Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Wednesday, June 30, 1993

Grand Prix Racing: 1993 Is Shaping Up Great Despite FISA

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
PARIS - In a statement that surprised many in the sport, the pros and fans alike, Bernie Ecclestone, the head of the Formula One constructors' group, said that Grand Prix racing is show-biz. The question is, how many drivers, like some professional wrestlers, would say that they are entertainers? Probably not Alain Prost, or Ayrton Senna, this season's two leading drivers.

With his most recent victory, in the Canadian Grand Prix, a race he had failed to win in 11 previous attempts - Prost brought his victories to a record 48 going into Sunday's French Grand Prix at Magny Cours south of Paris.

The 48th victory exactly doubled the number of races won by Juan Manuel Fangio, Formula One's all-time champion with five titles, but who won them by coming home first in 24 races in the 1950s.

No other driver has won the driver's title more than three times, although six have done that and of those, two are still racing: Prost and Senna.

For that reason, the 1993 season, now nearly half over, should be the most exciting in nearly 40 years. After seven races, Prost leads the drivers' standings with 47 points, closely dogged by Senna with 42. In third place is Damon Hill with 22 points, followed by Michael Schumacher with 20.

The chances are good that Prost or Senna will break the three-title barrier. And this could make for even more exciting 1994 and 1995 seasons, as Prost, 38, and Senna, 33, are capable of equaling if not bettering Fangio's record.

But a pall lies over the race tracks.

Before Ecclestone's recent statement, the governing bodies that make the rules for Formula One - the International Auto Sports Federation, known by the French acronym FISA, of which Ecclestone is a vice president, and its parent, the International Automobile Federation, or FIA - have been waging a high-pressure publicity campaign to alert the world to what they believe is the true nature of Grand Prix racing. What counts, they keep repeating, is the car, not the driver. They're hung up on technology. Not the creation of better technology, but the destruction of great technology.

At the Canadian Grand Prix, 24 of the 26 cars were illegal under the new rules, according to FISA. In a letter to the teams that defied the limits on technology, FISA warned that these teams risked being barred from races, sometime in the future.

The makers of the rules are determined to take computers out of the cars. It means a punishing loss in time and research investment for the team owners and technicians, but the governing bodies think this will make racing more interesting for the public, and less expensive for lower-budget teams.

The tactic is not new. Rules changes made following the 1992 season limited the width of tires and outlawed a special fuel used by that season's team champion, Williams-Renault, which is to team up with Rothmans Racing for the next two seasons, entering two cars in the name of Rothmans Williams Renault. What FISA wanted was for racing cars to use a fuel more akin to that put in the family sedan.

The result? Cars are not only not going slower, as FISA wanted, but also several lap records were set this year, and the same teams are winning.

In fact, no matter how the governing bodies change the rules, the drivers' charisma and talent just keeps coming through. Take this season: Here's Senna, driving an inferior car and splitting the victories almost 50-50 with Prost. Here's Hill, driving a car equal to Prost's, and getting clobbered not only by his teammate but sometimes by drivers younger and sometimes less experienced. Like the German wunderkind Schumacher, who finished second in Canada as Hill came in third. Here's Jean Alesi getting consistently better times for Ferrari than his much more experienced teammate, Gerhard Berger.

The reigning Formula One champion, Nigel Mansell, defected to Indy car racing. He is now the leading driver on that circuit, with its less-computerized cars. A different car, different tracks, far different rules, but the same talented driver at a peak in his career. He finished only third in his first Indianapolis 500, because of inexperience in dealing with caution flags.

In Indy car or Grand Prix racing, a great car is nothing without a great driver. And so Fangio, who turned 82 last Thursday, is waiting for someone, anyone, to take away his record. If the sport's governing bodies don't get in the way.

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