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ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 45 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1 The Grapevine
Rumours and speculation in the world of F1

  by The F1 Rumors Team

 


This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:

  • 2000 review: season sweet spots
  • Picked from the Bunch

2000 review: season sweet spots

As the season started, Renault announced their intentions for the future, and the purchase of Benetton. There was little immediate impact give or take the return of Flavio Briatore to team manager status in the paddock, except for Arrows immediate resignation to finding a new engine supplier as soon as possible. Failing to close a Renault works supply frustrated the team, particularly as it ensured they would not be getting the same engines as Benetton for the remainder of the year. Of course, it also set in motion a key element of the move to bring in AMT, who bought out Peugeot, for 2001.

Of course, this led to any number of rumours concerning future power supply at Prost, with a Mercedes customer unit being favourite until near the end of the season. Supertec and Ford also featured strongly, but little mention was made of Ferrari as a potential supplier until reports of Pedro Diniz's interest in the team took hold. The Brazilian was less than discrete with Prost's plans, allowing the information out ahead of the planned press release.

Peugeot's withdrawal had been anticipated for some time: indeed, many were surprised the plug had not been pulled a year earlier, when Prost was complaining bitterly about the disadvantages of the unit. Selling the division to AMT, including all buildings and personnel, gave the team a complete and definite break. However, the sale was made sufficiently late in the year that AMT would if building conventional engines not be expected to produce anything interesting until the middle of next season. AMT, however, seem to think they have a new approach that no-one has tried yet, so there is plenty of anticpation that something interesting could be around for the start of next year. Arrows certainly hope so, anyway.

Adding fuel to the engine manufacturer fire, Honda's mid-season announcement of works support for Jordan from 2001 came as a surprise to half of the paddock. The other half had heard the Grapevine noises of discontent with BAR's performance, and expected something along those lines. It was well known that Eddie Jordan had spent the tail end of 1999 running backwards and forwards to Japan, meeting with Mugen and Honda. It had been thought the deal was related only to maintaining the customer supply: however, it can be considered the coup of the season to pull Honda works engines out of the hat, especially in the middle of a relatively poor season, and whilst openly looking to bring Audi or VW in as a works partner.

Rumours that Tora Takagi was on the Toyota driver shopping list started back at the San Marino Grand Prix. As it happens, the Grapevine was accurate, and the driver is now in a Toyota-run CART team for 2001. If the new Formula One car is up to scratch, he is expected to be in line for a drive alongside Mika Salo in 2002. Dominating Formula Nippon this year appears to have fired the Japanese driver up again, and he is expected to do well in CART next year...

This was not a season for car designers in Formula One. Mike Gascoyne's resignation from Jordan, pending a move to Renault, led to Honda being concerned he would take confidential information with him. Accordingly, Gascoyne spent half the season sitting at home, working on his farm, instead of helping Jordan iron out the problems with the car. Similarly, Alain Prost sacked Alan Jenkins at the behest of his technical staff, on the basis they didn't get on very well. He is still lacking a name designer, which essentially leaves the team reliant on the men who penned the 1994 Ligier doing a better job in 2001. Having said which, Ferrari engines should help the cause.

After some fairly spectacular mid-season testing accidents Zonta and Fisichella being on the receiving end of the most impressive and significant pressure from sponsors to improve the spectator value of the sport (by increasing the overtaking opportunities), the Technical Working Committee finally agreed to changes for 2001. Essentially, they amount to increased stresses for roll-hoop and side-impact tests to cover the safety improvements, whilst raising the front wing 50mm and restricting the rear wing to three elements...

Most of this season's Silly Season centred on Jacques Villeneuve and his plans beyond 2001. The Montoya cat was out of the bag in all but fact, at least from very early on, so attempting to identify who Renault would bring on board for their big entry as a chassis manufacturer was the order of the day. As it transpired, despite encouraging the paddock gossip, Villeneuve was simply renegotiating with BAR to stay another couple of seasons. The team's progress this season appears to show he made the right decision...

Otherwise, Button's future remained a secret give or take the knowledge he was leaving Williams until barely a week ahead of signing for Renualt. His opening season silenced many critics, who thought that missing out on more F3 and F3000 experience would be a career killer: accordingly, he had a wide selection of seats to choose from. Benetton and Flavio Briatore made the most attractive offer, as they were keen to dump an ailing Wurz. Rumours of the Austrian's premature end to the season proved illfounded, however, and he rewarded the team with a strong performance in Malaysia the first time he was given equal treatment all season, he claimed.

