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SEPTEMBER 15, 2001

A new threat to the United States GP?

RUMORS were circulating late on Saturday night at Monza that three major Asian companies involved in Formula 1 have decided to instruct their racing divisions not to take part in the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis in two weeks time because of the current political instability in the world as a result of the terrorist attacks earlier in the week in the United States of America which have left close to 5000 people dead.

In the course of Saturday afternoon US President George W Bush announced that the United States was "at war" with the perpetrators of the attacks and that he had no intention of settling for "a token act" against the terrorists.

"Our response must be sweeping, sustained and effective," he said. "Those who make war against the United States have chosen their own destruction. Victory against terrorism will not take place in a single battle but in a series of decisive actions against terrorist organizations and those who harbor and support them."

It is not yet clear what Bush intends to do but the announcement does make life rather complicated for companies from Muslim countries - of which Petronas is the obvious one. The Malaysian government - which owns Petronas - has never been very pro-American and while not supporting the appalling attacks, it does not want set itself up as a target by having a high profile in the US in the next few weeks.

The loss of Petronas would not be a major setback but on Saturday night rumors suggested that Honda and Bridgestone may follow suit, if only to avoid controversy.

If the rumors are true Formula 1 is going to be in trouble. Honda supplies two teams (Jordan and British American Racing) with engines and so with Petronas (Sauber) out there would be six cars unable to race. Minardi is also backed by Malaysian government-linked money and might also be requested not to go to the US.

The devastating blow, however, would be a decision by Bridgestone to withdraw as McLaren, Ferrari and Arrows would also be taken out of the equation.

This would leave only Williams, Benetton, Jaguar and Prost able to go to the US. Even if Minardi was to go that would bring the total to only 10 cars and this would not be much of a spectacle. The 1982 San Marino GP - at the height of the FISA-FOCA war - featured seven teams. There is a parallel with the 1985 South African GP to which the Renault and Ligier teams were forbidden to go by the French government. The race went ahead with 21 cars.

One possible compromise would be the postponement of the race until after the Japanese Grand Prix but this would create a lot of logistical problems and the weather would be decidedly unpredictable by the end of October. The result therefore would probably be the cancellation of the US event. Although teams are contracted to appear they could claim force majeure if their suppliers refuse to allow them to go to a race. The cancellation would be a big blow for Tony George and for Bernie Ecclestone who stand to lose millions if the race does not happen.

Given the time of day it is impossible to verify whether the stories have any foundation but further developments are expected on Sunday morning.