The Grapevine - Rumours and speculation in the world of Formula One

Atlas F1

The Grapevine
Rumours and speculation in the world of Formula One

by The F1 Rumors Team


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

  • Away Matches;
  • Wings of Desire;
  • Bernie cuts out the Southern Hemisphere

Away Matches

In the week ahead of all 'away' Grands Prix, the rumour mill has a tendency to be slower than usual - final testing has revealed most of the last minute secrets, and those that are not already out, tend to stay that way until Friday testing. Furthermore, the teams are either packing up, in transit, or unpacking at this time.

Albert Park getting readyThere is news of a new feature on the BAR front wing - good for around 0.2 seconds a lap - that's due to be displayed at Melbourne, so keep your eyes open, as it's quite subtle. McLaren have at least one of the 'special' features on the MP4/14, but are being very coy about letting that information out... apparently the FIA go ahead is still pending! Arrows have reverted something on the car for reliability reasons, but our source won't say what (and we know better than to speculate in this case).

The two biggest guns have it all to do this year - but they are also aware that expectations are on them to perform, so all they can do is 'lose', should they not be at the top of the pile. Both McLaren and Ferrari are somewhat apprehensive, but news of McLaren's reliability problems has helped Ferrari take on a feeling of confidence that might prove well founded!

Jordan left relatively early for Melbourne, and sources have them very pleased at number 3 in the pitlane! Feedback shows them the keenest to get the season started, along with the Minardi team - who feel this is the best season they have ever faced. Concern fills the Stewart and Prost camps, who have big reliability worries, but overall, everyone is ready to face the season.

Wings of Desire

The recent noise made over flexible wings in Formula One seems to have a lot of basis in fact. Despite the claims that Ferrari never have considered running flexible wings, the team certainly has done the analysis on the subject - feasibility studies showed that the issues are complex; but given a controlled approach, there are some measurable benefits that could be gained.

Rumour has is that a report was generated, which led to the flexible front wing Ferrari introduced in Suzuka 1997. Allegedly, it included the possibilities for the rear wing - and highlighted the difficulties involved. In the research and development program for the F399, there is a whole program devoted to lightweight wing structures. The key element here is controlling the flexing caused by air flow pressures; both in the wing surfaces and the main structure itself... essentially, controlling the deformations high speed introduce to the wing.

I should state, talking about flexible wings, I am not saying the wing is designed to flex, but being of super light construction, a certain amount of flexibility is inevitable... and is not necessarily designed right out either. The rules are quite strict about the idea of movable surfaces and wings - they are banned outright; but until there are strict tests in place that will actually provide a 'pass/fail' condition, there will be debate over what is and is not acceptable.

Wings of desire?The high number of wing failures this year is interesting - they do happen on occasion, but the shear number is telling. Either all the teams have developed engines with excessive vibration (the usual excuse for rear wing failure), or more likely, they are all looking at very lightweight construction.

If a wing is demonstrated to be beneficial and reliable, it is installed on the race car; but because the deformation characteristics make it difficult to predict exactly how these wings will run under stressed conditions, they have to be tested. Michael Schumacher recently tested a lightweight wing, and was warned about the possibility it could fail before starting... just as well, considering it parted company with the F399!

Damon Hill has gone on record, remarking about the 'lean' in wings this year, and hinting that teams are experimenting with the effects, and saying something needs to be done. Others accuse him of sour grapes, because Jordan missed the start of the trend, and are not working to the limit of the rules.

Johnny Herbert's enormous accident in the Stewart at Barcelona may not be connected to flexible wings, but it did highlight the biggest issue - safety. A rear wing coming off in a race could spell disaster: by its nature, the failure would be at high speed, so the wing can fly into the crowd or hit a following driver, and the driver losing the wing is certain to spin under braking and come off the track.

The rumour mill has it that all the teams are researching flexible wings - and logically, with lightweight construction becoming more prevalent, it is necessary to know the effects. However, the FIA has issued this week a strong - and quite justifiable - warning, saying that any team found to be using flexible wings could be banned.

Bernie cuts out the Southern Hemisphere

There will be no Grand Prix coverage in New Zealand this year as Grand Prix supremo Bernie Ecclestone raised the prices massively.

Bernie EcclestoneDue to the 13 hour time difference from Europe, most live F1 events are broadcast in New Zealand between 2am and 6am on a Monday morning. Rumours from Sky Television suggest that the company was compelled to drop Formula One after Ecclestone more than doubled the price. In 1998 each race cost Sky about NZ$10,000 to cover, with races from Australia and Japan at about NZ$25,000 each, as they were in the daytime. Sky says that, for a country of less than four million people, the increased cost cannot be justified.

Presumably, Mr Ecclestone discovered that Australians can tune into the Sky channel, so the population consideration was dropped and prices rocketed. Furthermore, sources indicate that Fox Australia, ESPN International and M-Net (South Africa) have all been unable to reach agreement with the F1 Association so far.

With the news of Channel 9 probably losing their contract at the end of this year, as their coverage does not show the races live and prime time, things are not looking too good for F1 viewers in the South Seas. There is little chance of last minute changes this year, as the F1 Association is focused on getting digital off the ground, and has set the next direction for 'getting seen' around the world. Formula One visibility is not expected to suffer - introducing the Malaysian GP will bring in enough Asian viewers to more than compensate for the loss of the South Sea audiences, should the TV companies refuse to pay the requested fees.

F1 Rumors 1999 Atlas Formula One Journal.
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"The Grapevine", a weekly column covering the latest gossip in the paddock, is prepared for Atlas F1 by The F1 Rumors team