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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:

  • Massive Rule Changes Planned for 2001
  • Nothing but a hound-dog
  • Picked from the Bunch

Massive Rule Changes
Planned for 2001

Back in April, there was much made of the teams' intentions to hold a "get together" and decide changes to the car regulations, with the intention of bringing out aspects that promote racing.

As it turned out, the meeting was cancelled because a number of team owners could not make it. Further attempts to get the owners together have always failed on the same premise. A committee was set up to research methods by which overtaking could be promoted only to have its results dismissed by the FIA, apparently on the grounds that too much overtaking was a bad thing...

Earlier this year, the drivers had a meeting, where they suggested a number of changes for the future which might improve the racing without shifting the balance too far the other way. These ideas, and others, were discussed by the F1 Technical Working Group this week, in an attempt to bring the battle for grip into better balance between aerodynamic and mechanical components.

The discussion included:

  • Smaller, higher mounted front wings
  • Banning the rear diffuser
  • Extending the side-pods forward to just behind the front wheels
  • Permitting profiled side-pods (as opposed to flat bottomed)
  • Banning multiple wing elements on front and rear wings
  • Returning to the "wide track" format (making the cars 10cm wider)
  • Returning to slick tyres
  • Moving to the all-weather tyre advocated by Max Mosley
  • Setting a maximum rev-limit for the engines

    At the outset, the plans aimed to make a big cut into the aerodynamic downforce available, and working at increasing the mechanical grip without using artificial controls like the Handford device (a board across the rear-wing to break up air flow).

    The idea was to make the cars more controllable on the limit, so that a gust of wind doesn't stop the driver attempting an overtaking manoeuvre; however, the sheer number of approaches being advocated turned out the be the movement's own worst enemy:

    "What really concerned some of us was the scatter-gun agenda which seemed to reflect a huge and sudden appetite for change," said one team insider. "As a result, the meeting really broke up in disorder without anything being firmly agreed."

    The FIA are keen to continue working on the theme, though enough to propose another meeting in January to "extend the December meeting," but the plan was vetoed. The upshot is that no changes will take place for 2001 unless all the teams agree on them; and with many looking for stability in the regulations, particularly regarding the tyres, that's looking unlikely at this time.

    Nothing but a Hound-dog

    With the engine stakes hotting up for 2000, Supertec are getting very concerned about the competitivity of their new engine. Acknowledged as a difficult unit in 1999, Briatore's baby proved to be high on vibration and low on reliability. Furthermore, it was clearly short on power compared with all other engines bar the Ford unit in the Minardi, and the TWR in the Arrows. All three teams using the engine were disappointed, issuing public complaints against its performance, particularly considering the high price they paid.

    The story for next season was intended to be a completely different affair: well publicised intentions for limiting supply to two teams, whilst investing heavily in building a completely new engine, was to revolutionise the unit's results. The all-new, smaller, lighter and highly reliable unit was to be seen in at least three major versions through the year, with a fourth at the end of the season, pending results and financial considerations.

    The investment, allegedly spearheaded by Renault's research and development department, was not expected to put the engine at the front of the grid, but should have put it in the same ball-park, allowing Benetton to compete against the Jordans and Stewarts of the world. However, with the BMW engine coming on better than expected, a difficult season might be in progress, but the unit is showing some real potential.

    Honda's new unit for the BAR chassis is already working well and has an aggressive development path for the next three seasons; Peugeot finally appear to have delivered the goods Prost asked for, and Minardi have landed a plum deal with the CR-1 Ford engine used by Stewart in '99.

    Accordingly, despite a huge investment in the engines and promise of performance, the Supertec teams for 2000 are looking at running on a par with Sauber - at the back of the grid.

    Picked from the Bunch

  • Michelin's return to the F1 fold with Williams and Toyota has started speculation in the paddock. It's thought the FIA may insist the manufacturer supplies at least three teams, and there seems to be significant jockeying by the tail-enders to be in the right place if it happens.

  • Engine suppliers will not be compelled to offer a supply of works engines to at least two teams, as proposed by Bernie Ecclestone. The move, designed to ensure all teams have a chance at a competitive engine, was blocked by Ferrari.

  • Media coverage of BMW's pending entry into Formula One has stirred speculation that Audi will follow soon. One of the more believable rumours is that Arrows will start 2001 with an Audi engine, based on the '99 Hart unit; the project will be run by the (currently redundant) Audi UK squad, led by ex Spirit F1's John Whickham.

  • Australian Mark Webber is reaching deep into his sponsors pockets', looking for two million dollars to seal a deal with Arrows. It seems the offer is coming cheap, as he impressed so much at the last test.

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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