This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- The Benefits of Teamwork
- The Real Thing
- Silly Season Update
- Picked from the Bunch
The Benefits of Teamwork
The Hungarian Grand Prix was not particularly notable, barring a couple examples demonstrating what it is that has Ferrari and McLaren ahead of the pack this season. Basically, it comes down to teamwork.
Michael Schumacher's qualifying effort was held up immediately as a triumph for the German, at an event where he needed to perform well in order to maintain a decent Championship challenge. However, it was not entirely a coincidence that the maestro pulled out nearly half a second over David Coulthard, who had been dominating the weekend to that point: the Bridgestone technical delegate to the team has a lot to answer for.
In the Friday practice, Ferrari were concerned by McLaren's speed. The Silver Arrows appeared to suffer as much understeer, and the engine mapping program was looking good - both drivers were seeing good traction out of corners. It was unlikely that they had moved forward particularly far with the aerodynamic package, and anyway, Ferrari's aero suite was nothing to sniff at in its own right. Again, the team concluded it came down to who was making the best use of their tyres.
It was Bridgestones careful consideration of how the Ferrari's suspension affected the tyre wear and performance that provided a key to gaining a significantly improved time in qualifying: the extra-soft front tyres were struggling for grip between laps two and five, before coming back. However, whilst the worst performance came part way into the fourth lap, the last third was where the tyre gave of its best. So, by scrubbing the tyres hard for two laps, and taking the fourth relatively easy, the tyres would come good at the end of a relatively easygoing out-lap.
In qualifying, this was estimated to be worth about four tenths. Schumacher might have claimed pole anyway, but certainly, he benefited well: providing a good example of how even the best driver in the world benefits from solid team-work.
The weekends' other example is not quite so clear. Obviously, Hakkinen had done something to put the car into the sort of shape he wanted, but no-one has been able to explain what: indeed, McLaren themselves were uncertain they had done the job until the Flying Finn pulled away from Schumacher.
In qualifying, Hakkinen had struggled with the car; however, he finally got a good handle on what was doing the most damage to his lap times - understeer in three critical corners was costing around like three tenths of a second per lap. Not only that, but the effects there left Hakkinen's confidence in the car on a big low: he simply stopped believing it would turn in as smartly as he required to drive on the edge.
Overnight, the engineers used computer simulations to work a solution to the understeer on those corners: it was certainly possible, but a compromise had to be found which did not slow the car too much elsewhere. In the end, between their overnight efforts, and Hakkinen second visit to the track in morning warmup, they found the solution. From there on, it was a case of waiting to see if Hakkinen could deliver.
The first couple of racing laps, as viewers of the race will recall, saw Hakkinen leading Schumacher, but not breaking away. However, with the car behaving as expected, his confidence in the machinery was regained, and a masterful driving display followed - clearly demonstrating that the driver is not as good as the machine he is in, so much as the team that can make it work for him.
The Real Thing
With Coca-Cola representatives being spotted in the Ferrari motorhome at the Hungarian Grand Prix, anticipation of the drinks giant getting involved in the sport has picked up another notch.
Periodically, particularly in the modern arena of anti-tobacco legislation, the worlds biggest global spenders are connected with Formula One sponsorship - it provides something to talk about in the slow news weeks, especially through November. Coca-Cola is certainly the worlds best known brand, and hence the most targeted company for these rumours.
However, in this instance, it appears that something really is going to happen. Arguably, the time is right, as the Coca-Cola brand, whilst dominant, needs to keep at it to avoid coming under pressure from other global names. McDonalds, Disney, Sony and Mercedes are all highly visible brands: and the effect of the Mercedes involvement in Formula One has provided a strong indicator of the benefits the sport can bring to branding.
From the purely commercial viewpoint, Formula One is pushing into the Far East, promising to get into Africa, and making inroads into the USA. Television coverage has brought the sport to the great unwashed, and promises to continue appealing to the masses. This clearly represents a perfect platform for Coca-Cola to extend its penetration into important markets, whilst providing a rod in the back of the traditional markets.
Where the sponsorship might be placed is another issue. some teams are in the running - with Ferrari the clear favourites, with their colour scheme, and established, front running name. The cars are well covered on television, so exposure would be good.
Beyond that, Jordan has the right public image, with incredible appeal to the younger generation, and Benetton's Renault muscle promises a bright - but very French -future. However, track-side advertising is expected to fill a significant part of the marketing budget: out-bidding the likes of Shell for key corners in races, and maybe acting as title sponsor for a race, is thought to offer good value for money, as there is no risk associated with a team failing to perform.
Whether or not Coca-Cola actually complete the deal this time around, the increasing global appeal of Formula One means that it is only a matter of time until they do, finally, buy in to Ecclestone's Empire.
Silly Season Update
Olivier Panis is headed to BAR for 2001 - to the disappointment of McLaren, who strongly believe the teams' strength this year is due in no small part to him. He could start racing immediately, if the paperwork is cleared up.
Ricardo Zonta continues to face the prospect of an early end to his Formula One career. He is believed to be looking for a testing role at McLaren, though there is no indication the Woking team are interested at this time.
Alexander Wurz will not have his Benetton contract renewed. The Austrian is thought to have an opportunity to test at Toyota, or potentially work a race seat with Sauber.
Jenson Button continues to be rumoured secure in the second Benetton seat - confirmation is expected sooner, rather than later, as Williams have to decide whether or not to exercise their option on the Brit this week.
Bruno Junquiera is thought to have signed a two year deal with Arrows. The Williams test driver would be loaned to the team, but it is believed Williams are retaining the right to call upon his services in the event of their own drivers being injured
Picked from the Bunch
Jaguar are testing at Silverstone this week, and will be giving their Junior drivers (Tomas Scheckter and Narain Karthikeyan) a chance to get behind the wheel. The program is expected to include engine mapping work and revised front wing aerodynamics.
Michelin are keeping quiet about their latest tyres - Tom Kristensen has been working on their program, and new is the new batch is really rather good. Wear rates are something of an issue, but consistent grip as the tyres wear out is coming along very well.
Reports that Ferrari are looking to the FIA to permit double pit-boxes - in order to allow teams to service both cars at the same time - are expected to fall on deaf ears at the FIA. Comments on the proposal mentioned team budgets (specifically, fairness to the small teams), Monaco (there is no room) and tactics (it's more exciting this way).