Opportunity knocked

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Sunday June 13 marked the first occasion this year that the Formula One World Championship and the PPG IndyCar World Series were in action on the same day. It also happened that they were performing on the same continent, as the former made what is now its solitary annual trip to North America.

If ever there was a time when F1 desperately needed to convince the largely disinterested North American public of its worth, this was it.

Yet the opportunity was spurned.

It wasn’t so much what happened on-track that made F1 look ridiculous, as what happened off it, the day before the race, when the stewards announced that only two of the 26 cars present complied with the current F1 regulations. In the inevitable wrangling that followed, Williams expressed its sincere hope that this unexpected revelation by the governing body wouldn’t cast a shadow on Nigel Mansell’s hard-earned 1992 World Championship success. The team had, after all, used the same active suspension in each of the previous 22 World Championship Grands Prix without hearing the merest murmur about its possible illegality…

This sudden blot on the F1 landscape raises several important questions.

Firstly, if the Canadian stewards’ findings are correct according to the letter of FIA law, how come nothing has been said previously?

Secondly, given that the matter was deferred to allow the Canadian GP to proceed without further ructions, how quickly is the governing body going to clarify matters so that the teams know where they stand? The longer it takes, the less time there will be for teams to convert their cars safely to passive systems in time for the French GP on July 4

Frankly, we doubt that it will come to that. In the long-term, the events of Saturday June 12 will probably be remembered as a warning shot across teams’ bows as the powers-that-be force through the new age of low technology (something newly elected FIA President Max Mosley insisted he did not support one year ago).

However, the timing of the statement was as crass as the content.

F1 folk may scoff at the parochial world of IndyCar, with its relatively old-fashioned hardware and artificial sweeteners, but at least the rules are written in black and white.

At a time when sponsorship is ever thinner on the ground and Formula One could do with breaking back into the US market, it instead departed the continent looking ludicrous. S A

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