This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- Inconsistent rulings hit home
- Silly Season Gets Interesting
- Picked from the Bunch
Inconsistent rulings hit home
The FIA's ruling that Mika Hakkinen could keep his points from Austria, despite the team losing ten constructors points, has resulted in a very mixed reaction in the paddock.
McLaren were upset to lose the constructors points, but uncertain that an appeal would do them any good - the FIA is more likely to rule that the car did not comply, and Hakkinen lose his points, than that the "exceptional circumstances" which saved Mika also apply to the team. Arguably a smart move by the FIA, who can now get on with the remainder of the season...
Ferrari believe that if the McLaren was excluded, then the driver should be docked their points too. The "exceptional circumstances" of Hakkinen being close to the front of the title chase are a poor excuse: the rules are supposed to be the rules, no matter what a drivers' current standing in the Championship. An example from this year is the Brazil race, where Coulthard was excluded along with the car, when a front wing infringed the dimension check in scrutineering. The team maintain it was race damage, and worth no performance advantage (the same argument used with the seal), but the car was still excluded on the basis of the infringement. Had Coulthard kept the points then, he would be leading the Championship now...
So why does Hakkinen get preferential treatment? Cynics are arguing it is because excluding the car and driver would have meant giving the win to Coulthard - putting him four points closer to Schumacher and the Championship... it's an ironic situation, but true, and the complaint of Ferrari bias continues to be voiced over every similar incident.
Similarly, Jaguar are upset at the ruling. Had the exclusion been fully exercised, then Johnny Herbert's seventh place would have been moved up, and worth a point to the team. However, just docking McLaren the ten points for first place leaves the remainder of the results unchanged.
Other teams are uncertain how to take the result. General opinion is that Hakkinen drove a great race, won very effectively, and deserves the win; however, the rules must be applied, and applied consistently, before they can have faith in the governing body. And with this following on from the FIAs acquittal of Ferrari on a technicality, and refusal to name the team(s) they believe cheated in 1999, disillusionment is spreading.
Silly Season Gets Interesting
The BAR team are happily rejoicing a deal that sees Jacques Villeneuve remain with the team for the next three years. Details are sketchy - no-one is prepared to admit the absolutes - but it appears that BAR are set to pay Villeneuve an average twelve million pounds a year for his services. Further to the financial reward, it appears there are performance based get-out clauses, permitting the Canadian to depart, should the team fail to make the best of the Honda package.
Current speculation in the pits holds that signing Jordan to run full works engines made retaining Villeneuve the top priority for BAR, as the Honda board threatened to include Jordan's development team in the Athena and related chassis projects, should BAR fail to land a leading driver for 2001.
The move is expected to be the opening gambit for the end of Silly Season in all the main players. Now Jacques is committed, the spurious rumours that Fisichella would be leaving to make way at Benetton (despite running fifth in this year's championship) are being shut down, and the Italian is expected to remain at Benetton. Alexander Wurz is still unlikely to retain his place... few still think he will gain a seat at BAR in place of Zonta, but recent suggestions he could find a spot in Sauber are feasible.
Peter Sauber still seems to be hoping to entice Fisichella out of Benetton, looking to replace Pedro Diniz. He is not supposed to be enthusiastic about Wurz, placing him behind Jenson Button on his shopping list. Diniz, by contrast, could end up better off, as a paying driver role has opened at BAR: they need the income to plug the hole Villeneuve's salary has already made in the budget.
Rumours of Dario Franchitti's test at Silverstone preceded the event, building speculation on what the Scot would be able to do in a Jaguar. As it turned out, not nearly as much as the team's test driver, Luciano Burti. So, instead of offering Franchitti a seat, both he and they have gone away with much to think on: neither wants a repeat of the Zanardi situation, and frankly, both can see the possibility until the team can work out how to set up the car to Dario's requirements. As Franchitti does not like tail happy cars (a by-product of driving over 200mph at walls on oval circuits, and relying on the car turning in when required), he really needs to test next year's Jaguar, before making any decisions. But that is still only on the drawing board.
Summarising, the weekly roundup of Silly Season Speculation:
Rumours that Giancarlo Fisichella was part of an exchange deal for Jacques Villeneuve from BAR were quashed by the Canadian signing to retain his seat for three more years.
Pedro Diniz has been connected with both BAR and Minardi, in both cases as a pay driver who would help the teams meet their budgets in 2001. The BAR seat would be the most competitive he has seen in Formula One to date.
Jean Alesi has been connected with a return to Sauber - an unlikely state of affairs, given his stated intent to finish his days with Prost.
Jenson Button continues to be the object of speculation - the media seem convinced a seat at Jaguar, Benetton or Arrows is in his future.
Mark Webber is believed to have a chance at the test role for Benetton. The deal would see him combine another year in F3000 with F1 testing, should Luciano Burti be given the second seat with the team...
Heinz-Harald Frentzen is expected to sign for Jordan, now the Honda works deal has been completed. This non-move has been speculated since the engine deal was announced, but with the German Grand Prix looming, the rumour has gained a new lease of life.
Johnny Herbert has been investigating options in CART - and he is not the only one. It's thought that Junqueira has also been approached to race in the US next year.
Darren Manning is gunning for Ricardi Zonta's seat at BAR; he believes being a known quantity within the team gives him a good chance against the likes of Jenson Button.
Picked from the Bunch
Rumours of Prost selling up are continuing to circulate - the Canadian press are convinced the final stages of a deal with a consortium from Quebec, backed by the local government and a Boston bank, is close to signing for the team.
Peugeot's announcement that they will terminate connections with Formula One at the end of the season, followed by the news that Arrows would inherit the engine via an Asian concern, has sparked speculation that Prost will run with either this year's Supertec engine, or last year's Arrows engine, in 2001.
Benetton are expected to take Michelin rubber in 2001. Reports that the team will have the same development input as Williams are believed wide of the mark, but it is certain that Flavio Biatore has gained some form of concession in making the move.