This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- Away Matches;
- Wings of Desire;
- Bernie cuts out the Southern Hemisphere
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.
There 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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Due 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.