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Limiting testing could control costs

3/4/2004

MELBOURNE -- Every year Formula One teams
spend vast sums and travel huge distances going around in
circles with barely anyone watching.

Visit Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya for a winter test in
January or February and the wail of engines reverberates off
empty grandstands.

There are no fans, no television cameras and no glamour
whatsoever.

By the time they arrived in Australia for Sunday's
season-opening grand prix, some of the biggest and wealthiest
teams had already logged more miles in testing than they will
manage in 18 races.

Minardi boss Paul Stoddart said as his new car was unveiled
in Melbourne this week: "Our planned kilometrage this year is
35,000 for the whole season and there are some teams that have
already done that."

With the sport trying hard to cut costs, some people think
it is time for a rethink when testing now costs more than
racing.

"Maybe we should forbid testing," said Formula One's
commercial chief Bernie Ecclestone recently. "That would save
a lot of money and it would be the same for everyone.

"We have to cut the costs and make it difficult for the top
teams to invest crazy amounts of money."

BAR boss David Richards agrees, as does Renault's Flavio
Briatore. Both believe teams should compete in more races and
trim testing.

"It's farcical that we do all this testing with nobody
there," said Richards, whose team were fifth last year.

"I've been down on a cold winter's day in Barcelona with one
or two Spaniards in the stand waving a Colombian flag and nobody
else there.

"This business needs more exposure, it needs to go more
globally, therefore it needs more events."

Teams are banned from testing for a month after the end of
the season but can then undertake as many as they want from
November until the season starts in March.

During the season there is a gentleman's agreement that
limits testing to a generous 48 days -- far more than the likes
of Minardi can afford to do.

Cutting back would save millions but any decision needs to
be unanimous and that is unlikely to happen.

"We could certainly cut the testing back but the problem is
Ferrari," said team boss Frank Williams recently.

"I'm not pointing the finger at them, I am certainly
sympathetic, but they have got their own test track right
outside their window and even more pertinent is the fact that
they are on the Bridgestone tire."

While Michelin supplies four of the top five teams,
Bridgestone haa only champions Ferrari among the elite and want
as much track time as possible. Much of testing focuses on tire
selection and compounds.

"They will fight to keep that testing," added Williams,
whose team were runners-up in 2003. "It's a difficult one to
undo unless there is only one tire supplier."

That is unlikely to happen.

"In truth, to start telling companies that they are not able
to compete in a technical environment is I think quite a big
step," Williams technical director Patrick Head said last month.

"So the only other way you can do it is to restrict the
amount of testing."

"The question is, how is that step going to be taken because
...certainly Ferrari have been the people who have said no they
won't accept anything.

"The difficulty is that you put all the team principals in a
room together and try and get agreement and it ain't going to
happen."