This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- Safety first? Not exactly.
- Troubled times in Australia
- Picked from the Bunch
Safety First? Not Exactly.
Reports that half of the teams have not complied with the "optional" requirement to double the strength of roll bars in 2000 has been met by considerable concern.
The FIA did not make the rule mandatory, on the basis the teams volunteered to meet the standard anyway - by leaving it "optional," a team which fell just short of the changed requirement would not be penalised, but would have substantially improved their driver protection. In hindsight, it is now being considered a mistake to be so generous; changing the rule now - although permitted under the safety code - would put the non-compliant teams in a difficult situation, but could also prove difficult for the teams that made a genuine attempt at the goal. A new round of tests to prove the structures would go down like a lead balloon too.
So why have the teams not met the agreement? One team says it had its structure "designed and built before the agreement was made." Not actually the chassis they will be running in Melbourne, but that's their excuse, and they are sticking to it. More likely, they are pursuing the same benefits as their competition: looking for aerodynamic advantage.
Talking to independent materials and aerodynamic experts, we have established that the extra material required to handle the increased loading would require an increased bulk of what is, admittedly, and exposed area of the car. The cost could be as high as a few hundredths of a second over a lap.
The FIA have introduced stringent crash tests, ensuring front, side and rear impacts are less likely than ever to injure the driver. However, in a sport where a few hundredths of a second has separated as many as four places (remember, three drivers have qualified with the same time, to a millisecond, at Jerez in 1997), it is inevitable that teams will strive to make every gain possible, particularly in a year where the field is expected to be closer than ever.
Troubled Times in Australia
Reports of an agreement between the Victorian Government and building unions working to get Albert Park ready for a Grand Prix have been somewhat exaggerated...
Hopes of a quick solution fell through when the main employer, the Master Builders Association (MBA), moved to legally terminate the industry's bargaining period in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. If this is approved, it would effectively make further industrial action over the contracts illegal, and open union officials to potential legal action for refusing to comply with directions. In response, the unions have boycotted the "peace talks" with Premier Steve Brack, which should have settled the dispute: the Secretary of the Electrical Trades Union was quoted saying "I won't be going, there's no point."
The dispute concerns claims for a 36 hour week, with a pay increase of 24 percent over the next three years. The pay requirement has been lowered to a more achievable 15 percent - but only if the reduced working hours are agreed to.
Hope for a solution is not entirely absent, though, as some of the unions involved have expressed an interest in getting together with Brack anyway - though most are unwilling to include MBA in the talks, as the main protagonist in the affair.
The implications for the Grand Prix are fairly significant, though it is unlikely the event will be cancelled. Failure to complete the work will leave a number of executive suites short of the normal amenities - and air-conditioned viewing is considered a must amongst the race going elite!
Short term, it would be necessary to refund a substantial proportion of the executive tickets. Longer term, it could cost Melbourne the right to host the event - which would suit Adelaide very nicely, thank you!
Picked from the Bunch
Rumours continue to circulate concerning the future of Jacques Villeneuve: if they turn out to be true, then Villeneuve will be seen in a McLaren in 2001. However, despite the huge respect between the parties, there is nothing going on yet.
Plans to expand the Grand Prix calendar are progressing, with news that talks with Saudi Arabia and South Africa are both in advanced stages. Sources indicate that a South African Grand Prix could be on the cards for 2001, whilst Saudi are believed to be considering building a dedicated circuit for 2002.
Jenson Button's well publicised collision with a bird, whilst testing at Kyalami, left the youngster surprised, though he took it in his stride. He should have been rather more worried, had he known that the force of the impact would have shattered the visor on his helmet, had the bird been a few inches lower...
Michael Schumacher's neck trouble has proven itself less trouble than expected in the recent test. Schumacher was able to put the F1-2000 through its paces without more than a twinge of discomfort, and came away pleased with the results - not to mention a feeling of justification in ignoring the advice of his doctor!
Minardi's new car has yellow. This fact will have escaped few people; however, to the point, the colour change is not undertaken lightly: Minardi commissioned research into the effects of the colours for exposure on television, and were surprised to find that the same amount of time on screen this year should result in 20% more viewers remembering their car was on the track.
Prost have identified a number of potential problems with their new gearbox. Not only is the software suspect, but the tolerances of key components appear to be inadequate. The team is particularly keen to avoid handing Jean Alesi another year of gearbox trouble, as the Frenchman has made his opinion very clear after events at Sauber last year!
Williams are hoping they will be able to run an FW21B with Michelin tyres are normal test sessions from March. It's expected that Bridgestone will take steps to ensure this does not happen, as the side-by-side testing against their own rubber would be detrimental to their hope for 2001.