This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- On the ball for 2000
- F1 team for sale - two careful owners
- Picked from the Bunch
On the ball for 2000
Formula One is so competitive, all the teams have to really push the performance envelope in every department, or they are off the pace; the result is a car that runs like a dream, or barely fires up. Coming up to the season opener at Melbourne, a number of teams are right on the ball, whilst others will be lucky to put together a qualifying lap...
After years in the doldrums, Ferrari are again favourite to win the Driver's Championship, and again seem to have produced the goods, though it's difficult to be sure, as they test in isolation to the other teams. Reports from Maranello show a car which is quick, reliable, and basically is everything Schumacher ever asked for. In fact, it sounds so good, it seems they have left no room for development through the season. There have been problems in testing, enough to cast doubt on reliability for Melbourne, but if it is a problem, it should be the exception this year.
McLaren, on the other hand, have a car for the new season which appears slower in the hands of Coulthard, than their '99 hybrid driven by Panis. Some pundits think the team are sandbagging, others believe they might have lost the plot: the new car is off the boil compared against particularly Jaguar; however, the team has put on significant mileage, both with the 2000 chassis and many of the components on the '99 hybrid. They are looking for both cars to finish the race, and it should happen...
Little has been said of the new Jordan. The EJ10 has been quick in the hands of Heinz-Harald Frentzen, but proved troublesome when Trulli took over. Software problems have destroyed gear-box and engine on occasion, and numerous niggles stopped the ex-Prost driver getting the mileage Frentzen enjoyed. That said, the team believe they have isolated the unreliable components, and substituted more reliable alternatives. Over the next couple of months, as the troubled spots are sorted out, the team expect the pace of the car to step forward - but Melbourne could see them behind Jaguar.
The '99 Melbourne Grand Prix saw both Stewart's cars go up in flames on the grid; the re-launch as Jaguar brought lots of work on reliability - and they need it. The team believe they have finally fixed the oil system problem (which has seen lots of engines die), but there has been little time to check the reliability of other systems over race distances. In qualifying trim, the car is very quick, however.
Having been pipped to fourth in last year's Championship, Williams are facing a self confessed "year of growth" with BMW. The team have struggled to integrate the new unit into their car; the oil and electronics systems in particular proving troublesome, whilst BMW have been going through the learning curve in a hurry. Williams have reliability trouble aplenty, and only middle tier performance when they are running. In the hands of '99 star Ralf Schumacher and unknown youngster Jenson Button, the team hope to produce occasional surprise results, but they really are not ready for Melbourne.
Benetton have changed tack in 2000, dropping the principle of leading the technological revolution for a "back to basics" design. So far, it appears to be paying dividends, as the resulting car has surprised in tests. Reliability has been near exemplary, give or take occasional sensor issues (though they dropped a gearbox too, recently), and the team has a strong sense of coming back on track. They expect at least one car to finish in Melbourne...
Mika Salo and Pedro Diniz have been putting the new Sauber through its paces: the car does race distances, but still has uncertain reliability, despite the impressive lengths the team have gone to in their attempts to improve it. In performance terms, they have closed with the leaders, and expect to go well in Melbourne... however, don't expect both cars to reach the finish.
Prost are already making excuses for the start of the season - and are still waiting on Peugeot for "the big step forward" in the engine department. Not that it will do them any good unless they can sort out their gearbox, which persists in self-destructing. Expected to struggle against Minardi for performance, and lacking in reliability, Prost could use an six weeks ahead of Melbourne.
Although their official launch has been delayed considerably, Arrows have had their new car pounding the circuits for weeks. The team has shown surprisingly good pace in testing, and suffered little reliability trouble, once they became accustomed to the high vibration of the Supertec engine. Whilst not cast iron, the team are expecting at least one finisher in Melbourne, and it's certainly achievable on the record they have posted to date. Last years, Arrows scored their only point in Melbourne, and this year, they hope to score another.
Thanks to delays finalising their engine deal, Minardi have been unable to get their new car together early. It has cost them a lot of testing time, which cannot be made up by familiarity with the engine. The team is behind schedule, and not really ready for Melbourne.
Learning from the mistakes of '99, British American Racing has looked to build a reliable car first, and sort the speed out after - and it seems they have achieved just that. There is a lot to come from BAR, but they expect only to finish in Melbourne.
All the teams could use more time - as they would every year, if it was available. Despite teams including Benetton, BAR and Arrows trying a "basics" approach to building their 2000 car, reliability over a race distance is an issue in 2000. It is expected that more cars will finish this year than last (seven): though it would be a miracle if more than half the field take the chequered flag.
F1 team for sale - two careful owners
Since their stock plummeted, rumours that the Benetton Formula One team was on sale to "the right" buyer have been doing the rounds; however, until they get back out of the midfield, the price Benetton can expect to make for the team is relatively low.
At present, the team is publicly courting Renault, hoping to entice the car giant on board as their engine manufacturer. Current speculation sees the family offering Renault as much as 40% of the team in return for their backing - and the chance to return to winning form.
Intending to thwart Benetton, Arrows are also looking for the Renault deal, and will be trying to demonstrate they are the better option. Given Arrows performance in testing this year - which has been good enough to cause shouts of "underweight" - there is a real possibility that Tom Walkinshaw could get the deal done ahead of Rocco Benetton.
On a slightly different tack, there has recently been news of a Canadian consortium interested in Formula One. It's believed they launched a bid for Arrows ahead of this season, which was turned down, and now they could be looking to get in bed with Benetton. Should the team get its deal with Renault in place, their stock would rise rapidly, and the Canadian Consortium would look to buy either the remaining 60% of the team, or 50% with the remaining 10% going to Renault.
Picked from the Bunch
EA Sports has launched F1-2000 with Benetton. Their new Formula One game is intended to be the best by offering "the most realistic and satisfying experience." Given the comfort level of his race car, Alex Wurz is expected to spend more time testing the game than his new chassis...
The Melbourne venue has already taken delivery of the first equipment destined for use over the race weekend - three plane loads of digital television equipment. Three more loads, with the teams equipment, are expected to arrive next weekend.
Since Teleglobe's announcement of their take-over by Bell Canada Enterprises, there has been rumour that they would drop their BAR sponsorship. A press release has quashed the rumour - they will maintain their agreement for this year - but did not expand on 2001 and beyond.
New safety measures are under consideration: it seems the ideas being mooted include using low grip track surfaces, new barriers, changes to the run-off area, and changes to track layouts.