Tuesday, June 21, 2005
The sport's limited appeal wasn't helped by Sunday's boycott.
A dispute in which 14 cars boycotted the United States Grand Prix in Indianapolis was about tire safety. But it also was part of a larger battle for control of Formula One.
Fielding only six of 20 cars on Sunday underlined how the sport is fractured, with a breakaway series looming in 2008. It also damaged F1 in the United States, where the sport has a scant following compared to its wide popularity in Europe, Asia and South America.
Formula One has been hurt by a lack of American drivers -- none since 1993. If the series can't succeed in Indianapolis, its chances for survival anywhere in the United States may be beyond repair.
"There are going to be a lot of people in Formula One turned away from the sport because of this," Red Bull driver David Coulthard said. "I feel terrible. I have a sick feeling in my stomach. I am embarrassed to be a part of this."
The French sports daily L'Equipe was blunt in its Monday headline: "Formule Zero."
Ferrari's seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher won the race, but the headline in Cologne, Germany -- near Schumacher's birthplace -- was unflattering: "Schumacher wins scandal-race in the USA," said the Cologne Rundschau newspaper.
Formula One is starkly divided.
In one camp is Max Mosley, the president of racing's world governing body, the FIA. He is joined by F1's multi-billionaire commercial director, Bernie Ecclestone, and by Ferrari -- the sport's most powerful team.
In the other camp are the nine remaining teams, and key Formula One manufacturers BMW, Mercedes and Renault. The group is considering running a breakaway series in 2008, and also has the support of Japan's two manufacturers in F1 -- Toyota and Honda.
After two Michelin tires failed in Friday's practice sessions for the U.S. Grand Prix -- one causing a wreck that prevented Toyota's Ralf Schumacher from competing -- Michelin said its tires were unsafe for Indianapolis.
Michelin wanted a curve installed going into turn 13, slowing the cars and sparing the tires. Nine of the 10 teams backed the French tire company. But Mosley and Ferrari were opposed. Seven of F1's 10 teams use Michelin tires, with Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi running on Bridgestone.
Mosley has been playing hardball with the nine renegade teams, and the five manufacturers, ever since they boycotted meetings called by him in January and April to discuss regulations for the 2008 season.
On Monday, the FIA summoned the seven teams that use Michelin tires to a hearing June 29.
Minardi team owner Paul Stoddart, who serves as spokesman for the nine teams, has called for Mosley to resign. Ecclestone's former lawyer and friend, Mosley has been accused of being dictatorial. Stoddart has called for "more transparency in how F1 is run, a precise regulatory process and a stable and consistent way the rules are applied."
The teams also want a bigger cut.
Formula One teams have complained that Ecclestone shares too little of the sport's commercial rights income, which was estimated at $800 million in 2003. Teams receive about 23 percent.
Ecclestone has amassed a fortune estimated at $3.7 billion in three decades of running F1.