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Max plans radical changes to F1 format

AS David Coulthard firmly underlined his world championship challenge by setting fastest time here in the first free practice session for the Belgian grand prix, FIA president Max Mosley proposed a package of radical changes designed to counter accusations that the racing is just too dull and processional.

It is Mosley's view that the paying public who turn out on a Friday is being short-changed by competitors who spend insufficient time out on the track entertaining them during the free practice sessions.

"It is was up to me alone to decide, I would give up Fridays altogether from the viewpoint of running the cars," he said yesterday. "Two days - Saturday and Sunday - is quite adequate for a world class sporting event. But I suspect will be far too radical for the competing teams to accept."

This issue is just one aspect scheduled to be debated in a high level meeting between all the formula one team principals, Mosley and powerbroker Bernie Ecclestone, the formula one commercial rights holder, in London next Wednesday.

Mosley believes his best bet of forcing a compromise will be to persuade teams to agree to a total ban on pre-race testing at any circuit which stages a grand prix during the course of any season.

"It would still be OK to test at FIA approved circuits which do not stage a race, such as Estoril, Jerez and Mugello," he said. "The problem we have at the moment is that everybody wants to conserve tires during Friday practice sessions and are reluctant to go out onto the circuit."

The question of restoring a qualifying session to the Friday program is also being considered, as is Ecclestone's suggestion that the Friday and Saturday times should be aggregated in an effort to ensure that every competitor produces a maximum effort for the public at all times.

However, Mosley is against reintroducing a qualifying session on Friday. "Qualifying on Saturday has become a world-wide sporting event in itself," he said, "with television viewing figures almost up to the level of the races themselves.

"If you aggregate qualifying times, then the whole event is diluted. The formula one circus is to introspective that it sometimes believes that everything involves round them, but the fact of the matter is that many people have to work on Fridays and are simply not able to go to the circuit as a result.

"If I had my way I would open up Friday as more of a media day, enabling the press to talk to the drivers, engineers and team managers in a more relaxed mood. They would be obliged to be there and make themselves available."

McLaren managing director Ron Dennis and his opposite number at Ferrari, sporting director Jean Todt, were more circumspect when asked to comment on these potentially contentious issues.

"I think it is an inappropriate forum to discuss it here," said Dennis, agreeing with Todt's comment that "I would prefer to answer these questions later."

However, Dennis offered the view that the prospect of a tire war next season when Michelin returns to the formula one scene in a head-to-head confrontation with Bridgestone, who currently have a tire supply monopoly, will in itself improve the racing.

"I think the differences in tire performance during both qualifying and the race will eventually result in much more overtaking," he said.

Meanwhile, Jackie Stewart, the former chairman of Jaguar Racing, made it clear that he was opposed to reducing the format of the grand prix weekend from three to two days.

"I think it needs three days to accommodate the potential variations in the weather and at the same time helps the individual race promoter," he said on a day when Johnny Herbert's Jaguar R1 posted an impressive, yet unrepresentative third fastest time behind Coulthard and the world champion Mika Hakkinen.

"We travel great distances at considerable expense moving these cars and equipment around the world and this justifies three day meetings. If we were going to Australia for three or two days, for example, it would not make any difference to the air freight costs."

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