Mika Salo was tied to Toyota months ahead of his official signing: news of a letter of intent was pretty widespread, whilst dissatisfaction with Pedro Diniz's expensive driving ensured Sauber were looking for an all new driver lineup. Heidfeld's move from Prost surprised most of the paddock though they blamed his car for poor performances this year, still few rated him too highly. Ensuring a lower profile than usual for the year, McLaren indicated very early on that both Hakkinen and Coulthard would be invited to renew their contracts... though that did not stop the rumours of the Flying Finn's pending retirement.

Interest from CART was not limited to Montoya: Dario Franchitti test drove with Jaguar, before returning to the US in distress. He did not like the Formula One car at all far too tail happy and the team were similarly underwhelmed by the lack of pace the Scot mustered. Similarly unhappy, Ricardo Zonta was always expected to be shown the door at BAR: Olivier Panis as replacement was viewed as good reward for a tough year testing at McLaren: his pace matched or exceeded the regular drivers all season, and his experience was critical in developing the car.

As the season drew to a close, the FIA reviewed their calendar, swapping the British Grand Prix with the Austrian event, yielding each country a better timeslot for the expected weather. The FIA are considering how to get Kyalami in South Africa in the 2002 season, whilst rumours of potential events in Croatia, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Libya are doing the rounds. As the number of races in a season is not going to be increased, there is much fear at European circuits over which events will get the chop as the calendar broadens to keep the increasing Middle and Far East-aware sponsors happy. The emerging markets are coming under increasing scrutiny, and their importance is now second only to Europe for development, now the circus has returned to the US.

Picked from the Bunch

  • Michael Schumacher is donating one of his Ferrari driver's overall for a French charity auction held next month, in aid of children suffering from autism. Schumacher's outfit is one of the highlighted items on sale, and its start price is estimated at $15,000.

  • Initial feedback from testing before the Malaysian Grand Prix showed that raising the front wing by 50mm has reduced its downforce by nearly 60%. Computer simulation from designs for 2001 cars has already recovered a third of that, and most teams expect to be back to current loads by the end of the season.

  • Juan Montoya and Ralf Schumacher have exchanged words via the media. Clearly, it has been a slow news week, as the press is making as much as possible of the exchange; however, team members see the situation as a minor affair that will blow over when the drivers actually get to spend some time developing the car together in December.

  • Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian have both expressed satisfaction with their move to CART. Each, in their own way, said that a top CART seat is clearly a better bet than a mid-field Formula One drive, as the emphasis is heavily on equipment in the 'top' category.

  • Bridgestone are expected to be the tyre of choice for most of 2001: they have data on two thirds of the circuits that just isn't available to Michelin at this time. However, the Japanese firm is already looking at how to fend off the French giant in 2002, when that advantage will have been eroded.

  • Michael Schumacher is off on a Mika Hakkinen-style holiday and sponsor duty break over the Christmas period he is not expected to spend significant time in the car until mid-January. Some of the sponsor commitments are personal, and will be expected to increase his income for 2001 by over fifty million dollars.

  • Alexander Wurz has warned Fisichella that he can expect the number two treatment in 2001. Having been refused a 'qualifying' chassis like Fisichella's for the entire season, but walking all over his teammate when finally allowed to use it in Malaysia, he expects the Italian to see similar favouritism towards Button in 2001.

  • Niki Lauda has admitted that his airline is in financial difficulties. The former triple champion's airline has lost over $70m. "I will not let it destroy me," Lauda said, "I will fight to the bitter end in order to save the company, even if I have to invest my private property." The last time the airline was in trouble, Lauda came out of retirement to win his third title with McLaren, but that is no longer an option for the Ferrari consultant.

  • Jenson Button will enjoy his first real break of the year in November. "I have the first three weeks of November off which is going to be excellent, nothing to think about and nothing to do actually, but it will be nice," said Button. "I've got an apartment in Monaco now, so I will spend a bit of time there away from everyone with friends. I'll also spend a little time in England with family and friends, but I am not going to go away in Europe because I'm bored of travelling around. It's actually nice to be back in rainy England to get some fresh air especially after Malaysia..."

  • Coca-Cola's rumoured interest in Toyota is pie in the sky, according to the car manufacturer. They are vocally denying the story, as it is putting off other sponsors, who do not believe they can compete with Coke money for decent representation on the car.

  • Prost's signing of Joan Villadelprat alongside Henri Durand finally makes their design and race teams look professional. The duo are expected to lead the team's charge out of the doldrums, especially with Prost leveraging the use of Ferrari engines for the next two seasons.


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