Focus - tyre debate rumbles on at Monza 12 Sep 2003
The first day of practice and qualifying has been and gone at Monza, but the on-track action has not been the only focal point of the Italian Grand Prix so far. All the while Juan Pablo Montoya was setting the fastest lap of the afternoon's first qualifying session - placing him favourite for Sunday's race - senior members of the top three teams were locked in meetings concerning the legality of Michelin's front tyres, following the post-Hungary suggestions by Ferrari and the FIA that Michelin's tyre is too wide once it has been used.
The respective parties met in public for the first time this afternoon when Ross Brawn (technical director of Ferrari), Patrick Head (technical director of Williams) and Ron Dennis (boss of McLaren) sat alongside one another in the FIA press conference. On the front row were Brawn and Dennis, with Head and Renault boss Flavio Briatore on the row behind. The interview room in the new Monza press centre was packed with scandal-hunting journalists.
Events got off to a tense start when Brawn refused to confirm whether a quote he is alleged to have made during last week's Monza test was true. He is quoted in the British press this week as saying that Williams and McLaren had deliberately collaborated with Michelin to give themselves an unfair advantage. The hour-long press session - which was 40 minutes longer than normal - continued tit-for-tat, with each of the respective championship contenders interrupting each other to ensure that they got their point of view got across.
While the tense environment made for compelling viewing, it was a shame that the on-track events of the day were overlooked, given the closeness at the top of the world championship points table. The situation was summed up by Head, just as the press conference was coming to an end:
"I am sure," he said, "that Formula One isn't getting as much coverage in between races as it used to. My take on that is that the general public is running out of patience with F1. All they want to see is a good race, and all the talk of politics off it is turning people off. What we need to do is instil some excitement into people, and that doesn't mean confusing them with political elements that they probably don't understand - or care about."
Roll on tomorrow, when second qualifying should bring with it the excitement this world championship deserves.