This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- Musical Tyres
- Pre-season under-hype: the 'Big Four'
- Picked from the Bunch
Michelin's return to Formula One has stirred up something of a hornet's nest.
When the tyre manufacturer left Formula One in the mid 80s, they had just taken the constructors' title with TAG-McLaren. Whilst the game is substantially different now, Michelin has demonstrated its competitive spirit in other arenas and brings a reputation for taking no prisoners in its challenge to take the title.
Announcing a 2001 entry to Formula One with Toyota and Williams, Michelin immediately became a target for a majority of the other teams; rumours that Bridgestone would be unable to supply all the teams with competitive rubber, and memory of their apparent favouritism of McLaren when the heat was on to beat Ferrari.
Benetton were never happy about the Bridgestone treatment. Their last minute change from Goodyear rubber in 1998 caused some upset: there's still plenty of speculation that they took confidential Goodyear data with them. However, over the season, Bridgestone's development program was oriented towards McLaren's needs. When McLaren wanted to remain with the narrow front tyres, Benetton was wrong footed, as all indications had been to the contrary. It provided a useful excuse for a run of half a dozen uncompetitive races, if nothing else...
However, it is no news to hear Benetton linked with Prost by the latest rumours of defectors to French rubber. The unexpected mover is Ferrari: by stepping away from McLaren – who are expected to remain on Bridgestones with Jaguar and Jordan – they are risking losing a step against their main rival; the only team they should be concerned over are Williams, who will be settling in nicely with the BMW engine. Furthermore, as one of the two teams prepared to put their lot in with Michelin from day one, Williams expect that any favouritism would be in their favour... and certainly would have a cast iron contract preventing it going any other way, which Ferrari would be unwilling to tolerate.
the 'Big Four'
With most of the car launches coming up over the next eight weeks, most of the teams' PR departments are working overtime on hyping their cars, to gain maximum exposure between now and the season opener in March.
McLaren generally utilise an understated confidence in their new contender, all too often living up to relatively quiet claims – and it's no different so far in 2000. Newey has stated the plans for the new MP4/15 should move it forward more than the championship winning MP4/14 over its predecessor, the dominant MP4/13 of 1998. Coulthard is on record as saying "on paper at least, our new car looks better than last year's."
Ferrari are leaking little compared to normal about their new contender, except to say it's coming in on time and is incredibly reliable. They are putting more time to testing alongside their competitor's, in order to ensure their car is not off the other team's pace.
Jaguar is a proud name, looking to capitalise on their involvement in Formula One as soon as possible. The team's development capacity is going great guns – with time to add features like power-steering, when requested by a driver. Having an all British driver line-up – including the Championship runner up Eddie Irvine – is providing strong marketing material; the team believe strongly in themselves and are looking to compete at the front this year. The sounds from marketing reflect that, and the launch will be full of confidence that the team is going to finish in the top four again and looking for podiums on every outing. They stand a good chance of managing it too.
Jordan's launch last year was less strongly stated than in '98. It seems that Eddie Jordan was pleased with dropping the hype levels, then performing better than expected – it removed pressure from sponsors and allowed everyone to get on with their jobs, confident they'll do well. Accordingly, despite having their most competitive chassis ever, the team will launch in a similar mode to last year – claiming solid progress, the chance of winning races, looking to consolidate on their third overall, and so on. However, unlike last year, feeling within the team is that they should spend a lot of the year on a par with Ferrari and McLaren.
The front four are all expected to defend their positions vigorously – whilst fighting to front the Championship. Ferrari and McLaren, as the biggest names in the sport and defending Champions, are always expected to put together a competent challenge. Jordan and Jaguar are the strongest competitors from 1999; both beat the big-boys on occasion and are expected to pose a strong challenge this year. Their marketing departments' workload has been strongly reduced by the '99 results.
Picked from the Bunch
Eddie Irvine's back problems are expected to disappear with the move to Jaguar: the body position with the car is more natural, with the feet lower. The net effect is to take some of the strain from his back, where it is problematic, and move it into the legs.
Jaguar are putting £150,000 into the environment, focussing on work with the forestry commission to develop a new woodland area. The project is expected to include breeding a new type of tree – appropriately, the Jaguar Walnut.
Barrichello's healing is reported to be on track – he is expected to miss no time in the cockpit as a result of the operation on his ribs.
Sauber are expected to suffer in the power stakes, as the ban on Beryllium in engines impacts the efficiency of the 1999 units they are buying from Ferrari.
Speculation that engine manufacturers could be forced to supply multiple teams have resurfaced – probably due only to slow news over the holiday period...