Ferrari put fizz back into F1
SEPANG- Agence France-Presse
Ferrari's German driver Sebastian Vettel (C) poses for pictures along with his team members after winning the Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang on March 29, 2015. AFP Photo
As Sebastian Vettel nurses his hangover, Bernie Ecclestone can raise a toast to the F1 gods after a weekend to savour in Malaysia gave the sport a reason to smile again.
Crisis loomed like the black clouds over Sepang after the German Grand Prix's axing, deafening complaints from teams and a soporific first race in Australia.
But out of the blue, Vettel and Ferrari punctured Mercedes' dominance, while Malaysia put pen to paper on a new, three-year deal which secures the race until 2018.
While Formula One's problems are hardly solved, Ferrari's resurgence will at least pique interest in a sport which was again becoming dangerously one-dimensional.
Signs of the crisis were clear when Ecclestone resorted to asking media what should be done about a championship struggling with financial and structural difficulties.
Two teams fell by the wayside last year and Germany, a heartland of F1, joined South Korea and India in dropping off the schedule.
"I think sometimes we (promoters) tell him what to do and he doesn't listen," said Sepang circuit chief Razlan Razali, during negotiations with Ecclestone for Malaysia's new deal.
"But I think only now he listens."
Ecclestone posited a range of potential solutions, ranging from a "Grand Slam" series of elite races to awarding points instead of grid places for qualifying.
But the 84-year-old ringmaster admitted his hands were now tied with much power held by private equity firm CVC, the major shareholder, and F1's squabbling teams.
Huge overheads and falling profits mean many observers think the sport is headed for a tipping point this year, which could force deep reforms.
"I think 2015 is going to be a watershed in Formula One, on many fronts," Force India deputy team principal Robert Fernley told AFP.
"And it's going to have to re-look at itself in a very in-depth way in 2015 to make sure that it addresses the concerns of the fans, the teams, the TV, the media, the whole group.
"Because I don't believe that we're doing a good job at the moment at that."
Razali said Malaysia wanted only a three-year extension, shorter than the customary five years, because of caution over the health of the sport.
He cited the example of new team Manor, saying it was a "joke" they were allowed to join the championship despite not being ready for the start of the season.
Manor's cars were in bits at the season-opener in Australia and in Malaysia, only Roberto Merhi was able to take part -- despite missing the required qualifying time.
"If you're not ready, you're not ready, don't participate. Participate later in the rounds. It makes a mockery out of the sport, I think," Razali told AFP.
In the event, Vettel won a thriller in Malaysia and he promised to celebrate with plenty of booze as he headed into the night with his Ferrari team-mates.
While it's not quite party-time for Ecclestone, he can at least breathe a little easier as he contemplates the next step for Formula One.