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Parity in a Rich Man's Sport

Formula 1 racing, facing a decline in viewership and skyrocketing costs, has introduced radical new rules that would strive for parity in a sport that has been lacking it.


Red in front, all season long

At the end of this past Formula 1 racing season, many fans were seeing red. Ferrari red, to be exact.

It seemed that not a race went by without a Ferrari driver spraying his podium companions with champagne. Of the 16 races, Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher won 10 of them. His teammate Rubens Barrichelo finished second in the overall standings. And Ferrari won the constructor's cup.

That sort of success could fade in the coming years following the introduction of new rules this week by the sport's governing body that would strive for a parity in a rich man's sport.

The F1 Technical Working Group is meeting Friday to discuss changes that will cut costs for the 10 Formula 1 teams and bring racing back closer to its roots. Team owners and FIA officials have called the changes nothing short of an earthquake in a sport that has lost viewers and interest in
recent years with the success of precious few teams.

Less wizardry, more driver control

In the coming years, the costly technological wizardry that has helped teams like Ferrari, BMW Williams and McLaren maintain a lock on both the driver's and constructor's championships, will be gradually phased out.

"Looking at it calmly, (the teams) will see that it was the only way to revive Formula One," Max Mosely, FIA's president, said in an interview with the Guardian. "There is no sense in having a futuristic technology on the track if people then turn their backs and no longer watch the races."

Launch control, which guides drivers out of the starting grid, team-to-driver radio communication and telemetry, which helps the team and driver electronically identify problems with the car, will be disallowed as soon as this coming season. Traction control, fully automatic gearboxes also face extinction in Formula 1 racing in 2003.

Teams will also only be allowed two cars per race, eliminating the replacement car.

In 2004, FIA will introduce standard braking systems, rear wings and other long-life components. In 2005 and 2006, teams will have to use the same engine for more than one race and see the elimination of "expensive, exotic materials on any part of the car," according to FIA. Lukewarm to warm reception by drivers

The sudden announcement sent shockwaves through the sport. Though most team ownersp referred to withhold comment until the outcome of the Technical Working group meeting, many drivers were quick to throw their support behind the new rules.

"When the artificial helping hands fall away, the driver is 40 percent more valuable," said Heiny-Harald Frentzen, whose team, Sauba, finished fifth overall last season.

Formula 1's dominating figure, Michael Schumacher, greeted the news with some caution.

"It is always difficult to drive to the limit, with or without electronic driving aid," said Schumacher, who finished in the top three in all 16 races this season and sewed up the overall championship in record time. "I prefer every option that can make a car faster, but I'll take it as it comes."

Critics say that losing team-to-driver communication and the telemetry system could spell more danger for the drivers, who will no longer get early warnings on crashes on the track or possible engine trouble. The loss of traction control could mean trouble in unfavorable racing conditions.

"One thing is clear," said Schumacher. "It's more dangerous in the rain without traction control."

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