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FIA on the defensive over F1 calendar

THE governing body of motor racing, the FIA, reacted dismissively to rumors last week about a draft calendar for 1996, featuring 18 races. Sources at the FIA denied there was such a calendar, but as F1 FOREIGN REPORT has seen draft copies of the dates, stamped confidential, one can only presume that one of the FIA's hands does not know what the other is doing.

Normally when the FIA issues any directives to F1 teams stamped "confidential" it expects the contents to be leaked immediately and can only suggest that the calendar has been put out to judge reaction amongst the teams to having 18 races.

This year F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone forced the teams to accept 17 races - the only time that this had previously happened was in 1977, before the Concorde Agreement was agreed. The team bosses want only 16 races and this arrangement has been enshrined in the Concorde Agreement.

All the indications suggest that Ecclestone and FIA President Max Mosley want 18 races next year. The more races there are, Bernie argues, the more money everyone makes. Using this logic, F1 is not making the most of the situation. It currently uses only 16 of the 33 available weekends of the March-November F1 season. This would mean more money for the teams but higher expenses as well, although better coordination of the dates could keep cost increases to a minimum. Teams argue that with all the testing taking place there is no time for more than 16 races, but Ecclestone says that testing is an expensive waste of time and the teams may as well race more often.

The wish to expand comes because there is no shortage of demand from countries wanting to join the game - notably in Asia where Indonesia, Malaysia and China are all getting ready to bid for GPs, and India and Korea are also thinking about it.

Bernie is still struggling to get a race together in the United States - despite the existing projects - and also has to find space in the future for events being planned in the Middle East, notably Dubai.

In the circumstances - with many races on long-term contracts - Bernie can only integrate the new races if the calendar grows.

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