This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- Jaguar Planning Ahead
- Rolling with it
- Picked from the Bunch
Jaguar Planning Ahead
There is a story behind Bobby Rahal's demotion to a Formula One chief executive. It might seem funny to put it into those terms, but the man who was took over running the show at CART would certainly be in a position to consider it a backwards step – career wise – to move back into running a team.
However, it is something he has wanted to do for a very long time – and Neil Ressler is all too keen to have him take over at the helm. And not because the team is failing to win, either.
The Ford plan is awe inspiring in concept, and it is easy to see why they want a Rahal on their side for the program. Jackie Stewart's original five year plan has been discarded – they started the year in the earnest belief that it could be followed, but discovered the price of take-over has been tremendous. The team is better than ever, but not quite functioning as smoothly as it did in the Stewart days, leading to the price being paid this year.
However, placing Ressler in charge was not a bad move. The man was not a Formula One expert, and did not bring intimate knowledge of the workings of a Formula One team to the paddock. But he did bring a number of other attributes. He knows how to plan for the future, and he knows how to turn visions into reality. One of the key elements in that is knowing where his limits are, and where things should be passed on to those who can take things forward…
The new Ford Motor Sport Campus was a Ressler project: in common with other Formula One leaders, he spotted the requirement to bring everything together in one place. Learning from Ferrari's advantage, a private section track is certainly a good plan – and being close to Silverstone provides some decent running in the public eye with limited cost to the team when things go wrong. Furthermore, he is an expert at pulling a team together, and finding the right person to head it.
It will come as little surprise to discover that Jaguar are lining up some top engineers and designers for the years to come. The team is running to a fresh two year contract, and sees 2001 as a chance to establish a basis for a challenge on the titles. Next year's car is on the drawing board, but the designers of the 2002 effort are all expected to come on board over the coming six months – and it is expected these will include some household names.
Bobby Rahal's position at the head of the challenge is no accident: he brings tremendous not only of racing, but the mindset required to be successful at it. His own knowledge and vision, whilst unorthodox from a Formula One viewpoint, is extensive and very much to the point. And beyond that, he commands respect in the Formula One paddock: Ressler has approached engineers and designers, but Rahal has worked with most of them. And that's the ticket Ford expect will bring them on board for the challenge ahead.
Rolling with it
Coming to the circuit which saw Mika Hakkinen dominate for the last two years, McLaren are focussing more on the seasn finale at Malaysia than the Japanese Grand Prix.
Schumacher holds an overall advantage, with an eight point lead in the Drivers Championship, but both teams know that the Suzuka track favours the Woking outfit better. The fast, flowing nature of the track leverages Adrian Newey's aerodynamics very effectively, so McLaren can hope to take points back from Ferrari with a win – possibly take both the top places. It means Hakkinen will again be required to pull out the same performances that saw him take the Championship in both the previous seasons, so that is where the biggest effort has gone in preparing for the weekend ahead.
Over the season, McLaren has been looking at Hakkinen's motivation, studying the way he responds to breaks in training, breaks from sponsorship duties, and getting away on holiday. They have had him talking to sports psychologists to garner how he can be motivated from outside, and they have been attempting to isolate de-motivating factors. At the end of the day, they have discovered some fairly obvious, but interesting, clues to the identity of the hard driving, racing and Championship winning Mika that has been so largely in evidence over the last three years…
The obvious – and most significant – motivator is the support of the team. When everyone gets behind him, lets him know they are relying on him, and encourage him to do well, Hakkinen is capable of doing practically anything. He sets the car up quickly, drivers quickly, and can sit on the edge for an entire race. To coin a very British expression, "not letting the side down" when they are pulling for him is a huge factor.
Talk from professional motivators, sports or otherwise, is not particularly effective. Hakkinen is a sharp individual, and telling him things he already knows does nothing for him. A word of encouragement from Coulthard – who the Finn respects very highly indeed – can turn Hakkinen's day from being pretty average to outstanding overnight. All other factors are largely secondary to the feeling of being needed by the team.
Heading to Japan, McLaren know that the car is about as good as it is going to get. There are some minor tweaks to the aerodynamics, which should be useful, and a new engine is supposed to be ready for qualifying… however, the factor that will make all the difference is going to be the performance of the drivers. With Coulthard effectively eliminated from the Championship, everyone is pulling for Hakkinen. All that remains is for the Finn to put in another performance like the last two years, and yet again, the Championship will go to the wire at the seasons finale.
Picked from the Bunch
Most teams testing ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix spent most of their time testing components destined for their 2001 cars. With the Championship out of their hands, focus has shifted considerably, with next years challenge the new priority.
Williams left the Estoril test ahead of schedule, after running out of components to test for 2001. The teams' computers had established the best Susuka setup, which was readily confirmed, and the 2001 tests went smoother than expected: though that was because a number of components were rejected for failing to perform according to predictions.
Jean Alesi's admission that he would be interested in running for a CART seat on retiring from Formula One has been well received by some of the teams from across the pond – though none of the front runners were ready to comment.
Ricardo Zonta is in talks with Tom Walkinshaw regarding a test drive next year: the loss of Mark Webber in the role has left the team looking for an experienced driver to fill the role. It's hard to see him going there to test rather than McLaren, however.
Marc Gene is thought to be looking for a Prost-Ferrari ride. However, insiders believe that Pedro Diniz and Jean Alesi are both safe in their seats for 2001.