This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- The Nature of the Thing
- Toyota's gentle approach
- Silly Season Update
- Picked from the Bunch
The Nature of the Thing
The funny thing is, Max Mosley does have some things right. For example, too much overtaking is not necessarily a good thing - take the recent Belgian Grand Prix as an example:
The event saw some sixteen successful passes, comparable to fifteen last year, which is not a large figure by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, the races have largely been entertaining. Indeed, this year, there was even an on track change of lead, and that is something of an event in the modern sport.
One of the reasons Spa continues to present a real race, is the demanding nature of the circuit. There are fast corners and faster straights, slow corners, and the daunting Eu Rouge - a real mix of tough, challenging obstacles that not only test out the drivers, but leave room for fast drivers to pass anyone who is significantly slower - a situation that is not mirrored by the Hungaroring, for example.
The predilection for modern circuits to be tight, twisty affairs, full of chicanes often referred to as Mickey Mouse, or kart tracks - simply emphasises the worst aspects of the modern cars: aerodynamics is placed at a premium, alongside excellent brakes. Both areas which do not benefit overtaking: all the cars use the same brakes, so braking distances are much of a muchness, and it is well publicised aero- efficiency is compromised by running close to the car in front.
Since the passing of Senna, much of the rash of chicanes added to circuits have been removed, yet the basic nature of the modern sport is the same: fast cars, put on slow tracks, rarely get the chance to show what a real race can be.
The FIA are looking to expand into Africa and the East; circuits are being commissioned and built, as Sepang in Malaysia was. The issues for the FIA are complex, but from the viewpoint of the racing fan, only one thing is really important: that the new tracks give teams a real chance to race.
Toyota's gentle approach
At a press conference over the Belgian Grand Prix weekend, Toyota announced their plans to benefit from the services of Mika Salo as test driver for the coming year, the start of a long term program with the team to help mount a decent challenge in the sport for 2002 onwards.
At the same conference, the team announced their awareness of the difficulties involved in competing effectively in Formula One. They even asked for patience from journalists - not something the world press is noted for, it must be said. And, if nothing else, it shows they have the skills on board to learn something from the lessons of others:
BAR's high profile entry into the sport, and consequential flop, followed so soon by BMW's low key approach, says it all. The German engine manufacturer has landed the plaudits of pit-lane pundits by surprising the competition with on-track statements, rather than putting on a great show in the world of glamour and big press occasions, only to fail on track. So Toyota are looking to generate the same, positive exposure, and credit is due for that.
According to other rumours, which resurfaced at Spa, Toyota are not taking it as easy, nor being as naive as their public image suggests. Whilst it is true that the team has limited Formula One experience - the race team itself is supposed to have no-one familiar with the modern spor - the approach being taken is not totally unsound.
Toyota's research facility is staffed by people who love racing, and have been involved in motorsport of all varieties for years. Toyota's Rally Championship winning cars were not built by complete novices... and whilst a lot of the knowledge from other disciplines does not translate directly into Formula One, there are a lot of connections. And despite losing development time looking at approaches the Formula One community has tried and discarded, a fresh, clean approach could throw up something the cognisante have missed. It happens.
But the icing on the cake, should there be truth behind the Spa rumours, is that the AMT engine being developed for Arrows next year is a Toyota backed project: and should that be the case, 2002 will be interesting indeed, as the manufacturer works hard to steal a march on its Honda rivals.
Silly Season Update
Nick Heidfeld's anticipated move to Sauber surprised many in the paddock, who believed Prost would keep the youngster for another year.
Pedro Diniz is now thought likely to head to Prost, providing a serious boost to the French team's budget for 2001, though he will be expected to take better care of the machinery than he has at Sauber.
Luciano Burti is again rumoured to have signed for the second seat at Jaguar: no confirmation is available, but the rumours just won't go away.
Johnny Herbert has been connected with a return to Sauber - the rumour was prominent at Spa, but thought to have been started by some of his fans...
Bruno Junquiera and Nicolas Minassian are expected to head straight from F3000 to CART next year, according to rumours originating from a statement by Junquiera's manager. It casts doubt on speculation that the Williams test driver would be driving for Arrows next year.
Picked from the Bunch
Calendar revisions to ban testing in August and provide a three week midsummer break are on the cards to give the teams' engineers time to take holidays during the season.
Friday testing is set to see an extra two sets of tyres made available to teams, for those sessions only, in order to encourage them onto the track.
Estonia is building a race-circuit to Formula One standards in the hopes of winning a race and drawing large crowds into the area. The ambitious three year plan is already pending approval by the local government...
Speculation on Adrian Newey being tempted to Ferrari for a massive $12million per year has been flatly denied by all parties concerned. The rumour still won't go away, however, and a revised version with a lower - and arguably more realistic - price tag of $7million has started.
When Alain Prost denied any engine deal was on the cards at Spa, rumours of a pending buy-out started again - this time linking Flavio Briatore, who sold the team to Prost originally, as a likely purchaser.
Wishful Thinking? After crowning Ferrari the 2000 World Champion on the front cover of one of this year's GP programs, the FIA once again fumble when it comes to facts. In the official program of the Belgian Grand Prix, under the total tally of race wins in F1 history, Michael Schumacher had already won 41 Grands Prix, one GP more than his actual record...