This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- 2000 review: opening gambits
- No rest for the wicked
- Picked from the Bunch
2000 review: opening gambits
The off-season rumours were fairly solid ahead of pre-testing. Featuring large were the rumoured plans of Renault, who seemed to be investing a lot of time and effort into the new season. Their intent was read very early to be a precursor to a full works return – though few thought that they would be providing more than an engine. Benetton and Arrows courted for all they were worth... with Benetton finally taking the prize, if it could be called that, when they sold the team lock, stock and smoking exhaust pipes to Renault.
Also big through the off season was Brands Hatch Leisure's hassles getting to grips with turning their circuit around, making it up to Formula One standard. Local environmentalists started a protest against damage to the ancient woodlands within the track. The protest slowed down planning permission, which was eventually granted, pending referral to the Home Office.
Williams went into the off-season in their usual dispassionate fashion, firing Alex Zanardi. Immediate favourites for the free seat were Montoya, who had just claimed the CART title, Tom Kristensen, a popular BMW test driver, and Olivier Panis. Jenson Button's arrival on the scene came with a head-to-head test against Bruno Junquiera. As history showed, Button impressed, and won the role, whilst his competitor went on to F3000.
The end of the season saw many fans and teams complain at the lack of on track action. Accordingly, the FIA set up a working body, including all the teams' technical representatives, to consider proposals for the 2001 season. A great number of concepts were looked at, but at the end of the day, only a few simple changes were acceptable to all the teams: reducing the number of elements in the rear wing, and raising the front wing a fraction.
From the outset, the name of Michelin has cropped up, as they started to develop rubber to manage the announced intention to compete from 2001 onwards. All parties have remained pretty tight lipped over the manufacturer's progress, with reports of "on course" or "too sticky" being the only real revelations to pass the wall of silence. Speculation on the challenge Michelin would mount remained low key throughout the season, apart from questioning who would jump on the band-wagon with Williams and Toyota.
Rumours that Jaguar would be the team to watch turned from hot gossip to old news overnight when the car started running for the first time. The new CR-2 engine proved low on power and sadly lacking in reliability as the team struggled to get to grips. The unit – expected to break new ground in all directions – was eventually abandoned for a hybrid CR-1... essentially a development of that which powered Stewart to their first win the year before.
Also big news ahead of the season was a Montreal based Centre of Motorsport Excellence – which eventually became the Vauxhall project. This conglomerate was responsible for much of the speculation behind a rumour that Prost would soon be bought out. Original timescales, should they be resumed, will see the project attempt to get into Formula One in two or three years: Prost and Arrows are considered the top targets.
Next week – season sweet spots...
No rest for the wicked
As the Formula One season draws to a close, the world at large looks at the month of enforced race as a "holiday" before the extensive testing of the off season. This is not, however, something that team members are likely to be seeing...
As the teams return from the Far East, the drawing office is working flat out at producing designs for the new cars. These are being made up as models and run in wind-tunnels, attempting to ensure the aerodynamics all work as expected – and this year more than ever, much of this is also being pumped into computers, as teams look for new ways to gauge air-flow characteristics. The computer modelling is complex, expensive and often unable to get to the results shown in wind-tunnels. But it is improving rapidly: costs are coming down as processing capacity goes up, accuracy is ever better, and the future is clearly this route. The computer simulations will – probably as soon as 2003 or 2004 – soon surpass wind tunnels for accuracy. At the same time, computers can run round the clock, not to mention take technical drawings for shapes, rather than require models to be produced.
And, something that Jaguar could have used, they can simulate cornering effects. The 2000 Cat was a dream in the wind tunnel, but getting it into a corner demonstrated a weakness at the back of the car: losing grip as the air flowed over the car at an angle made it tail happy, and prone to spinning out... a decent computer simulation could have picked up the flawed design, and rejected it, whilst there was still time before the car was built.
Beyond the drawing office, mechanics are busy assembling new chassis (when they are designed), and components to be tested when the off-season of testing starts in December. They might be converting the old car to take new components, or running with a variant of the new design, which has few of the "go faster" trimmings that distinguish them from the previous model.
Generally speaking, the drivers do not get much of a holiday either. Somewhere in the month, most have a two week leave of absence to work with; otherwise there are the endless sponsor functions to be attended. The schedule they keep has often had them complain that a test is less work... and they are a full day of labour in their own right.
Picked from the Bunch
Nick Heidfeld’s much publicised move to Sauber has resulted in the young German commenting: "It is difficult to predict what will happen next year, but it won't be as bad as this year. That is not possible." Clearly, he has forgotten the example set by Johnny Herbert.
The future of BAR continues to hang in the balance, as multiple factions appear to be vying to buy the team out from under Craig Pollock. Refuting buy-out intent from both Reynard (with Prodrive backing) and Honda has simply added more fuel to the media fire.
Marc Gene could land a seat at Prost or Minardi, depending on his funding and where Pedro Diniz ends up. If he is not racing, then a test role with Williams is an option, but far from favoured.
Pedro de la Rosa is thought to hold an option to move to Prost, though few can see why he would exercise it at this time. The option apparently includes a chance to move for 2002, but lapses if he does not sign with Prost by the mid-point of next season.
McLaren's big players are unsettling their workers, as they bicker over whether or not they could have won the Championship with different strategies. At the end of the day, the guys on the floor find it awkward when their driver, technical director, chief engineer and head aerodynamicist all have opinions that differ from Ron Dennis.