This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- Prodrive Reach for the Honda Baton
- Irvine's Driving Ambition
- Picked from the Bunch
Prodrive Reach for the Honda Baton
Since Prodrive announced their intention of getting into Formula One, there has been substantial speculation on how they are going to actually manage it. Nominally, the eleven teams running in 2000 are all happily ensconced, so they would not come cheap.
Early rumours indicated Prodrive would look to buy Arrows or Minardi; or failing that, buying into Benetton. Owner David Richards, however, is insistent that the return would be managed "properly" – ie, not buying into the back of the grid, or attempting a half baked entry with a front runner.
Since Prodrive found serious cash backing, selling 49% of the company to APEX, a new rumour is heading the lists. Believing the speculation, we could expect to see Prodrive-Honda on the grid in 2001...
With internal wrangling at board level, and a surprisingly poor record to date, British American Racing are not impressing on many levels, but have the infrastructure and connections to slide onto the top of Richards' shopping list. It's believed that the BAR contract with Honda is based on performance clauses. Richards is believed to have approached British American Tobacco (the major shareholder of BAR) and Honda with a deal to pick up the baton, as follows:
Prodrive is thought to be teaming up with Robin Herd, who has been trying to get back into Formula One since March folded. They are both Oxfordshire based, well funded, and looking to get back into F1 with a works engine deal. They would aim to buy out Craig Pollock, Adrian Reynard and a large part of the British American Tobacco interest in BAR. BAT would be expected to continue sponsoring, maintaining a global presence, and the corporate entertainment advantages. Honda would be asked to add capital to the new venture, in return for an interest in the team and increased exposure. A variation on this rumour has BAT completely bought out, and Honda bringing Camel on board as the title sponsor in their place.
The BAR buyout rumours have not been substantiated in any fashion but are particularly popular with fans of Villeneuve, who are unhappy at seeing him struggle to score points. Should it come to pass, the combination is likely to result in a competitive team - Richards and Herd have plenty of experience, and when aligned with Honda's development capacity, there's a potent mix that could prove explosive.
Irvine's driving ambition
Eddie Irvine's opinion on Michael Schumacher's chances in 2000 are well known – he puts the German as top dog for the season's honours. These headlines are making the news aplenty, but belie the odds he'd quote for others in the paddock.
After serving four tough years as 'apprentice' to Schumacher, Irvine has no fear of any driver on the grid. He knows he can be quick, and is confident that he'll soon be on Herbert's pace; indeed, he'll be disappointed if he is not quicker than Herbert by mid-season.
Off the record, Irvine's plans for the next two years are simple, but ambitious. He's bought Jackie Stewart's five year plan. The 2000 car is going to be very good – the pick of the pack by mid-season, if all goes according to the magic script; coincidentally the time he expects to be at full flow himself.
The plans for the 2001 Jaguar are already started; the foundations of the project are layed in the lessons learned from 1999. This year's challenger will be used to check the effectiveness of the lessons and refine the process for the Big One, which Irvine predicts will be his best chance of the championship, in his own right, rather than at the behest of a team that couldn't seize its moment.
So, Irvine predicts 2000 as Schumacher's year; but it's a completely different ball-game in 2001. Keep a watchful eye on the green car! (Well, if it stays green, that is...)
Picked from the Bunch
BMW and Williams are performing in the midfield with the new engine in last year's car. They believe the unit is already better than the Supertec, and it's just at the start of the development cycle: BMW employees have a sweepstake on when the team will win its first race, with odds on 2000 now even!
Zanardi rumours continue to run riot; the Italian has stated the future is not confirmed, whilst industry insiders claim the only thing that's undecided is the severance package...
Jos Verstappen is expected to land a seat in 2000. Rumours of a drive at Arrows are most common, but there has been talk of testing roles at Williams and Jordan.
Having officially stopped supplying customer units, Ford are expected to distance themselves from the Minardi association in 2000 by requesting they rebadge the engines. Fittingly, considering the huge investment, the team will probably be known as Minardi-Telefonica.