This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- Benetton Pushing Forward
- Arrows Back on Track
- Picked from the Bunch
Benetton pushing forward
Having put together a full race distance with the new car, within a week of launching, the Benetton team are gaining optimism for the season ahead.
The Barcelona launch put a good shine on a team which has been going backwards since 1995. Behind the scenes, there has been a substantial amount of work on getting the new car out, but the atmosphere has been uncertain: top level management changes, and rumours of potential buyouts has led to concern on the shop floor about the future of a team once considered one of the "big four."
Conceptually, the B200 is a complete departure to work of previous seasons. The back to basics approach is intended to promote, first of all, reliability. The adage "to finish first, first you must finish" is vital; the B199 cost so much time addressing poor reliability, many opportunities to develop performance were lost. The vaunted Front Torque Transfer was never properly ironed out, and developments like a double clutch never made it out of development.
Having established reliability, performance can be moved forward progressively: money saved from not developing expensive technologies can go into testing, and researching more conventional approaches. An aggressive program is running to keep up progress over the season: the focus is on improving aerodynamic efficiency in low and medium downforce settings. This makes sense, given Benetton traditionally go well at high downforce circuits.
Furthermore, the team are looking to capitalise on the new Supertec engine, which has made a good step forward. BMW and Honda are introducing new units, Jaguar is stretching to close with the leaders, and Mercedes has pushed the limits to stay ahead of Ferrari, so it's thought there will be a lot of failures at the start of the season. Before these engines become reliable, Benetton hope to make a good start at scoring points
As the season progresses, Supertec have promised a number of upgrades, but how many will actually come through, no-one can predict for sure. In the meanwhile, the chassis development should help the team at least maintain parity through the season.
Arrows back on track
In testing at Silverstone over the last week, Arrows have largely brought their program back on track for a competitive outing in Australia. The extra test was required after bad weather kept the team from properly evaluating the new electronics, gearbox and drive-train - all absolutely essential with a new engine on board.
According to the official line, the first test was sufficient to establish all the electrical systems were working properly; however, the Supertec engine, true to form, has been causing installation problems. The unit has significantly vibration compared against the Arrows in-house engine, and there are a number of issues to be resolved on the new car, if it is to complete race distances...
Testing revealed that the vibration is liable to cause failure at several points. The obvious areas for concern are the rear wing and rear suspension: tolerances must be increased. Internally, there are more issues, mostly where components might be shaken - literally - off their mountings. The team is now reported to have a fix on the extent of the problems, and is well en route to isolating solutions.
On a different not, the team were again impressed by the work Mark Webber has been putting in at Silverstone, compounding the impression he gave in December. Feedback has been effective, and precise, coupled with consistent driving. Whilst the Australian has not yet found the backing they were originally asking for, but management is considering halving their fee, which would allow Webber to follow his plan of testing in 2000.
Picked from the Bunch
Despite denying an F1 interest, Audi are running an investigation to establish options for a competitive involvement, on a three to five-year timescale. It should be stressed this does not mean any will be pursued!
Rumours that Jos Verstappen has signed for Arrows persist, with Tom Coronel apparently out of the picture; the clincher was Verstappen's experience, though the results he brought the Honda Development project in 1999 tests weighed well.
Jaguar are on track with their chassis test program, and pleased with the results to date. Over the next couple of tests, they are expected to look at developing the engine's electrical management system.
Rumours of Ferrari testing at Kyalami ceased abruptly with the news of Schumacher's intention to train in Dubai for a fortnight. It's unknown why this should be, as the German star would return ahead of the Ferrari launch on the 7th February, and the Kyalami test runs from the 8th to the 14th.