Toughest season leaves deep scars

As Barrichello seeks glory in front of home crowd, Jaguar and Jordan are running on empty
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Brazil is a country of contrasts, where the haves own a great deal and the have-nots don't have very much at all. It is not unlike the Formula One paddock, when you think about it. At one end the colour red signals confidence, hope and the "arrogance" of great success. At the other end of the pit lane, the green of Jaguar and the yellow of Jordan present poignant counterpoints.

Brazil is a country of contrasts, where the haves own a great deal and the have-nots don't have very much at all. It is not unlike the Formula One paddock, when you think about it. At one end the colour red signals confidence, hope and the "arrogance" of great success. At the other end of the pit lane, the green of Jaguar and the yellow of Jordan present poignant counterpoints.

As the Brazilians cheer on their hero Rubens Barrichello in his scarlet chariot, there are fading hopes in each of those two teams this weekend. Here the painful bite of commercial reality has left faces looking gaunt and drained after a tough season that seems to have gone on forever, and left indelible scars on people who are beginning to doubt that some wealthy saviour will throw them the financial lifeline that will secure their jobs and livelihoods.

Whatever happens, this will be the last ever grand prix for a car bearing the Jaguar name; it just remains to be seen whether any of the several initiatives currently in negotiation to purchase the entire team from Ford will succeed. Some have the impression that Ford, who are turning their backs on a sport that has served them well for four decades, may not actually want this to happen.

Meanwhile, unless he can source a new supply of engines, having allegedly been dumped with only seven minutes' notice by Ford, Eddie Jordan could be closing down his team tomorrow morning.

Minardi will survive because Paul Stoddart will be in Melbourne next March by hook or by crook, and he says he will do it even if his cars lap 10 seconds off the pace. But no sport can lose 20 per cent of its players overnight and retain credibility.

It is not the Brazilians' fault, but the weekend has thus far been far more memorable for the tension behind the scenes than for anything on the track. If F1 was a car, it would be one lacking downforce and power, and teetering on the edge of control on every corner, outgunned by better structured rivals such as football, tennis and golf.

There have been more meetings among the team principals than there have been practice sessions. In one of them Bernie Ecclestone played his own game of wackamole, popping up first here and then there, each time being somewhere else as he dodged the fall of the hammer. Representatives of the beleaguered teams left with their heads spinning.

There have at least been some firm technical rules for 2005, aimed at slashing 20 per cent off the downforce levels to slow lap speeds. This is a good thing. Teams will only be allowed to use one set of tyres for qualifying and the race. Another good thing.

But the new engine rules give the FIA carte blanche to define the vee angle, the number of valves per cylinder, the maximum permissible bore and stroke measurements, and the height of the crankshaft centreline - in other words, the key parameters that determine power and the physical architecture which affects the packaging of the engine in the chassis. This is not so good.

BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Honda are still not giving up their argument for three-litre V10 engines, which to all intents and purposes will be booted out in favour of 2.4-litre V8s for 2006. This is not so good either.

But let us try to be positive here. The situation regarding the British Grand Prix continues to spin round and round whatever passes for a mulberry bush over here, but you can dismiss the idea of Silverstone hosting a non-championship race such as its old Daily Express International Trophy despite what you might read elsewhere.

That suggestion occupied the minds of profit-conscious BRDC directors last week for rather less than five minutes.

Other good news? Erm... Oh yes, the Jenson Button saga is over and he stays with BAR for 2005, though you would not rule out Sir Frank Williams getting his man for 2006.

Button and his boss David Richards were all smiles here on Thursday. Though hinting at his dissatisfaction with the way the whole affair has been handled, Button said: "The only reason I thought about moving was because my contract might not have been valid. I was advised slightly incorrectly, but by a group of people rather than one individual. Away from the circuits, having it all to think about and worry about has been very tough. A good way to finish the year would be to win this race. It's been an interesting season for us, good and bad, and that would be a good thing to build on for 2005."

Victory would be a fitting, albeit unlikely, way for that gentleman David Coulthard, 13th fastest, to sign off in his 150th and final race for McLaren. There would be genuine satisfaction in seeing such a likeable fellow as the fastest qualifier Rubens Barrichello finally win in front of his adoring countrymen. Especially as Michael Schumacher crashed heavily yesterday morning trying to keep up with him and must now start 18th after having to take a 10 grid-place penalty because Ferrari had to change not only the chassis but the engine as well.

But a maiden victory for fuel-heavy Button, fifth on the grid, would be balm for a troubled sport. Their now forgotten fallout notwithstanding, both Button and BAR would thoroughly deserve that cherry on the cake they have spent all season icing.

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