This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- Safety on the borderline of sanity
- A Jordan Day Out
- Michael Schumacher on Monza
Safety on the borderline of sanity
This year, for the first time, Jacques Villeneuve did something slightly odd at Eau Rouge: he did not even attempt to take it flat.
Years gone by have had the TV audiences watching avidly, particularly in qualifying, for when he would make the attempt, as sooner or later he does, every year. In fact, it's quite easy to set up a car for the corner - but the compromise is a killer for the remaining four miles of circuit... so the idea is to get the car right for the remainder of the track, and still have something left for the old charmer.
In 2000, Villeneuve in his BAR - which was set up very low to the ground - decided discretion was the better part of valour as the car bottomed out too heavily to take Eau Rouge flat.
On the face of it, that just means the car is not sufficiently suited to the track to manage this feat, but in practice, it has a far more sinister overtone: in the past, Villeneuve has known full well that taking the corner flat would be right on the limit of the car's ability; however, he can only make the attempt if he is secure in the knowledge that being wrong would only result in an accident he could walk away from. And this year, he does not believe this would be the case.
Since Ricardo Zonta had the misfortune of a chassis practically disintegrate around him in testing earlier on in the year, there have been no satisfactory answers about how the monocoque could have failed. And as F1 safety depends rigidly on the sanctity of the monocoque, the safety of the car is implicitly called in to question.
Honda have - without a doubt - brought BAR forward a considerable way, with a solid, reliable engine, and assistance in putting together the complete package. In Villeneuve at least, they have a true racer, who is always game to make the most of the mount he is given, and driving it like a man possessed. However, until they sort out the cars' remaining safety issues, to remove the doubt from the mind of their star, rather than just passing the FIA's admittedly stringent crash tests, even Villeneuve is not mad enough to race it right on the ragged edge. And until he does, it's not going to be a winner.
A Jordan Day Out
Eddie Jordan invited some 25,000 people to a "party" at Donington Park, where guests were to be treated to a Jordan extravaganza, with the days highlight being a demonstration of the EJ10, last year's J199 and the original Jordan-Ford 191.
It was all very well for the likes of the drivers: Jarno Trulli commented "Only Jordan could hold a party like this. It is fantastic to have all the team, staff, families, sponsors and friends together, and to see all these supporters. It's something else!" whilst Frentzen added "We had a lot of fun. It is very special to be able to demonstrate our car in this unique environment with all the fans so close to the action."
There was some truth that fans were getting close to the action, but not really in the manner the press release would have you believe. The pits were open to the fans, some of whom had driven over four hours to get to the event, but it was hardly a party: indeed, even as a Jordan Rally, the event held little for those who forked out considerable capital for the privilege of being bored all day.
It is true that there were demonstrations and support races: and they, individually, were very good. For example, the supporting BOSS race was lively, and ably demonstrated why drivers should heed waved yellow flags (as three cars ploughed into another, stuck in the gravel), but as much to the point, the drivers were incredibly fan-friendly with their wrecked vehicles, actively encouraging passers by to clamber in.
Watching the EJ10s run was amusing. Each lap saw Trulli returning to the pits - allegedly to ensure the team did not fall foul of testing rules, as the car is not allowed to run in a Grand Prix week... the telemetry would have been interesting I am sure, but arguably of limited use in preparing for Monza!
Having said which, the day was remarkably sparse. Although those in the paddock appear to have had a great time, the bulk of the fans on the circuit found the day dull and wearing: many left well ahead of the evening concert, and so they missed the one thing that Jordan did manage to get right - for the concert was very good.
Michael Schumacher on Monza
Whatever way you look at it, the Italian GP will be an important weekend for Michael Schumacher. Not only he is a Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro driver competing in the team's home event, but the title battle has reached a critical stage. After second places in the last two races, Michael has to win in order to get his championship challenge back on track. The pressure is most definitely on.
"Of course I am looking forward to racing at Monza," says Michael. "It is always something very special to us, and this time we will be looking to the tifosi for even more support than usual."
After the disappointment of losing out to Mika Hakkinen in Hungary and Belgium, Michael is confident that he will be in a strong position at Monza. The team has been working hard behind the scenes to find some extra pace.
"I still think that we can turn the situation around. We have already overcome worse situations. We were competitive in Hockenheim, which is quite similar to Monza. I believe we can improve compared to the last race. We hope to present a race like in 1998, and I am quite confident. As half-Italian as I am, and being with Ferrari, we try to fulfil what all the tifosi expect from us: to win the race. That's our target.
"It's not important what the trend looks like. The only important thing is the fact that we are six points behind Mika Hakkinen, but there are still 40 points to score, so everything is open. Sure, at the moment McLaren has made a step and we couldn't react as fast as they did but, in this sport, everything can change from one race to the other. Everything is still possible for us, and as long as it is like this, we will not give up. We are working even harder."
The wheel-to-wheel fight with Hakkinen at Spa caught the world's attention, mainly as it's been so rare in the past few years to see Formula 1's two double World Champions actually battling for position on the track. It's the purest way to decide who is going to be the first man to win a third title. Michael does not underestimate his rival.
"I have never claimed to be the best driver, and this topic needs to be pure speculation, as the only way to find out is to sit both drivers in an identical car and let them race against each other.
"But Mika absolutely is a top driver, he has become world champion twice, he most of the time outraces his teammate - if you are able to do that, you must be good. He has driven a lot of wonderful races, and you need to have respect for that."
Michael has a good record at Monza. He won in 1996 and 1998 for Ferrari, and his victory record might have been even better, had he not missed the 1994 and 1999 races. And don't forget that he was punted out of the lead in 1995 by Damon Hill! This year the legendary Italian track will be slightly different, as the first two chicanes have been modified.
"I think the two new chicanes are a big improvement in terms of safety. They have done a great job here. It's a lot safer, and it's good for driving and for overtaking."