Originally created 05/05/04

Formula One headed for major makeover



MONTE CARLO, Monaco -- Formula One approved changes Tuesday to make racing more affordable for underfinanced teams hoping to compete with free-spending Ferrari and six-time champion Michael Schumacher.

That combination is unbeaten in four races this season and has dominated the circuit for several years largely because it outspends the others. The changes - many expected to take effect next year - involve cars, engines and tires.

"The basic idea is to make the racing closer and more interesting, and I think we'll succeed in that," said Max Mosley, head of the International Automobile Federation, the sport's governing body. "Whether it will be close enough remains to be seen."

F1 also is concerned that Ferrari's dominance could reduce the size of a TV audience bored by races with little overtaking or exciting wheel-to-wheel racing.

"They've got to come up with something much better than we've got," Mosley said.

One of the most radical measures would put all teams on the same tires, possibly as early as 2006. That would end the competition between tire manufacturers Bridgestone and Michelin and save teams the cost of extensive testing to find the best combinations.

Spare cars, which drivers fall back on if they crash, could be banned next year, Mosley said.

Teams meeting in Monaco also agreed to reduce the power of engines and make them last longer than one race. Teams also agreed to use standard brakes, while expensive electronic driver aids "are definitely going to go," Mosley said.

"Except for minor details, there's virtually complete acceptance of these very revolutionary proposals," he said. "I couldn't have asked for more from the meeting."

Richer teams spend heavily on finding new technologies, lighter materials and electronic gizmos that give their cars an edge. Critics argue that gives the richest teams an unfair advantage, places a premium on technicians rather than driver skills and discourages new teams from venturing into the costly world of F1.

"Everybody feels instinctively that Formula One would be better and stronger and more credible if we had one or two new teams coming in," Mosley said. There's a need for new teams. It's possible that we might see a new team in as early as 2005."

F1 would like to restore the starting grid to 24 cars. It fell to 20 in recent seasons when the Arrows and Prost teams folded.

Ferrari is believed to have a budget of $450 million a year for its two cars - perhaps 10 times as much as a competitive two-car NASCAR Nextel Cup operation. The Minardi F1 team, virtually always near the back of the grid, operates on about $35 million a year.

As much as $1.2 billion a year is spent on engines for 14 of the 20 F1 cars that currently race, Mosley said - an amount he called "simply not sustainable."

He said engine companies agreed to work out measures to cut engine costs by 50 percent. All 10 two-car teams represented at the meeting said they were satisfied.

"I was enormously pleased," said Eddie Jordan, whose team has struggled. "It was all one-sided, very positive about cost savings, the key factor."

David Richards of BAR-Honda expects fans to be as satisfied as the teams themselves.

"There wasn't any real argument on any issue," he said.

Mosley also said teams have to formulate new qualifying rules and expressed optimism that some changes could be introduced this year.