This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- Coulthard: Breaking the mould
- Testing times
- Advantage, Sauber
- Silly Season Update
- Picked from the Bunch
Coulthard: Breaking the mould
David Coulthard has seen a lot of misfortune at McLaren. In years gone by, the lions share of misfortune with the car has gone his way. Add to that, his team-mate is blisteringly quick in qualifying trim, has the emotional support of the team's management, and is generally considered the only real competition to the "world's best driver."
That said, things are going through a very different stage at this moment. Keke Rosberg has just called for McLaren to support Mika Hakkinen as their "only real hope" of hauling in Schumacher this season. An interesting stance to take, when the team's top scoring driver is actually Hakkinen's team-mate, and not the double world champion himself: Coulthard's performances this season, particularly since the air-crash, have been from the top drawer, whilst Hakkinen has been a shadow of his former self.
It is not immediately clear what has brought this about: the accident was a big thing, sure, but why has Coulthard's game been raised by it? Funny though it may seem, there are two aspects. The first, on track, is the more obvious: Coulthard now knows precisely what his life is worth when he is on the limit. He has discovered something that Jacques Villeneuve had all but made his own in the sport: complete commitment, in the sure knowledge that if the worst happens, whilst it would be better it didn't, he is prepared to face it.
The second is more subtle. After the accident, Coulthard called the office, and let them know he was intact. The team were concerned - genuinely - for his health and well-being, and ironically, guaranteed his commitment by giving him "the time he required" to recover from the accident. Coulthard's professionalism saw him in the car at the next race, and the team, as a whole, rallied around him. For the first time since joining, he felt the emotional support that Hakkinen has been able to take for granted for years, and it has made a mark.
Rosberg's plea for Hakkinen to be made number one came only as his manager: Rosberg is fully aware that the Finn is unused to handling a situation where he does not have the teams' exclusive support on the emotional level, and it is taking a while to learn how to operate on a relatively level pegging with his team-mate; Rosberg believes he needs a demonstration of support to short-cut that process, however illogical it may seem. Coulthard still doesn't garner quite the same emotional support from Ron Dennis that Hakkinen manages, and probably never will; but then again, he doesn't need it. All he ever needed was to know that the team really do rate him, on his own merit, and that the commitment was a two way thing. And now he does.
The conspiracy theorists are out again, this time over something that is generally considered a step in the right direction: eliminating testing on tracks ahead of any Grand Prix held there.
Proponents, including Bernie Ecclestone, see dead Friday practices on a Grand Prix weekend as very bad for business: the paying spectators are inevitably disappointed if the stars they paid money to see only run a couple of installation laps. The TV rights for the sessions are worthless - as no-one will be interested - if there are no cars on the tracks. It's a simple scenario: and it's easy to fix, just by making teams want to run on the test day.
Taking out pre-event tests (or even all in-season testing), but giving a full day on the Friday will ensure that every team requires that time in order to establish the merit of new components, tyre wear conditions, optimal setup for race and qualifying sessions, and so on. The value of the session is improved immeasurably as a spectator event.
On the flip-side, which is where the conspiracy theories creep in, there are some issues with this. It's no surprise Frank Williams is concerned about this turn of events: he will be running on Michelin rubber next year, so plenty of running on all surfaces is required, or Bridgestone's historical knowledge of the circuits will provide them an insurmountable advantage over their rivals for at least the first season.
The tyre battle is only half the story: how are the FIA to police a testing ban? What's to stop teams using their own private track in closed session (Ferrari), or hiring an airport runway for a day (Williams) for some surreptitious test sessions? Certainly, the FIA are not trusted to handle what's under their nose (electronics in scrutineering), so how can they possibly guarantee high budget teams are not breaking the rules?
It's a hot-bed for sure, and there are no simple answers. But it's a fair bet that where TV rights are involved, something is going to happen, and the situation will change.
Still carrying the grudge, Jean Alesi recently told Germany's Blick magazine that, "My goal remains to be ahead of Sauber at season's end." Peter Sauber may get the last laugh, however.
Sauber is on the verge of a link with a Swiss investor, either the Union Bank of Switzerland or the investment banking firm of UBS Warburg. In addition, Petronas just extended its deal through 2002, which assures the Swiss team of the $20 million needed for the Ferrari engines which carry the Petronas badge.
In addition, if Salo is off the Toyota, as rumored, then Sauber will have two seats available, as Pedro Diniz is likely to be released for tearing up too much equipment. One of the replacements could bring an additional windfall, with the other occupant determined by ability.
Meanwhile, Alain Prost, who is Alesi's only hope of remaining in Formula 1, can't even find anyone willing to sell him engines, and sounds increasingly desperate. Consider the problem: how do you design a car for next year when you don't know what engine will make up the back half?
