This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- Damage Control – wings and things
- The complete package: Ferrari?
- Picked from the Bunch
Damage Control – wings and things
The work of Max Mosley – misguided though many may believe some of the means – to improve safety in Formula One has transformed the risk drivers are exposed to, making the sport one where broken limbs are rare events, let alone fatalities.
Most of the work has been on ensuring that cars do not leave the track at high speed. Grooved tyres were introduced specifically to reduce cornering speeds, and the regular changes in regulations are largely aimed to keep lap times down – for the safety of the drivers.
At Interlagos, something very worrying happened: wings came adrift from cars.
- David Coulthard (McLaren) had the rear wing replaced in Friday practice, after fractures appeared in the mounting;
- Michael Schumacher (Ferrari), Jacques Villeneuve (BAR) and Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Jordan) all suffered fractures to the chassis in qualifying;
- Mika Salo (Sauber) lost his rear wing in Saturday's free practice – at 303km/h; His teammate, Pedro Diniz, nearly lost his wing at the same time;
- Jean Alesi (Prost) lost a rear wing in practice – miraculously avoiding a high speed crash.
Sauber were compelled to withdraw from the race, as they were unable to be sure of fixing the problem – the only responsible action they could take. At speed, most of the grip available to a car is a product of downforce. When a wing comes off the car, it effectively transforms a highly sophisticated piece of precision machinery into a high velocity projectile.
The front wing coming away is arguably the lesser evil: if it happens on a straight, the driver can brake in a straight line, but there is no way to turn: at Brazil last year, Stefan Sarrazin demonstrated the results when half the front wing came away from his Minardi. If you saw the race, you will certainly recall the spectacular incident, with his car spinning wildly on full throttle, after slamming into the wall.
When a rear wing falls off, there is a double danger: the wing becomes a very dangerous flying object which could end up in the crowd, or hit a following car; and the car itself suffers – effectively – a kick at the back end, normally resulting in a high speed spin. At Australia last year, Villeneuve demonstrated this in his BAR.
The FIA are reported as "very concerned" about these failures. When "moving" wings were first introduced (carrying flaps, activated hydraulically under braking to increase downforce when needed most), there was trouble with them falling apart, and ever since, mobile surfaces have been banned. This is not so simple for the main advertising boards on the modern car – with so much money tied up in those spaces, another solution has to be found.
Currently, there is speculation the FIA are devising some new tests which would go some way to checking the integrity of the structures; but there are also noises that they could introduce a heavy fine system, putting the onus on teams to ensure their wings stay on, and tolerances are not reduced to the limit in the pursuit of performance.
Either solution would help reduce the problem, but as usual, it will be the smaller teams which face the most difficulty in adapting, and their performance would be expected to suffer more than that of the front runners.
The complete package: Ferrari?
On arriving at Jaguar, the newest serious player in Formula One, Eddie Irvine remarked on how the whole place differs to Ferrari.
Ferrari run with by far the biggest budget in F1, though they argue it is less than McLaren and Mercedes combined spend on their (equivalent) program. Like their arch rivals, they work to ensure that all facets of the sport are covered, with round the year research and development, testing, and more. If they find they are missing anything, they buy it in – and they always look for the best.
In putting together the package, they are looking at every detail. As drivers, they have Michael Schumacher, acknowledged as the best in the current pack, and Rubens Barrichello, who proved himself at Stewart last year. For race strategy, they rely on the accumulated experience and acumen of Ross Brawn, respected throughout the paddock for his capacity to transform a difficult race situation. The mechanics are the best in the business - experienced, effective and efficient. Ensuring everything runs smoothly, Jean Todt has been imported to impose the structure required to be top dog in a rough pack.
Behind the scenes, entire sub-teams are dedicated to research and development, production and testing. They have their own wind tunnel, track, and every facility under the sun. They are, as Eddie Irvine will readily tell you, the complete package: the team he intends to turn Jaguar to becoming.
The year 2000 could, indeed, be Ferrari's year. The money they have thrown at the sport is expected to pay off, and soon. It's supposed to have bought "the complete package," after all...
Picked from the Bunch
Ferrari are talking tough about the next race, indicating they are expecting improved performance for the event. With McLaren struggling on reliability, the team hope qualifying could see a scarlet front row...
Jordan are reputedly concerned about the performance of the new Benetton: with Frentzen unable to close Fisichella down in the race, let alone pass the Italian. They are looking at improved performance before Silverstone, but anticipate San Marino (where power is the main factor) seeing them show better than Brazil.
Rumours that Juan Montoya would be a free agent at the end of this season sparked interest from at least three F1 teams – who were informed the rumour was just that when they approached him...
Prost's electronics have the team foxed. The system appeared to be in perfect order for the entire Brazil weekend, until Alesi retired with a problem. It is now proving difficult to trace the source of the problems.