This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- All Change at Ferrari?
- Silly Season Update
- Picked from the Bunch
- Austria Tidbits
All Change at Ferrari?
Things at Ferrari are far from rosy. For the second time this season, team boss Jean Todt has not celebrated a Ferrari driver on the top of the podium – and others support him.
The team manager has made it clear he does not appreciate Eddie Irvine's attitude, particularly his mouth. Irvine has passed comment on team and rivals which sit poorly with the team image, and details of his contract that were supposed to remain behind closed doors, no matter how actions on track made them plain to see.
Technical Director Ross Brawn's efforts clearly contributed to Ferrari's win in Austria, so in many ways it was fitting that he was on the podium to collect the Constructor's trophy. However, it served to further highlight the rift in the team, leading many paddock pundits to conclude that either Irvine or Todt will not be at Ferrari in 2000.
And that's where things get interesting. Six months ago, it would plainly have been Irvine who would be taking the hike. But that was before Irvine posted his first win in Melbourne, and backed it up with strong performances all season, to finish the British Grand Prix level on points with his highly paid number one. Furthermore, it's rumoured that Luca di Montezemolo is finding it more and more difficult to justify Schumacher's prodigious salary to Fiat's Gianni Agnelli, particularly when the team's number two driver is providing such excellent value for money.
It's well known that Ferrari are interested in Rubens Barrichello's services for 2000, but the Brazilian does not want to run as number two to anyone, ruling out a move to Ferrari alongside Schumacher. However, with Irvine going from strength to strength, it is believed that the unthinkable might happen, and the World's Best Driver could find he has priced himself out of the market. Barrichello and Irvine in 2000 is certainly not impossible.
A less well publicised rumour has Jacques Villeneuve driving for the Italian marque. The Tifosi, whilst respecting Schumacher's talents, would go wild at the son of Gilles racing in scarlet: Villeneuve's passion for racing is clear and appeals to the Italian approach; furthermore, he is not expected to remain at BAR unless they can promise a car he can race. Whether he drives alongside Irvine – who respects Villeneuve for taking the Championship in his second year of Formula One – or Barrichello is immaterial; but either way, Schumacher would not be in the picture.
The idea of ditching Schumacher rather than Irvine was also given a boost from former Ferrari driver, Clay Regazzoni. Speaking to an Italian newspaper, the 60 year old wheelchaired driver lashed out at Ferrari for still holding Schumacher, advising them to replace him as soon as possible, preferably with Hakkinen. "If I was in the position of president Luca di Montezemolo, I would use this time [that Schumacher is absent] to review my contract with Schumacher. He has been overpaid in order to get the World Championship. That he has not achieved this in four years is a flop.
"Ferrari can afford to give up Schumacher; they should finally put their trust in Irvine who can do the same job as Schumacher for less money. Schumacher will also come back with much less motivation - he would never help Irvine. It's time for Schumacher and Todt to leave." Regazzoni added that, "Ferrari should keep Irvine and get Hakkinen instead of Schumacher. I also know that Gianni Agnelli (Fiat's president) likes Hakkinen."
So, if Schumacher leaves – and Ferrari does have an option to release him – and Todt follows, wouldn't that change the face of Ferrari?
Silly Season Update
Prost and Alesi re-united? - Italian Frenchman Jean Alesi's contract at Sauber runs out at the end of this season. He is thought likely to sign for Prost, for what perhaps is the final stage of his F1 career. Although Alesi would love to drive for Ferrari one more time, he probably won't be seen back in Maranello again. Other options for the one-time race winner could be Stewart and BAR, but those are unlikely.
Franchitti back in the news - Dario Franchitti continues to impress in the CART series, and every success causes his name to be brought up in Formula One circles. Although it's believed he has talked to Stewart, Jordan and Ferrari, few think he'll make the transition for next year.
Irvine and Burti to Jaguar - It's believed the 2000 name for Stewart Grand Prix might be Team Jaguar F1. In the wake of Eddie Irvine's comments on his number one position at Ferrari, it's widely speculated he'll wind up at Jaguar - some believe he has already signed a contract with the Ford-owned team. Meanwhile, Brazilian Luciano Burti has tested for Stewart Ford very successfully and is considered to be hot property. It's possible he will be partnering Eddie Irvine at Jaguar next year.
Coulthard's seat confirmed... or is it? - Although Mercedes' sporting director Norbert Haug expressed his satisfaction with both McLaren drivers, rumours are still circulating that David Coulthard's seat at McLaren uncertain. People like Eddie Irvine and Nick Heidfeld are still hunting the top spot that McLaren offers. Furthermore, recent rumours that Schumacher could be on the move make it possible he joins the Flying Finn at McLaren.
Sauber driverless for 2000 - Sauber could be left with no recognised drivers for next season. Jean Alesi is looking to depart, and Pedro Diniz' name has been mentioned at Benetton. With Benetton not performing well lately, their financial position is becoming difficult too. Accordingly, Diniz' multi-million-dollar sponsors are more than welcome, probably replacing Alexander Wurz.
The Grapevine will have a regular Silly Season update, along with the Silly Season Page of the F1 Rumors Team.
Picked from the Bunch
Following the Austrian Grand Prix, chairman of DaimlerChrysler - owner of Mercedes-Benz, Jurgen Schrempp, said he wants team orders introduced into McLaren immediately. Schrempp, who was in Austria during the race, was less forgiving for David Coulthard's ambitious move on his teammate at turn two, saying, "Our house is falling apart, it's time to bring in some order." However, Mercedes sporting director, Norbert Haug, and McLaren boss, Ron Dennis, both objected to introducing team orders, both saying that a real racing team lets its drivers race, and not confine them. Schrempp, if persistent, could always remind them of Jerez 97 and Australia 98...
The story published in The Sunday Times on the day of the British Grand Prix, claiming drugs were smuggled via Formula One, has been revealed as a basic re-run of an original surrounding Leyton House in the late eighties. The team was rumoured to be backed by the Yakuza and used for laundering money and moving drugs between continents. Every few years, the rumour returns...
Stewart's revised exhaust system has stabilised the back of the car, but just as importantly has opened the door to a collection of aerodynamic and suspension changes which the team intend to bring on board over the next three races. The revised orientation allows a new suspension configuration which would have overheated using the old system.
The Williams team will be known as BMW-Williams from 2000, in light of BMW becoming the title sponsors. Accordingly, the team will run in BMW colours. Williams are not believed to have discussed BMW taking a share of the company, but many in the paddock think that it is only a matter of time if the team is competitive next year.
Craig Pollock is rumoured to be out of grace at BAR, who are disappointed with the team's performance this year. Whilst they appreciate that the team gets a lot of coverage – more than their performances warrant – and whilst some blame Adrian Reynard, it seems the paymasters are not buying that story.