107 per cent commitment

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Why Forti backs FIA’s move to squeeze non-performers

With Formula One grids continuing to dwindle, small teams won’t be battling against each other to qualify next season. But they will be fighting the clock.

From the end of this year, cars will have to qualify within 107 per cent of the pole-winner’s time in order to start the race. Had the rule been enforced this season, Forti Corse would still be awaiting its first Grand Prix start…

Notwithstanding that fact, Carlo Gancia, co-owner of the Italian outfit, agrees with the FIA’s attempt to squeeze small teams. “My feeling is that the rule is correct,” he says, “and we are looking forward to being inside the 107 per cent. Like I told Bernie [Ecclestone], I don’t mind doing any deal with him if I get seven per cent!”

“The wisdom of Bernie in the next few years does not have to be aimed at making Formula One more popular, as the last drive was, but rather at making the playing field level and attracting more professional people. Not professional racers, there are plenty of racers in motor racing, what we need to see is people with experience of big business who can bring big sponsors.

“Motor racing is not a pure sport. There is a sport content, but it’s a big promotional game. Some people, even though they have been in the game for many years, don’t know how to attract sponsorship, or they use a world-wide medium to promote purely provincial products.

“They mustn’t be allowed to fossilise, not allowing any change in the rules, just because they benefit from a cosy situation.”

Why, then, did Forti veto the FIA’s attempt to introduce the 107 per cent clause mid-season?

“Our personal needs differ from those Formula One as a whole,” he reasons. “Yes we are poor performers, and we know that eventually people will understand that didn’t come to Formula One to play. Unfortunately, we had a bad car. Our designer made an old car worse, rather than improving it. We have to live with it.

“In the long run I think the rule’s a healthy thing, but only if you know about it before hand. We had to take precautions in the short term, and protect ourselves in terms of contracts.”

The contract he has in mind, of course bears the name of Cosworth, the only supplier of customer engines this season. Its VED powerplant surrenders as much as 14 bhp to the likes of Ferrari, and the new ruling will inevitably increase pressure on Cosworth to up its performance, but it currently suffers more than most from the small teams’ struggle.

In the long run, opines Gancia, Cosworth may benefit from the upheaval: “Maybe this is the way to squeeze some low performers out of the game. You can’t have people quitting in the middle of the season, or everybody suffers. When you read Cosworth’s contract, for instance, next to each and every article you could put the name of a team that has screwed them in the past.”

Although Gancia agrees with the performance initiative, he argues that it must be the precursor to an overhaul of a current system which sees the better – and richer – teams subsidised, while the poor get poorer:

“We are new boys and we don’t go screaming at every change. Sometimes, though, we are like dogs chasing our tails. I think perhaps this change will purge the system, and clean out some of the rubbish, and then I would like to see the system changed.

”I spend thirty million pounds on engines, one on tyres and one million on transport. If we could spend that last two million on research, within three years we would be a good team. But we won’t be if we are spending our last dollar on sandwiches for the team!

“I think it is time that, as in NASCAR, some of the bigger teams helped the smaller ones, because they were small once too. I don’t mean they should help the teams who overstretch themselves, who can’t help themselves, only those who do a good job. If you look at Pacific, for instance, it will survive because Keith Wiggins is a shrewd man. He never takes a step longer than his leg.”

Pacific holds its own reservations about the structuring of Formula One. “In many respects I see Formula One adopting football’s ‘Premier League’ approach,” surmises its Commercial Manager, Mark Gallagher. “Increasingly it is survival of the fittest. If it did become a premier league, without teams like Simtek lurching from crisis to crisis, and without Forti taking all day to qualify, the standard of Formula One would definitely improve.

“But to ask new teams to meet a qualifying rule, especially when the window is so tight, is an amazingly tough task.”

So tough, in fact, that you have to question whether Forti would have survived had it entered F1 in 1996, rather than ’95.

“We wouldn’t,” accepts Gancia candidly. “But then again, a rule existed about the crash test, and we passed it. I think to raise the stakes a lot higher will only bring better players in. Financially, things will be strained, but in the long run the competition will not take place at the lowest denominator.”

As little as four seasons ago, 34 cars vied for 26 places on the grid. Hastened by the demise of Lotus, Larrousse, Simtek and others, that figure has declined to just 24. Had the 107 per cent rule been implemented, as the FIA wished, this season, there would have been fewer still (see table). Only 17 cars would have started at Silverstone, 19 at Monaco, 20 at Imola and Barcelona.

“We need to have a full and healthy grid,” acknowledges Gancia, “but we need to have teams which have the financial means to survive. If you have a glass which is half-full of a good wine, it’s 100 per cent better than a glass that is full of a poor one…”

The roll of dishonour

Had the 107 per cent rule been introduced this season, who would have qualified?

Brazilian GP
Pole: Damon Hill 1m 20.081s
Cut-off time: 1m 25.686s
Non-qualifiers:
Montermini (Pacific)
Moreno (Forti)
Verstappen (Simtek)
Diniz (Forti)
Schiattarella (Simtek)
Starters: 21

Argentine GP
Pole: David Coulthard 1m 53.241s
Cut-off time: 2m 01.167s
Non-qualifiers:
Montermini (Pacific);
Gachot (Pacific)
Diniz (Forti)
Inoue (Footwork)
Starters: 21

San Marino GP
Pole: Michael Schumacher 1m 27.274s
Cut-off time: 1m 33.383s
Non-qualifiers:
Wendlinger (Sauber)
Gachot (Pacific)
Schiattarella (Simtek)
Montermini (Pacific)
Moreno (Forti)
Diniz (Forti)
Starters: 20

Spanish GP
Pole: Michael Schumacher 1m 21.452s
Cut-off time: 1m 27.153s
Non-qualifiers:
Badoer (Minardi)
Schiattarella (Simtek)
Montermini (Pacific)
Gachot (Pacific)
Moreno (Forti)
Diniz (Forti)
Starters: 20

Monaco GP
Pole: Damon Hill 1m 21.952s
Cut-off time: 1m 27.686s
Non-qualifiers:
Schiattarella (Simtek)
Gachot (Pacific)
Diniz (Forti)
Verstappen (Simtek)
Moreno (Forti)
Montermini (Pacific)
Inoue (Footwork)
Starters: 19

Canadian GP
Pole: Michael Schumacher 1m 27.661s
Cut-off time: 1m 33.797s
Non-qualifiers:
Moreno (Forti)
Diniz (Forti)
Starters: 22

French GP
Pole: Damon Hill 1m 17.225s
Cut-off time: 1m 22.630s
Non-qualifiers:
Montermini (Pacific)
Gachot (Pacific)
Diniz (Forti)
Moreno (Forti)
Starters: 20

British GP
Pole: Damon Hill 1m 28.124s
Cut-off time: 1m 34.292s
Non-qualifiers:
Badoer (Minardi)
Inoue (Footwork)
Diniz (Forti)
Gachot (Pacific)
Moreno (Forti)
Salo (Tyrrell)
Montermini (Pacific)
Starters: 17

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