This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- Ringing the changes
- Bridgestone in a quandary
- Pre-season hype: chasing the sponsors
- Picked from the Bunch
Ringing the changes
Since the Formula One working group put forward their proposal for improving the sport, both by increasing the entertainment level, and enhancing safety requirements, debate has raged about the best way forward. Whilst all the participants agree change is necessary, no-one thinks all the changes suggested are good, and no-one agrees with anyone else aboutwhich would provide the greatest benefit.
Most of the concerns stem from the feeling that attempting to fix all the sports ills in one sweep is likely to introduce more problems than it fixes: it is impossible to accurately predict the effect of comprehensively revising the aerodynamic and tyre rules. Ironically, the move to grooved rubber combined with narrow track cars is often quoted as a perfect example of how unpredictable multiple changes can be.
Slightly different views are forthcoming from McLaren, however. The team - who admittedly benefit from arguably the best technical team under the guidance of Adrian Newey - believes that continuing to attack aerodynamic and mechanical grip by restricting chassis dimensions is in danger of making it impossible to innovate in the car designs. This would leave all the teams essentially running with the same cars.
Rather, as McLaren's Managing Director Martin Whitmarsh suggests, there could be a lot gained by cutting the power from the engines and removing some of the restrictions on the chassis. His suggestion of "High revving [lower capacity] six-cylinder units would still sound great, and would provide a packaging challenge [for designers]" makes a lot of sense. As the cars get too fast, reducing engine capacity provides an ideal way of slowing the cars down, such that lap times are kept consistent. However, cornering speeds would increase, as the teams improved mechanical and aerodynamic grip, so there are still issues which would need to be addressed.
An argument against changing the engines, is twofold: the manufacturers have put a lot of effort into researching three litre V10 units, and are loath to be put "on a level playing field," and starting again with (say) a 2.6 litre V6. The second issue is that the current "customer" units are mostly as powerful as the "works" units, though generally slightly oversize. Changing the technology is going to leave teams without works deals struggling to qualify again...
Bridgestone in a quandary
Williams announcing their change to Michelin rubber in 2001 has put Bridgestone into a difficult position. In the interests of fulfilling their contract with Williams, they are compelled to work with the team to ensure the best use is made of their rubber. Unfortunately, the data the team accumulates over the season will be of significant benefit when Michelin starts a developing tyres for 2001.
Williams will be in a position to go straight from Bridgestone tyres at the end of the season, to Michelin tyres at the start of December. It's not quite "back-to-back" testing, but the French tyre-giant will immediately know how they stack up against the Japanese manufacturer.
From Williams point of view, in taking on the BMW engine, they are expecting a difficult year. Testing over the season will leave little time for helping Bridgestone evaluate new tyres: the effort going into developing a new engine will see to that. Accordingly, they are not expecting to suffer unless Bridgestone stop letting them know which direction their tyre development is moving in over the course of the season.
Bridgestone's biggest worry, however, is not Williams. Over the course of the season, other teams are expected to announce a move to Michelin. Up until this time, those teams may well be in receipt of "development tyres" from Bridgestone - evaluation tyres used only to establish what compounds and constructs are most effective, identify wear problems, and evaluate water shifting properties. Being involved in the development of the tyres can be a significant benefit: chassis set-ups are sensitive to the construction of tyres, and in a sport where times are measured to the nearest thousandth of a second, every little counts.
Having benefited from coming in to Formula One when Goodyear supplied all the teams, Bridgestone are fully aware of the potential cost of development data making it into the wrong hands: should a major player like Ferrari change codes, having been heavily involved in developing tyres for the 2001 season, Michelin could start the season knowing the current performance level, and initial development plans, of their rival- and that's definitely something to worry about.
chasing the sponsors
Any team which is not at the front of the grid not only has a mountain to climb in terms of on-track performance, but they face a difficult challenge in attracting sponsors to their cause.
The net result is that a strong marketing plan is imperative, so capitalizing on the car's launch for the new season can be absolutely critical to attracting last minute sponsors - who in turn might be vital to getting enough test time to develop the car through the season.
Williams, in taking on the BMW engine, are unusual in admitting the season will be difficult, as they develop the car and engine for 2001. But then again, as the dominant force of the nineties, they are in a relatively unique position... all the other teams behind the "big four" are expected to put together a really impressive show as they work to generate as much hype and feel-good as possible to carry them into the season.
The team's image is vital, as they are working to attract sponsors who are attempting to reach a global audience, portraying a strong and successful audience. Jordan has largely captured the "young" market - their bright colours and success made them extraordinarily popular, and picking up Damon Hill brought a very impressive older following too: at the start of the decade, this was the marketing position Benetton held. Minardi are incredibly popular as the underdog - the smallest team in the game, always struggling, and always impressing on their tight budget. Prost is attempting to build a reputation for innovation and Gallic flair. Sauber are an enigma - based in a country where racing is banned, building cars around Ferrari cast-off engines, and often leading the "mid-field," they are surprisingly popular with their fans.
The launch season is upon us, and most of them will be impressive affairs. Some are web-cast, others are open to the public, but all will be extensively covered by the press!
Picked from the Bunch
Benetton's time away from the test track is not being wasted: whilst the team have worked as putting together a decent challenger, the drivers have been packed off to Lanzarote - not for a holiday, but for ten days of intense physical training.
Jaguar's shakedown of their 2000 challenger went less than perfectly - the 1999 engine gave up after two laps, when it suffered a loss of oil pressure.
Brazilian Max Wilson has been mentioned in connection with the second seat at Minardi - a deal which is thought will settle Telefonica into paying for the Ford engine in 2000.
Jorg Muller, BMWs test driver from 1999, is currently favourite to replace Alex Zanardi at Williams. The Italian is thought to be unwilling to further damage his reputation with another poor year running against Ralf Schumacher.
Jos Verstappen is looking as afavourite to join Arrows alongside Pedro de la Rosa, as Tora Takagi announces his intention to return to Japanese F3000 for a year.
Jenson Button - a bright star in F3, and previous winner of the McLaren Young Driver award - is looking set to close a testing deal with Prost or Williams. A superb test in December with Prost, where he outperformed Jean Alesi, made him hot property, and he is expected to make the F1 scene as a full time driver in 2002.
Olivier Panis has given up the German touring car series, on establishing the testing role with McLaren. By concentrating on the role in 2000, he aims to re-establish his credentials as a top line driver, and gain a full time seat in 2001.
Jan Magnussen is looking for a CART drive in 2000, potentially with PPI Motorsports, as he pursues a return to single seaters. Since being sacked from Stewart in 1998, he has been in sportscars with Panoz, and is expected to continue with them if the CART options fall through.
Eddie Jordan, well known for his drum playing at the post British Grand Prix parties, will play the drums with Boyzone at their concert at the Point in Dublin on Monday 10th January. Jordan, who is friends with the band's lead singer, Ronan Keating, will join the boys on stage in front of thousands of fans.