(provided by RaceFax)
Silly Season Update
Jarno Trulli was rumoured to be involved in a seat swap deal with Giancarlo Fisichella - probably only as a result of a slow news week. All parties involved have laughed at the suggestion, with Eddie Jordan suggesting it would be easier to pull his teeth...
Heinz-Harald Frentzen is expected to resign with Jordan later this season, despite some better salaried offers elsewhere: the car should be truly competitive in 2001, and Eddie Jordan reckons that is worth five million off any driver's salary requirements.
Jenson Button continues to check out the alternatives, in preparation for Montoya's potential arrival. Sauber now appears on his list of options too, behind Jaguar, though that seat depends on a test by Dario Franchitti later this season.
Gaston Mazzacane is thought to be unable to raise sufficient funds to guarantee his seat at Minardi for 2001. He could be relegated to test-driver again, or even depart the field entirely.
Picked from the Bunch
The belief that the FIA are gunning to drop the British Grand Prix from the calendar grew after an FIA insider was reported to be stating that government support and involvement was a requirement for the events future. Cynics have commented the lack of a name show this is in fact a ruse by Silverstone to gain government funding to enable the building of a bypass around Silverstone village to the track.
Keke Rosberg's belief in Mika Hakkinen knows no bounds: he believes Hakkinen should dominate again, and would if McLaren backed him as their number one driver. The team have distanced themselves from Hakkinen's manager in reaction to his blatantly partisan comments.
Alex Zanardi tested for CART's Mo Nunn Racing, and is expected to substitute for Tony Kanaan this weekend: the team and Zanardi are all reported to be delighted at the arrangement... as are CART fans who have missed his ebullient style.
Following France's slow Friday practice, the FIA have tabled suggestions to cut in-season testing next year, offering long Fridays instead. Half the teams are unhappy with the suggestion, as are a number of the journalists who cover these sessions!
A few grapes collected by RaceFax:
Auto, Motor und Sport is reporting that Bernie Ecclestone's (and EM-TV's) SLEC firm has now leased the television rights from the FIA for $400 million, making a flat-rate deal out of what was largely a profit-sharing arrangement. This is expected to cut the legs out from under much of the EU's monopoly complaints with respect to the FIA and its cozy relationship with Ecclestone. Other reports say this has sufficiently emboldened the FIA that it is considering moving back to Paris.
Prior to the French Grand Prix, BAR's Craig Pollock said the team had already run through its 2000 budget...
At Hockenheim, the Jaguar team will evidently have qualifying engines which are neither new, nor old. What we hear is that they will be hybrids, based on the 1999 Ford-Cosworth CR-1. That engine had more power than the current one, and its reliability problems had been addressed. Lack of availability is why the engine will only be used in qualifying. Speaking of Jaguar, we understand Ford is exporting three more engineers to the team, one from the U.S. and two from its German operations. The intent is to provide greater in-depth analysis of test andrace data.
Ricardo Zonta, perhaps seeing the handwriting on the wall, is considering a future in the States, and has been in touch with Mo Nunn about a possible CART ride.
Jordan has produced a B-spec EJ10, replete with more rounded sidepods, a new underbody and different wings. Testing, with an uprated Mugen engine, is said to have shown an improvement of three tenths of a second per lap. It won't be seen in Austria this weekend, however. The changes are substantial enough to have required an FIA crash test, which wrote off one car. Also, the results on a wet track have raised some questions which need to be resolved before the team commits to the car for a Grand Prix.
Paul Stoddart, an Australian millionaire, has pulled out of Arrows because his protege, Arrows test driver Mark Webber, has gotten absolutely no test miles.
Rumors on pit road have BAR using a mechanical launch assist which skirts the FIA prohibition on electronic 'driver aids.' This, it is said, has been responsible for Jacques Villeneuve's lightning starts.
Honda's promise of full works engines for Jordan -- a five-year deal -- has convinced Heinz-Harald Frentzen to remain with the team. Jarno Trulli will be back for one more year before Flavio Briatore reclaims him for the Renault program.
Supertec engineers okayed Alexander Wurz's engine for the French GP, despite strong indications that it was on the verge of blowing up. When it did just that in the warm-up, we understand that Wurz, who is usually the very image of calm control, also blew up, all over Flavio Briatore. Wurz is also less than pleased that Briatore won't let him use the special qualifying car, and also won't fund a second such chassis.
Giancarlo Fisichella says he has been told he will be with the team next year, and that his teammate will be Jacques Villeneuve....
Alan McNish may finally get a crack of the F1 whip, as he looks likely to be part of Toyota's F1 testing next year.