Honda F1 website

MARCH 2, 2004

Bernie calls for testing ban

Formula One group chief executive Bernie Ecclestone says that teams need to agree to stop doing as much testing or the sport is going to run into trouble. Most of the teams are in agreement that it makes sense to cut testing but any move to do that is being blocked by Ferrari which enjoys an advantage because it has two test tracks close to its factory in Italy and, with pressure on the team to cut its budget, the Ferrari bosses do not want to give away any advantage because they fear that rival teams will outspend them.

Ferrari will eventually be forced to reduce testing but that may not happen until a new Concorde Agreement when the need for unanimity to change rules will almost certainly be swept away.

Ecclestone says that he is worried what will happen to the sport when tobacco companies can no longer be sponsors. It is estimated that cigarette firms invest around $350m a year in F1 but anti-tobacco legislation is gradually closing in on the sport. However it is virtually certain that tobacco advertising will go on beyond 2006 because the European Union's insistence on introducing its ban earlier than expected has torpedoed attempts to have a global ban at that point.

"If we lose tobacco sponsorship in Formula 1, that will be a turning point," Ecclestone said. "People just can't imagine how bad that will be. This money isn't replaceable, not even for Ferrari."

There are a number of teams in Formula 1 who might argue otherwise. Williams has a very healthy budget despite not having a tobacco backer. Success draws in the money. There are other F1 marketeers who argue that the loss of tobacco will open the door to many more sponsors who currently do not want to be associated with the sport because of its tobacco links. They are keen to take advantage of the marketing possibilities if cigarette advertising disappears.

A bigger problem facing the teams, it might be argued, is what happens if the car companies start to pull out as they are possibly more important to the sport than tobacco and it is impossible for all of them to win.