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Rumours and speculation in the world of F1

  by The F1 Rumors Team


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

  • Villeneuve faces the facts
  • Staying on track
  • Picked from the Bunch

Villeneuve faces the facts

Facing the facts can be difficult, particularly if you have put your heart and soul into a project and really worked to make it succeed.

Jacques VilleneuveHowever, there always comes a time to recognise where you are, accept the position, and cut losses; and following yet another disappointing result for Jacques Villeneuve at the Nurburgring, it seems the time has finally come for the 1997 World Champion to face up to the fact that BAR is not getting its act together.

Villeneuve, stamped his mark on F1 when, in 1996 in his debut Grand Prix he set pole position and led most of the race before an oil leak robbed him of a superb debut victory. Such is life at the top in Formula One.

A battling attitude has earned Villeneuve a very large, very loyal following to add to those he brought from his CART days; he races to win and is never satisfied with sitting behind an opponent. This has earned him tremendous respect in the upper echelons of Formula One.

Attempting to defend his World Title at Williams proved futile, as the Grove-based team struggled to work with the 'Mecachrome' engines, and the ex-Champion decided that if he could not win with Williams, he was better off joining his friend and manager Craig Pollock in getting the new BAR venture off the ground. The project promised much: the core of the Tyrrell team they bought was available to them; an engine deal with a leading manufacturer would shortly be on the cards, and serious backing from BAT was there to ensure the best of everything could be brought to the table. Add the potent mix of Reynard designed and engineered chassis - and a potential winner was born.

Sadly, the potential winner struggled: it took most of the 1999 season to finish a race, and only scored a first point this year. Villeneuve has driven like a demon - really pushing the car to the limit as he attempted to gain places; but the results have not come. When running strongly, the car fails. If a race distance is likely, the car is off the pace; and at no time has it looked likely to be a genuine winner.

Options for the future are varied indeed. McLaren could be interested, though it is an unlikely destination if Coulthard maintains his present form. Renault are desperately looking for a star, with development experience, to spearhead their car/engine attempt; and they are prepared to spend top dollar. Similarly, Stewart, now Jaguar, are intent on replacing Herbert with a top line driver - and are just as prepared to pay any asking price for pedigree.

Unlikely directions include Prost, who are struggling; Toyota, who would present Villeneuve with the same situation he lived through with BAR in 1999; and Arrows, where Tom Walkinshaw believes he has again put together a budget and team suitable for a cutting edge driver. Hill brought the team their best result for years with second place in 1997, so Villeneuve would be the icing on the cake for a heavily rejuvenated team.

One team that many are writing off, however, is Williams. Villeneuve has fond memories of winning in their cars - and time at BAR has dulled the memory of defending the Championship there in '98. Williams still consider him one of the best drivers that came through their doors, and with his proven track record, they know exactly what they would be getting. The only sticking points are an over-subscription of drivers (they already have to choose between Jenson Button and Juan Montoya in 2001, without bringing Villeneuve into the equation), and Villeneuve's very large salary demands.

At the end of the day, however, the biggest factor is going to be how much Jacques wants to be back in a Head designed car. If he is prepared to take the pay cut, there are few who would deny Williams would be wise to hire him back... whilst making money from loaning their excess driving talent to other teams.

Staying on track

As the teams head to the jewel of the Formula One calendar, Monaco, they are all looking for new measures to keep their drivers on the road - and in particular, to getting them back out in the event of connecting with the unforgiving barriers that line the streets. With drivers pushing right to the limit, they have a tendency to clip the barriers on the way past, putting unusual and often damaging stresses on the suspension. The requirements for Monaco are grip, balance and drivability.

The Hairpin - Monaco 1998The driving style required for Monaco is very different to all the other tracks: normally, drivers brake into corners as late as possible, carrying in a lot of speed, then easing in the throttle to strike a balance, and power out. At Monaco, the result from even the smallest overshoot on the way is an unscheduled meeting with a barrier, so the drivers brake earlier, and look for an early apex in order to get on the power sooner through the corner. This emphasises the drivability of the engine, and requires great grip and balance to maximise cornering speeds.

Arguably best prepared are Ferrari and McLaren, who always spend substantial time well in advance, designing beefier suspension members and investing development effort into quick-repair technologies. McLaren in particular sacrifice drag to put significantly more sturdy rear suspension components in - something that Hakkinen admits has saved his bacon in the past, as telemetry has demonstrated he would have broken the normal components if treated the same way.

All the teams are looking to bring out everything that could add to downforce, though mechanical grip is far more important. During the week of testing after the Nurburgring, a lot of new wings, end-plates and barge-boards will be making appearances, but what goes on behind them is far more important. Arrows have a revised suspension to evaluate, which has a compromise to the aerodynamics, but should make the rear more stable - but strength is a big concern. Williams are being very coy about their testing plans, but revisions to the BMW engine are the least part of it.

Jaguar have still not established the interaction between their aerodynamics and the twitchy tail on their car, but they are expected to have some important chassis changes for Monaco; meanwhile Renault have not been idle, and Benetton are hoping to take a new, more drivable Supertec engine to the event with them.

All told, it is a very busy testing schedule for the teams - and almost all the work is for just this race.

Picked from the Bunch

  • Mercedes are solidly denying they will be supplying Prost with engines in 2001 - of any description. Nonetheless, rumours continue to circulate that Prost might land a customer deal...

  • Rumours of Wurz imminent departure from Benetton have finally died down for a while, with Flavio Briatore confirming he will be driving for at least the remainder of the season.

  • Arrows point at the Nurburgring is believed to have stabilised sponsor concerns that the team was not performing. The financial support has firmed up, putting the team into a good position to start tackling the 2001 season...

  • With the FIA dropping the ball on the "cheating team" issue, a backwash of derision from the media and teams is doing the rounds: the current belief is that the FIA was using the claim as an excuse to change the electronics, but there was no real basis for it.

  • Jos Verstappen made the mistake of using the FIA logo, without the permission of its owner. Needless to say, it disappeared rapidly from his merchandise...

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