Minardi team to stay in race – for now

Minardi boss Paul Stoddart leaves the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne on Friday after failing to get Ferrari's backing for his cars to compete in the practice sessions. - AFPpic

MELBOURNE: A supreme court injunction kept alive Minardi’s hopes of competing in the Australian Grand Prix as the Formula One season started under a cloud of controversy yesterday. 

Race stewards, who act for the governing International Automobile Federation (FIA), had earlier rejected the team’s bid to compete with their 2004 cars that do not conform to new aerodynamics regulations. 

“We are in. We’ll be running all day tomorrow and then we’ll have to wait and see what happens,” Stoddart, whose struggling team are regular grand prix tail-enders, said. 

The Australian, who comes from Melbourne, said the Victoria court had scheduled a second hearing at 2.15pm local (12.15pm Malaysian time) today to decide whether or not Minardi can race tomorrow. 

First qualifying starts at 1pm local time, after two periods of practice, with the decisive second session now being held on Sunday, hours before the race. 

Minardi drivers Christijan Albers of Holland and Austrian Patrick Friesacher, both rookies, took no part in yesterday’s practice as Stoddart sought a resolution that would have allowed them to compete. 

The Minardi team garage doors remained shut while the other teams had their first outings in the two practice sessions on the Melbourne street circuit. 

In a piece of theatre played out before the main grandstand, Stoddart waited for the stewards’ verdict with a champagne bottle ready to be sprayed in jubilation. It remained corked. 

“It is the view of the stewards that it is inappropriate and unacceptable to alter the technical regulations with which all other competitors comply in order to suit the individual needs and requirements of one competitor,” the FIA said in a statement. 

“It is the decision of the stewards that for Minardi ... to participate further in the 2005 Australian Grand Prix, their cars must comply with all requirements of the 2005 FIA Formula One sporting and technical regulations.” 

Stoddart said before the injunction was granted that he believed Minardi had “an absolutely watertight case”. 

However, the recourse to the civil courts for a sporting matter takes F1 into uncharted territory and could have serious repercussions. 

Ferrari’s Jean Todt suggested Minardi were seeking a performance gain and publicity as much as anything while Red Bull’s Christian Horner was delighted with the FIA stance. 

“As far as I am concerned, the FIA are the regulators of Formula One and I don’t see why the teams should be involved in saying whether someone should break the rules or not. 

“The rules are the rules at the end of the day.” said Horner.  

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