This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- Power is not everything
- BAR-Honda, Jordan-Honda
- Silly Season Update
- Picked from the Bunch
Power is not everything
Ask Peter Sauber if he'd like a more powerful engine in his car, and right now, you might be surprised at the answer you receive.
Following the French Grand Prix, debriefing both drivers highlighted the biggest problem the team had was, ironically, that their engine is too powerful. The low grip Magny-Cours circuit demands a smooth power curve if drivers are to maintain maximum traction out of corners. If the power comes in too fast, the wheels spin, and the car accelerates slower. Worse than that, the wheel spin is bad for the rear tyres, making them wear faster, and so more liable to further wheel-spin as the race progresses.
Sauber used a more powerful engine for qualifying in Canada, and believed the French event was a good time to promote it a full race powerplant. The unit brings with it more power, and a lighter construction, both of which are important as Sauber are struggling to score points against a very strong mid-field. Unfortunately, the extra power comes on a slightly coarser power curve than the previous unit, and both drivers have been struggling for traction as a result.
Right now, if you asked Peter Sauber if he should like a more powerful engine, his immediate response might well be "yes" - but it would come with a qualifier: only if it was made more drivable. Because right now, that's worth more than the power he already has.
Since developing two competitive engines is an expensive business, it came as little surprise to the F1 world when Honda announced they would only be supporting a single program in 2001. What has been of some moment, however, is the decision to put works engines into the cars of both teams, rather than taking the traditional "customer" route for the customer - and supplying units which are a generation old to the less favoured team.
With this change in place, Mugen are currently expected to withdraw from the sport at the end of this year, concentrating on developing the engines the supply to lower formulae. There are rumours that Prost could persuade Mugen to continue delivering the current spec Jordan unit for another year... but to date, this speculation has shown no substance.
Honda have stated a commitment to provide Jordan with their engines, whilst continuing to work hand in hand with BAR: their "full integration" electronics (which tie the engine and chassis systems together), and their design goals, remain part of the BAR commitment; if Jordan and BAR want different things from the engine, the BAR requirements will be built in first - but for the most part, no-one anticipates a problem with this.
The benefits of this deal, in the short term at least, are clear. Jordan gains a top notch engine, with the single-minded efforts of Honda behind it. The engine has a full year of maturity, so most the obvious glitches are cleared up already. They continue to work with the same Honda personnel, and the relationship is firm and professional.
Honda gain big-time too: dropping the Mugen program will free up resources to develop the current engine, and actually save money. Any work Jordan puts into developing engine mappings, or design requirements to leverage the engine, will be transparent to Honda's other team, BAR - though chassis feedback, apparently, will not be made available in the same fashion. Developing the BAR chassis into a competitor will be made cheaper and easier with this deal.
Longer term, things are not quite so simple: once Honda have a competitive BAR, they are expected to buy the team; then, they are unlikely to want the distraction of another team running a works engine. When that day comes - and it could be relatively soon – Jordan are going to need an alternative plan in place.
Silly Season Update
Every year, particularly around this time of the season, speculation about the future of all the key players in the sport takes off. For the most part, the rumours are contradictory, unlikely, or just plain untrue, but all too often there are gems hidden amongst the dross that bear consideration.
Over the remainder of the year, the Grapevine will be keeping tabs on the latest hot gossip from the Silly Season, to keep you up to date on who is going where, and why, in 2001:
Jacques Villeneuve continues to fuel Silly Season rumours: as Coulthard's signing was announced, Villeneuve hinted that a Ferrari drive might be an option in a couple of years...
Dario Franchitti has a Jaguar test lined up, in a deal which is expected to see him move from CART. A contract has been drawn up, but signing depends on the outcome of the test, and whether or not Team Green's 2001 package is as impressive as the team owner believes.
Jenson Button is now thought by many to be safe in his Williams seat for another year, as Frank Williams admitted being unable to prise Montoya from the grip of Chip Ganassi, making the Colombian star favourite to make the switch for 2002. All is not yet over, however, as it is believed Montoya could still be bought out of the Ganassi contract.
Alexander Wurz is latest on a long list of potential replacements for Ricardo Zonta at BAR. Zonta's record this season has been even worse than that of the Austrian, who is expected to become a free agent at the end of this year.
Olivier Panis is looking for a seat in 2001, and has been in talks with Arrows, BAR and Benetton. He firmly believes testing for McLaren has done him more good than struggling with this year's Prost could have achieved.
Picked from the Bunch
Charlie Whiting is heading to South Africa to check out Kyalami and confirm the track's grade one status - apparently with the intention the South African circuit becomes a stand-by in case Silverstone officials cannot come up with what the FIA thinks is a suitable plan for next year.
Teams have reacted poorly to the provisional movement of the British Grand Prix to May. Those based in the Silverstone area believe the FIA are setting the event up to fail again, and are not pleased at the prospect.
James Allen's stint as stand in for the injured Murray Walker is likely to be only the first of many times in the role, according to current speculation. Despite being unable to impart the traditional Walker enthusiasm, ITV are supposed to be gauging feedback in preparation for the eventual retirement of their esteemed presenter. Allen himself is reported to have enjoyed filling the famous shoes.
Ferrari are expected to run "chimney's" - McLaren style – at some future events. Following the broken suspension at Monaco, the team have followed McLaren's lead to develop the system, which will help with cooling the car under partcularly adverse (hot) conditions. This in turn should help reduce the stresses which led to the Monaco failure.
Announcing a 2002 entry, Toyota has blamed the FIA's decision to ban V12 engines for their delayed appearance. The FIA are reported to be surprised by the statement, and are certainly not considering a refund of the multi-million dollar non-appearance charge at this time...