining under the close observation of its fans, rather than in four years' time, when it may well be too late.

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