Alexander Wurz is having a pretty miserable season. Even after promising tests, he has not been able to get much form for qualifying, and when things have been better in races, his car has failed. Add to that his belief that Giancarlo Fisichella has had better equipment all year, and you start to see the picture of a pretty unhappy Austrian.
It's ironic, but no surprise, to discover his worst testing accident of the year - at same point on the Valencia circuit which saw Fisichella crash spectacularly into Heinz-Harald Frentzen's Jordan earlier this year - just before what was supposed to be the most important race of his career to date. With Benetton expected to drop him at the end of the season, a gash to the bone from crashing minutes before the end of a test with suspension failure is certainly not something he needs.
The good news is that Benetton have identified a good set-up for the forthcoming event; revisions to suspension have worked, and the latest high downforce aerodynamics show promise: Williams has been targeted, and points are a real possibility.
When David Coulthard lost his rear wing whilst testing in Valencia, his only comment on returning to the pits was "Well, I'm definitely awake now." It was a definite highlight of an otherwise routine test for the team, which saw their cars running through most of the planned test program. Evolution to aerodynamics showed promise, until the wing failure. McLaren remain tight lipped about the cause, but rivals believe the failure was related to a weakened mounting on the revised suspension - being revised to improve bump handling - rather than the wing itself giving up…
Williams had a relatively trouble free time; steady progress being made on the aerodynamics in particular. The team arrived with a bundle of components which looked very good in the wind tunnel, but in serious need of real life track time. Mostly, they worked, but the whole balance of the car shifted as a result, so much time was then required to get the car set up for Hungary. Lap times were not important - race conditions are the most important consideration – so the team did not appear to set particularly competitive times...
When Renault took over the Benetton team, it was with the intention to stop providing customer units to any others on the track. They are developing an all new engine for their chassis in 2001, which is expected to be something of a departure from the current Formula One norm, bringing a new, cutting edge technology to the sport.
Speculation is rife about precisely what form this will take, with top favourite a package based around an extra-wide V construction. This would help to keep the centre of gravity very low, assisting in the quest for a perfectly balanced car. Some believe that Renault have a whole new bag of tricks up their sleeve, as since leaving the fold, the manufacturer is believed to have put a lot of research into high temperature technology (reducing or removing the need for coolants), and they could also have an edge in other areas.
However, with engines in short supply for 2001, Supertec, essentially an umbrella company operating a customer arm for Renault, appears set to continue providing at least two teams with engines in 2001, after appeals to Bernie Ecclestone, who wholes a stake in the company.
The principle owner, Flavio Briatore, is believed to have taken some convincing - he is now wrapped up in the running of Benetton, and shaping it for the challenge to come. The last thing he is looking for is the hassle of running Supertec for another year - and in particular, he does not wish to be part of something which sets up another team with similar technology to his own.
The Supertec deal is not signed, sealed and delivered, but it appears that both Prost and Minardi will be using the engines in 2001. Prost is thought to have had the option for around three months - on the proviso he steps down from running the team. Precisely why that is, no-one is prepared to admit, but it seems the problem stems from Prost's decision to go with Peugeot, when they lost the Mugen-Honda unit.
Until each team has a long term deal in place, rumours will continue to circulate. Prost is currently the focus of the latest (annual) "Lotus returns" rumours, supposedly as a vehicle for the Lotus name to make a comeback as engine supplier to the outfit. Quite who would actually be behind this is not mentioned in the rumours.
Similarly, Minardi continue to be the subject of speculation concerning the 1999 Ford Cosworth engine. If they are to be believed, the team’s to-be-announced sponsors will be bringing Ford leverage with them, and hence the CR-1 would become available to the team at a knock down price (the only figure bandied is around the $15 million mark). If this should turn out to be the case, it would be particularly ironic, as the Jaguar outfit has recently been using a modified CR-1 in preference to their new unit - looking for the power, drivability and reliability of the old unit, against this the model which has been so disappointing this year.
In the paddock, the attitude - right or wrong - is that Prost and Minardi will run Supertec power next year. The all know that Bernie Ecclestone is not going to let a team become sidelined from lacking an engine… particularly when he has so much input with at Supertec.