This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- Eddie's Dream, or Nightmare?
- FIA Move on Gravel Traps
- Benetton Disillusioned
- Silly Season Update
- Picked from the Bunch
Eddie's Dream, or Nightmare?
Eddie Irvine has rated his chances of taking the Drivers Championship at 50%... though he believes his chances of staying at Ferrari are lower.
Immediately after the race on Sunday, confronted by journalists looking for reaction to the early death of title dreams in 1999, Jean Todt made it abundantly clear that he has not yet given up hope for the title. The Ferrari team immediately set about bringing Mika Salo on board to handle the number two role, whilst promoting Irvine to the primary role in Schumacher's absence.
Ironically, Michael Schumacher's return could be crucial to securing the Drivers title, not for the German double champion, but for Irvine. Eddie's brief for the next three or four races is to maintain or close the gap with Hakkinen. The same races last year – Austria, Germany and Hungary – saw McLaren in better form than Ferrari, though it was marginal and influenced by the tyre war. With Schumacher in the car, Ferrari were expecting to win three or more of the next five races (Spa and Monza follow), but now see it will be tough going.
If Irvine scores well before Schumacher returns to the track, and is in touch with the Championship, then the German will be compelled to support him. In an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport, Irvine commented "when Michael Schumacher is back, he will have to drive for me, as I have done for him for the past three years to help him win the world championship. Now it's his turn."
Taking the Championship, and remaining with Ferrari would put Irvine and the team in a difficult position, as the car with number One on the side and carrying the reigning World Champion, having to play second fiddle to Schumacher. The German's contract guarentees him number one status in the team, and Irvine is not prepared to defend the Drivers Championship as number two to anyone.
Irvine's improved performances this year have earned him his first win, provided the team with a strong position in the constructors championship, and kept him in the title hunt. Now, with Schumacher advising Irvine to "go for it," the Irishman has to capitalise on the best chance he'll ever have to win the Driver's World Championship. But winning it could cost him a drive for 2000.
FIA Move on Gravel Traps
The Schumacher accident at Silverstone has pushed the FIA into acknowledging their research into new and better ways to stop cars when they go off track, because as Max Mosley said - "gravel was just not efficient in Michael's case. He said it didn't feel as though he was slowing at all."
Drivers have expressed concern over the best types of surface to use for years. Gravel traps have been a reasonable way to go, and are very effective in many circumstances. Peter Wright, the technical advisor for the FIA said the use of gravel does have merit as he explained: "gravel beds don't work as badly as people think, but we now have a lot of data on how well cars brake on the track and off it. We have put forward the idea that maybe in some cases you would be better off with a specially designed Tarmac than gravel. It is not the perfect solution, but it is something that we are looking at very seriously."
Particularly since the advent of grooved tyres, drivers have noted that even Tarmac seems to provide a more effective stopping force, without the disadvantage of leaving the car beached! One of the advantages of gravel is it's rapid draining properties, which allow it to remain effective in wet conditions, when Tarmac could leave a car aquaplaning across the surface.
The FIA revealed that their research has resulted in a potential new surface for run off areas, coated with a self draining paving, that's due to be tested later this season – possibly at Monza. If all goes to well, then the FIA is expected to require all tracks to upgrade their run off areas when they mandate the use of anti-spray Tarmac for the main surface.
With the Benetton team struggling to get on terms again this year, the Benetton family have become disillusioned, and are considering their options for the future. One of them is to sell the team before it completely loses its image as one of the "Big Four" constructors.
Rumours have been circling over the last couple of weeks that General Motors could be interested in acquiring the team. The American giant, which continues to deny interest in Formula One, is particularly concerned with the Ford involvement at Stewart. The change of heart is believed to be based on the high publicity the buy-out has generated in the States since the Canadian Grand Prix, and now they want a piece of the action.
It might not be so simple, however. Audi are also believed to be in talks with the team. They appear to have two offers on the table – one for an outright take over, which would see an Audi team in Formula One, and another as potential engine supplier from 2001. It's unknown if the Audi or VW branding would be used, but that's just a badging issue. Toyota have also been in touch, but are expected to run a team of their own, rather than take on another.
A decent engine deal could be sufficient to keep Benetton interested in the sport awhile longer, but the family has expected better things this year and must be ruing their decision not to go with Ford. Unless something changes soon, the writing is probably on the wall for the outfit.
Silly Season Update
The only real Silly Season talk over the last week concerns the futures of Benetton, Irvine, Salo and Trulli.
With the Irishman making noises about no longer being prepared to run as Schumacher's number two, talks of a link to Stewart have increased; though it's thought that carrying Number One on the side of the car is of little importance to Ford, who are looking to win the title themselves next year. None the less, rumours now have it that Irvine has already signed a contract with Ford, doubling his salary next year to almost 10 million US dollars.
Salo's call-up has resulted in speculation that a decent performance will see him replace Irvine for 2000, no matter how the Irishman performs. The Finn is known to be very fast – some think faster than Mika Hakkinen – so it's not impossible that he could turn in a couple of really good races. It's uncertain, though, how he would react to a number two role.
Jarno Trulli has been seen having several meetings with Eddie Jordan recently, and is thought to be lining up Damon Hill's seat for the 2000 season. He is known to be wanted by Ferrari too, and Benetton have options they can exercise until the end of 2001. However, the Jordan seat is the most likely at this time.
The Grapevine will have a regular Silly Season update, along with the Silly Season Page of the F1 Rumors Team.
Picked from the Bunch
Nicola Foulston of Brands Hatch Leisure has not given up in her quest to get hold of Silverstone. Having done everything in her power to woo Bernie Ecclestone, securing the rights to host the British GP, she doesn't have a suitable venue. Now Ron Dennis and Sir Frank Williams, both members of the British Racing Drivers Club (owners of the Silverstone circuit) are becoming involved. They wrote a joint letter to the BRDC including the statement: "We do not believe that Brands Hatch Leisure's proposals will be in the best interests of the BRDC or British motor sport."
Ferrari have denied rumours that they could redesign the F399 to operate a hand throttle in an attempt to get Schumacher back on board as soon as possible. The rumours circulated when an over-enthusiastic German publication speculated on ways for Schumacher to continue his assault on the Drivers Championship this year.
Williams used the Monza test to run the revised aerodynamics they used at the British Grand Prix. The revisions have given the team some real hope for the remainder of the season and are believed to put the Williams aerodynamics on a par with McLaren's at this time.
Minardi are negotiating with Supertec to gain an engine supply for 2000. If they succeed, then the often rumoured "twelfth team" will not be able to run Supertec engines – and probably won't be making an appearance next year.
Following statements concerning the crowd's reaction to the Schumacher accident at Silverstone, it has become clear that the TV commentators had a different view of proceedings to that shown via the big screens to the grandstand crowds. It seems that the cheering corresponded to a replay of the accident taking place, before it was known the driver was injured. Indeed, the mood in the crowd largely turned somber when the German did not get out of his Ferrari.