This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- Safety Barriers
- Planning ahead - 2001 looms
- Picked from the Bunch
Following the accident at Monza, where a fire marshal lost his life during the five car pile-up, the FIA are understood to be reviewing their options regarding final retaining walls, and how they should secure the safety of track marshals, who wait behind them.
Safety barriers grew out of a need to protect spectators: Formula One started up with bales of straw pressed into service at as trackside. These provided scant protection to drivers, and clearly failed to provide any security for spectators watching from behind. After a spate of close calls, and a couple of fatal accidents, the call for proper protection saw the evolution of what became the barriers of today.
However, the principles are based on the ideas of the sixties, and have not come under significant review since then. Some ideas have been put forward - like the airbags ften used on high risk corners in Superbikes - and there it some hotspot protection - Monaco uses collapsible structures in a couple of key locations - but otherwise this aspect of the sports' safety measures remains unchanged.
The FIA's enquiry into the Monza accident is expected to conclude that the marshal was standing behind the barrier, but the nature of his job and the height of the barrier left his upper body exposed, only to be hit by the escaping tyre. Accordingly, they will recommend his accident was a misadventure, and the FIA consider two areas for improvement. The first, which the FIA is already undertaking, is to reduce the number and size of components which come off cars in accidents, particularly the wheels. The second is a review of guidelines for track marshals, recommending that those in "high risk" areas are provided with full body height protection.
Track officials are unpaid racing enthusiasts, who despite having considerable knowledge of the sport and its dangers, are always likely to be standing in the spot that offers the best view of the action. That is their passion, and the FIA recognise this. The issue is, will the recommendations take account of this fact, or will the marshal's new, safer stance impose on their involvement in the racing, for if it does, there will always be marshals standing out of position, regardless of the dangers, for that, after all, is what they are there for.
Planning ahead - 2001 looms
As the Formula One circus heads to Indianapolis for the US Grand Prix, all the teams are leaving behind them their staff, who are working on developing the existing chassis for the forthcoming Japanese and Malaysian Grand Prix. However, almost all the teams are also getting to grips with designing their new cars for 2001.
Exceptionally, Minardi are included in that category. With the promise of Supertec engines for 2001, they have already been given the dimensional and mass measurements of the unit they will be using, and an approximation of the fuel consumption to expect. Accurate figures are not going to be released until after Malaysia, as the data is very sensitive to Benetton, but enough is now known to begin working on the concept and initial design for the 2001 car.
In recent years, Minardi has struggled to establish a line of engines much ahead of the season they are going into: accordingly, their cars have been developed with some serious flexibility in mind, in order to accommodate whatever engine fate throws their way. This time, things are different:
Finishing off the bottom for two years in a row has led to a significant budget increase. The FIA have covered the teams' transport fees to events - a healthy sum of money, relative to the normal budget. Furthermore, should Minardi beat Prost this year, then the budget will be able to afford testing in the run up to Christmas. And so, the team has been working on the 2001 car, looking to have at least a hybrid ready for a short December program.
Supertec power offers Minardi one of the best opportunities the team has seen in years. As the technology invested in the ten cylinder engines currently run in Formula One approaches a peak, this will give the team a unit which comes closer by far to the absolute performance of their competitors than they have had since running year old Ferrari units at the start of the 90s.
None of the team members expects to win a Championship in 2001; but they do know that Supertec power married to their chassis could give them a chance to put a cat amongst the pigeons occasionally: so that's what they aim to do. Of course, finishing better then tenth in the Championship would be nice, so they are aiming for that too... though the competition are not running scared. At least, not yet.
Picked from the Bunch
Following Schumacher's emotional outburst in Monza, his popularity has soared, even amongst the cynical British population. It's thought contrition over misunderstandings from warming his brakes as the safety car pulled off also played a key part.
Schumacher again considered retiring on learning about the death of the Marshal in Monza. Thoughts of pending mortality aside, he still sees no reason not to continue to 40.
Mark Webber could test for Benetton next year, after giving a good account of himself at Estoril. The popular Australian has been trying to break into Formula One for a few years, and this drive would certainly be his best opportunity to date.
Insiders expect Jaguar to announce Bobby Rahal as the new team boss at the Indianapolis event this weekend. The current CART supremo has huge experience of operating professional outfits at the leading edge of the sport, and is seen as a key element of Jaguar's plans.
Differing rumours indicate Ricardo Zonta and Alexander Wurz are headed towards testing contracts next year - potentially both with McLaren, though Wurz has been linked to the Ferrari test role, alongside Luca Badoer.
Following the loose wheels at Monza, teams are preparing for the FIA to place further restrictions on wheel tethers in 2001. Analysis has shown that extra tethers would not have had much impact in this accident, however.