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The South African Grand Prix at Kyalami re-introduced something that hasn’t been seen in Formula One for a while. The battle between Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher might not have lasted the distance, but it was at least a sign that the potential for exciting, close racing exists in modern Grands Prix. This is as encouraging for purists as it is for the bean-counters who tally the TV ratings.

However, one swallow does not a summer make, and there is still work to be done if F1’s credibility is to be restored fully.

The continual rule fluctuations spring immediately to mind. A new qualifying schedule is introduced. The teams decide they don’t like it. Five minutes later it has been voted out in favour of the old, albeit with certain limitations imposed.

Was there nobody in F1 with the foresight to realise that you either have to increase efficiency to squeeze 90 minutes’ experimentation into one hour or accept that you’ll have to make do with a compromise, wherein at least the rules are the same for everybody?

We only hope that the new arrangement works during the build-up to the Brazilian Grand Prix, which was due to take place shortly after this issue of MOTOR SPORT had been printed. As much as FISA has tried to use force and diplomacy in equal measure (the Americans have long since mastered blending the two) while pushing through recent regulation changes, Formula One clearly still needs to tidy up a few frayed edges.

For all that, we remain encouraged by events on the track at Kyalami. In addition to the aforementioned battle for the lead in the early stages of the race, there were several other causes for optimism. The battle for pole position between Senna and Prost was breathtaking. Six constructors scored points in the first race, using four different engines. There were definite signs that an underdog can still wag his tail: witness Christian Fittipaldi’s joyous reaction as he brought his Minardi home fourth, well clear of the sole surviving Ferrari (it was recently worked out that Minardi’s total running budget is appreciably less than Gerhard Berger’s salary . . ).

It was proof that there is still scope in F1 for an element of surprise. For that, anyone who has grown tired of F1’s recent predictability will share our sense of gratitude.

S A