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The Grapevine
Rumours and speculation in the world of Formula One
 by The F1 Rumors Team


This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:

  • Mercedes striving for reliability
  • State of the Nation – TV Coverage
  • Picked from the Bunch

Mercedes striving for reliability

Even before the Australian Grand Prix, the Mercedes-Ilmor development team were working on isolating a problem in their new engine, to set about resolving it ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix.

The modern F1 engine is a complicated animal, and the Mercedes unit is more difficult than most: tolerances are exceptionally fine, to the point of near non-existence; if the tolerance is too fine, the engine fails at the end of a race. If it is too much, then the unit is uncompetitive.

The Mercedes-Benz FO110J V10As an engine is developed, the process of reducing tolerances is taken as far as possible to maximise performance, using a computer to simulate the failure point. The resulting engine is then built and tested – ultimately to destruction – on a dynamometer, before it even comes close to a car. And then McLaren pound a few hundred miles into it in order to establish working characteristics, reliability, and more.

Occasionally, some units will be made which fail to last the race distance – in fact, the design process essentially aims to set tolerance to be of the order that there is approximately fifty percent chance of one engine failing in one of the cars over the course of the season.

It transpires that the failures at Australia are due to a mistake with the tolerances of the compressed gas system that drives the valves – the preferred alternative to coil springs, as these cannot be driven fast enough to provide precise opening and closing of the valves at 17,000 rpm.

It seems to be mixed news for McLaren. The good news is that Mercedes have isolated the problem tolerances, and are taking steps to fix the issue for Brazil. However, there is no indication of how the error crept in to begin with, or how it escaped the rigorous test procedures which are intended to prevent exactly this sort of problem occurring.

State of the Nation – TV Coverage

It was widely anticipated that the new season would arrive with all the teams "even closer than ever" – and on the track, it certainly seemed that way, with most of the mid-field within tenths of each other. However, this great parity of performance has not led to any improvement of the racing, certainly not if overtaking is considered to be a factor.

In 1999, the Australian Grand Prix saw 41 passes, excluding the opening lap and passing in the pits, and despite some less than brilliant work by the race director, went down very well. This year, there were thirteen – less than a third as many. Four of those were by Alesi, who started in the pits, and quickly moved up the order to a more realistic position.

With the low count of passing manoeuvres, the importance of the race director pick up on what action there is increases dramatically, so seeing only a single pass – and that on a reply – via the world feed has to be considered something of a poor showing.

However, it appears that this may not be entirely the race directors' fault! Mixed amongst the mutterings of the masses, come rumours that there is a less than public obligation from the FIA on the race director, based on the very definitely private Concorde agreement. The finishing position in the Constructors championship is supposed to be reflected by the proportion of time over a race, that at least one of a teams car should appear on screen.

Naturally, the rumour "explains" why Ferrari get so much time on screen, whilst BAR and Minardi see so little. That Ferrari are generally racing for the lead, whilst Minardi struggle to stay on the lead lap, is not considered – but with reports of the improvements available via digital, and generally underwhelming coverage, the rumour looks likely only to continue spreading.

Dennis to Williams

Amid all the hype, elation and controversy surrounding last weekend's Australian Grand Prix, Frank Williams maybe left scratching his head and ruing his generosity, assuming he is even aware of the latest stroke pulled by McLaren chief, Ron Dennis, in the fight to stay one step ahead of his rivals.

At the Official Grand Prix Ball held in Melbourne before last weekend's race, the traditional charity auction was underway, to which Williams, in a very generous act, donated a guided tour of their factory at Grove, as well as a detailed inspection of their BMW engine plant in Munich.

The auction was won by an anonymous bid of A$28,000.

Only later it was revealed that the bidder was none other than Ron Dennis himself...

Word has it Dennis plans to send Adrian Newey to that tour, so no doubt Newey is now reminding himself of the backroads near his previous employer....

Contributed by Richard Roberts

Picked from the Bunch

  • Prost are aware that they were lucky to have a finisher in Australia, and are not sitting on their laurels. The AP03 has been considered "unfinished," and is now being heavily revised, working almost exclusively on resolving ironing out the reliability issues from the race weekend. The team will again be testing in public at the Brazilian GP…

  • Ricardo Zonta picked up the first speeding fine of the year - $750 for straying a couple of km/h over the limit.

  • Speculation in Melbourne sees Jordan climbing into bed with Renault, if Honda are not prepared to put together a works deal by 2002 (the end of the contract with BAR). Currently, their customer Mugen-Honda unit receives Works like attention, but is unlikely to remain on the pace for two more years…

  • If the Italian Press is to be believed, Ferrari have already won the title; however, a local Woking rag took pie in the sky to new levels with the exclamation "the new McLaren MP4-15 has the potential of the MP4-4, and that lost a single race in 1988." It did not, however, compare Senna to Hakkinen, or Prost to Coulthard.

  • Jaguar have new components to resolve some of their reliability issues; however, limited opportunity to test means that many are not expected to make it onto the cars until the circus returns to Europe.

  • Jacques Villeneuve was surprised by the reliability of Williams in Australia: having been tested with them in Kyalami a month ago, he said had doubted they would make a race distance, let alone a points finish or a podium. Then again, Williams and BMW were no less surprised by they success...

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