Former Formula One team owner Giancarlo Minardi has suggested that his eponymous outfit could still be in existence had he received the level of interest and support from the powers that be are getting in the current economic climate.

Minardi was everyone's favourite underdog, seemingly surviving in spite of meagre budgets and a driver list that ranged from below-par payers to future talents such as Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber, but eventually succumbed to the inevitable, with Minardi himself selling out to Paul Stoddart in 2001, and the Australian then finding himself unable to resist the overtures of Red Bull in late 2005.

These days, the likes of Force India, Williams and the recently rechristened Brawn GP teams fall into the category of 'minnow' once occupied by Minardi, but none appears to be in quite the same situation as the Italian outfit found itself. However, Minardi also acknowledges that, in an era of offered financial assistance, budget capping, slashed costs and shared technology, he may not have had to dwell at the back of the grid or be forced to sell up.

Speaking in the wake of the FIA's decision to offer inducements for those teams willing to operate under a ?30m budget, as well as other controversial changes, the Italian has admitted that the sport has changed immeasurably.

"What is immediately apparent is that we are facing a likely clash between FOTA and the FIA," he noted, referring to the governing body's decision to ignore proposals from the teams themselves about the future of the sport, "but it is now a federation that suddenly decides to defend the small team - something which it had never done in the past.

"Perhaps the same Minardi team, protected as the small teams are protected today, could still be part of Formula One. Minardi, if these proposals are put in writing, could possibly have managed something that was impossible before, bringing in new technologies - and lap times - achievable only by the top teams. I want to emphasise, however, that, when we were in F1, we were never protected - in fact, we had to pay for our tyres and engines."

Acknowledging that the FIA's proposals still need to be fleshed out before any real critique could be made, particularly when it came to the new testing allowances and how they might affect the balance of power which, to many, appears to be teetering with just over a week to go to the opening grand prix of the season, Minardi insisted that it was hard to make any predictions.

"We are in a very chaotic situation, because the technical and sporting regulations have not yet been issued," he pointed out, "There are no certainties. Precisely for this reason, it becomes very difficult to comment on the choices made. I want to wait for more details, and I urge the fans to think of possible scenarios that could be created by some teams having limited budgets, but the freedom to develop the car, and others with unlimited budgets, but with limitations on development. Scenarios are not easy to imagine."

Having seen the likes of Webber and Alonso come through the Minardi ranks, however, the veteran is particularly concerned to see that testing has been limited, especially with regard to giving young talent the opportunity to get acquainted with F1 machinery.

"There are eight test days for aerodynamic tests and three tests for rookies, but what are they meant to test?" he questioned, "It is a topic dear to me, that of young drivers, but, at this time, we are talking only of three tests - from November to December - for those pilots who do not have much F1 running in the last 24 months.

"It is important, however, to understand how you can play these sessions. Just this year, Brawn GP has opted for an experienced driver in Rubens Barrichello as opposed to a young Bruno Senna, even though he could bring a lot of sponsors. And this is only the beginning. The organisers of GP2 continue to provide the stepping stone towards F1, and have provided the springboard that has seen young drivers get to grind out many kilometres as excellent testers before becoming F1 pilots. Now it will be increasingly difficult for F1 rookies to put themselves on display."

Despite its decision to take Barrichello as team-mate to Jenson Button in its inaugural season, Minardi admits to be delighted at seeing Brawn GP rattling the cages of the accepted frontrunners, in testing at least.

"It is still very difficult to determine the real strength of each team," he commented at the end of the final group test of the winter, "What you have seen is that all the teams have managed to achieve good reliability and that the grid can be very compact - apparently everyone is within one second - but we can not draw an accurate comparison since we have no data to evaluate the programmes carried out by each team....

"Ferrari is doing a good job, though perhaps needs some small step forward in reliability, while Red Bull Racing - and, consequently I think, Scuderia Toro Rosso - has the car that, visually at least, presents the greatest number of innovations, along with BMW Sauber. Meanwhile, I have a hard time assessing the Renault, which has alternated disappointing performances with Fernando Alonso on the offensive. One aspect that should not be underestimated, however, is that it won't be the first time that the team has found itself having to develop a new car in a limited time....

"Just today, the McLaren-Mercedes, which, until yesterday, seemed in great difficulties, has made a sign of improvement, managing to turn in a good time, [while] the latest sessions in Spain had the pleasant surprise of seeing Brawn GP cover the same mileage of its opponents, without technical problems, in just over two weeks. Only the timing screens in Melbourne will tell us if they are also competitive...."



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