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F1 minnows: New rules will widen competition gap

JEREZ, Spain (AP) - Formula One's sweeping rule changes may be behind defending champion Red Bull's dismal start to the preseason, but the more modest teams on the circuit don't see the makings of a major power shift.

F1 decided to overhaul its rulebook after the 2013 season turned into Sebastian Vettel parading his Red Bull to his fourth consecutive title by winning the last nine races.

However, team bosses and chief engineers told The Associated Press that the move to more expensive turbo engines, along with a plethora of other changes, will only reinforce the dominance of the front-runners better equipped to absorb the increased costs and still spend on other areas of their vehicles.

For a series that oozes money like no other with its lavish motorhomes, many of those who help run the teams that rarely reach the podium expect the gap between the top and bottom to only get bigger.

Williams' chief technical officer, Pat Symonds, said the best way to encourage parity was not through change, but rather by creating "stability," so that all teams can reach a sort of technological mean.

"If you stir up the rules to make it economically more difficult, absolutely no, you are not going to make the racing closer," he said.

Symonds spoke to the AP in Williams' hospitality tent at the end of a row of the other teams' luxurious motorhomes at the Jerez track, where preseason testing is held until Friday.

Symonds joined Williams this season from struggling Marussia to help in what he called a rebuilding of the team, whose ninth and last constructors title came in 1997, last grand prix victory was in 2012 and earned just five points last year.

"Changing to the 2014 power unit and then running the 2014 power unit is very significantly more expensive than it was prior," Symonds said. "Now that hits the smaller and the mid-sized teams much harder than it does the big teams."

Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley said his team and others agreed.

"The disparity between the teams that are lower down the grid and the ones at the front is also connected to how much you can spend on development," Fernley said. "We are all having to spend roughly 100 million euros to go racing; that's to build a car, to go to each of the 19 races. So whatever you've got above that is your development. So if you've got 10 million and Ferrari have got 100 million, there's always going to be a difference."

Besides switching to a 1.6-litre V6 turbo engine from last year's 2.4-litre V8 engine, the rule changes focus on boosting cars' energy recovery systems, and alter their fuel limit, weight, and body.

F1 also decided to award double points to the season's last race to keep the title race alive and fans and TV audiences interested.

Caterham team principal Cyril Abiteboul called the double points decision an "artificial" fix to try to increase competition in appearance only.

Abiteboul said he supported the move to push innovation in F1 so that it could continue its mission of "preceding the automobile industry."

But he said applying so many changes in one year instead of over two or three hurts smaller teams like Caterham, which didn't win a point in its first two seasons.

For both Fernley and Abiteboul, the new regulations put more importance on the engine manufacturers: Renault (Red Bull's engine maker), Mercedes and Ferrari, who in addition to having their own factory teams, also sell engines to the other eight teams.

For a smaller team "to win a race I think is a little bit extreme," Abiteboul said. "That would really only happen if one of the three engine manufacturers we have this season has a real performance advantage on the other two, firstly, and even if that happens I would expect that the factory team of that engine manufacturer would have an edge."

That means although Red Bull has managed just 14 laps through three days of testing because of engine problems, it should still be in fine shape.

The season begins with the Australian Grand Prix on March 16.


(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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