SEPANG, Malaysia (AFP) – 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.
It s a joke
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.