This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- Clean fight to the finish
- Tyre wars looming
- Picked from the Bunch
Clean fight to the finish
As Ferrari end their drought of Drivers Championship titles, the FIA and much of the sports' fan base is considering the Japanese Grand Prix with mixed feelings: taking the battle to Malaysia is better for all concerned, after all.
McLaren, whilst publicly congratulating Ferrari on a solid Championship winning year, are privately less happy about the way things have panned out. The cars had been running well, and the pace should have been sufficient to see Schumacher kept behind Hakkinen, had it not rained. However, Ferrari capitalised best on the tricky circumstances, giving Schumacher just enough space in slippery conditions to weave his wet-weather spell, and justify the millions spent on him over the years. Even as McLaren admit that teams largely make their own luck, they do see it very fortuitous that the light shower was worst around the time of the second stop whilst Ferrari generously put the credit in the hands of their master strategist, who has again brought up trumps.
Barring mechanical failure, Ferrari can and do expect to seal the Constructors Championship in Malaysia. Requiring only three points to ensure McLaren are deprived of the consolation prize, and at a track where the team dominated at style last year, Ferrari are unlikely to concede the one-two McLaren finish, let alone fail to score. It gives Ferrari a chance to really push the boat out, try outrageous pitstop strategies, and in any event put on something of a show for the spectators.
McLaren, meanwhile, are getting on with the job of being ready for 2001. They have known that this championship would be a struggle for most of the season, so despite the pace maintained in developing through the season, significant effort has already been put into the work for next year. In testing ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix, the team expect to complete analysis on some critical new components, which will be key to the design of the new car. This season may well be a disappointment, but Ferrari have no time to rest on their laurels: for next year, the Woking outfit will be back. With a vengeance.
Tyre wars looming
The first blow of the forthcoming tyre was between Michelin and Bridgestone has been struck before the French tyre constructor has even had a chance to run their rubber on a modern specification car.
On handing out the new medium specification tyre in Japan, Bridgestone moved the goalposts for the challenger by over a second a lap and the run-of-the-mill test tyres being lining up for the teams' off season testing are as much quicker again.
For Michelin, it provides something of an insight into the progress that Bridgestone have been making behind closed doors. They are playing with a couple of '99 specification chassis, and know how last year's tyres worked on those. Work through the summer has seen the outfit step forwards rapidly, to the point where they are capable of consistently beating the times for Bridgestone's older product. And with stable rules, where Bridgestone was assisting the FIA in keeping speeds down, the tyres on the cars this year have not been far in advance of their predecessors.
The Michelin Man now knows that he is going to have to run very hard to keep up in 2001. Bridgestone's accumulated knowledge of the circuits is of some benefit, but the technology involved in the tyres is altogether where it is at. Running with grooves has been an experience, now presenting Michelin with a significant curve
However, it is not expected to be an uneven battle. Tests with Jorg Muller have gone very well, particularly the recent ones, resulting in a lot of interesting compounds and constructions to build from. The latest batch of tyres was pretty impressive by all accounts, with excellent grip, but some work required on the "walk" effect from cornering on the limit, which is currently more of "spin off."
The future for Michelin is centred on finding the right construction to make the compounds work. Grip and wear have both been catered for, and are looking exceptional, but the tyres are unfriendly to drivers: going over the edge will cause them to be spat unceremoniously off the circuit. By working for a construction that provides more "give" on the tyre surface, the rubber will start slipping progressively as the driver pushes the limits, rather than the whole thing giving up at once.
Picked from the Bunch
Italian President Francesco Cossiga laid into Schumacher after the German won the Drivers' Championship, saying: "I know what I am saying goes against popular opinion. But to me Schumacher's victory means nothing. I expect at the end it is the glorious Ferrari team and not an insolent overpaid little Bavarian boy that has won the world title. It annoyed me that a boy we paid with our country's money behaves like a good German when he is listening to 'Deutschland Uber Alles' and watches the German flag with rigid attention like a German army soldier. Then he plays the fool and not for the first time when the Italian national anthem is played and they hoist the tricolour."
Michael Schumacher is scheduled to undergo surgery on his leg, to remove the metal pin inserted after his accident at Silverstone in 1999. The German is reportedly scheduled to undergo this routine surgery next month, after which he will be assigned to rest and recuperation for two months.
Rumours that Mark Blundell will be back in Formula One are circulating. The ex-F1 driver, who has been racing CART in the last few years, has been reported as talking to Williams, McLaren and Ferrari about a potential test driver seat in 2001. Some also say Alain Prost is interested in the Briton's services.
With Brands Hatch struggling to get their planning permission sorted, Silverstone has been putting together plans which would see them capable of holding the British Grand Prix to the standard the FIA are demanding of all the new circuits added to the calendar.
Tom Walkinshaw will pay generously for Nigel Mansell to pilot their two seater Formula One car at events next season. Mansell will not be getting a ride in the Arrows Formula One car, however, unless he finds a new home for a few kilos of his own...