This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- Minardi is Hot Property
- Jaguar Launch, Aggressively
- Picked from the Bunch
- Italian Tidbits
Minardi is Hot Property
Just as his team were starting to look competitive, and get away from the back of the grid, owner Giancarlo Minardi has become frustrated by the fate of his cars in race conditions. Year in, year out, Minardi have born the brunt of being also-rans. The team, which last scored a point with Pedro Lamy in 1995, is always on the back of the grid, and struggling to stay on terms with the leaders.
The end of last season brought new hope to the team. Finishing ahead of the departing Tyrrell team, meant that Minardi's travel expenses for 1999 would be covered under the Concorde agreement, which apportions television money according to the Constructors Championship finishing positions. The sums involved in transporting cars for races came to something approaching 30% of the Minardi budget, according to some estimates. Freeing up that much capital meant the team had a real chance to show progress in 1999.
When the 1999 car first appeared on the scene, it showed some promise and moved significantly closer to the other contenders in terms of outright pace. However, as Luca Badoer commented, with the benefit of driving both for Ferrari and Minardi, it generates considerably less downforce than the leading teams, runs a relatively low powered customer Ford engine and is not quite as stable as the front runners, though at low drag circuits - particularly Hockenheim and Monza - the team was hoping to be competitive.
Major revisions to the car mid season helped the team to qualify fifteenth at Hockenheim, and they were bitterly disappointed with 19th and 20th in Monza, for all they outperformed Arrows. Discussions with Telefonica had been slow, and results from Monza were important to gain significant funding in 2000, required to ensure a competitive Supertec engine.
When both Minardi's were taken out of the race in Monza, Giancarlo Minardi saw the work with Telefonica wasted, and his disillusionment with Formula One has come to the fore: the team could now be sold, despite his preference to keep the base local in Italy, ensuring continuity for his workforce.
Telefonica have expressed some interest in buying the team outright, and running in their own colours from next season; but they are far from the only interested party.
Since the FIA are intending to make "new" teams pay a sizeable deposit, it's starting to look like a better deal to buy an existing team, and go from there. It's been know for some time that Minardi were talking to Toyota about options for the future, and now the car manufacturer sees an opportunity to save a lot of money on its planned return in 2002.
Also reported to be interested are two F3000 teams, looking to step up to F1, but without the backing to provide funds for purchasing their own space on the grid. They seem unlikely to find the funding to buy even the Minardi team, however.
Jaguar Launch, Aggressively
As predicted, Ford used the Frankfurt Motor Show to announce that the Stewart-Ford team would be renamed Jaguar, and run with Eddie Irvine and Johnny Herbert in 2000. Jackie Stewart used the opportunity to make a number of statements, including the obligatory "We will be in contention to win races and the world championship by 2001."
However, bearing in mind that this ties in with the original five year plan that Stewart were working against from their own launch, this is not a ludicrous claim: Stewart's own plans for the team, pre-buyout, expected to see them winning races in 2000, and competing for the Championships in 2001. And word from the shop floor indicates that this is not an unlikely scenario...
Designs for the 2000 car are already progressing rapidly. The team's plan is to try and make the same progress against the opposition as they did for 1999, but to try and counter the issues which made reliability such an issue at the start of this season. For 2001, the team will be looking for a similar step, but with aggressive plans for development through the season to ensure the title challenge has a real chance of success – ambitious, but not impossible.
The effort going into making a significant step for 2000 comes at a price. This year's car is no longer getting the dedicated development effort of the team, which has come through in terms of performance in recent races, though the arrival of the new engine at Monza has helped keep the car competitive against Ferrari, at least!
With Ford buying the team, some changes are taking place to the plan. The loss of development at this stage in the season is costly, and there is a lot of analysis taking place to ensure that the 2000 effort does not suffer the same problems. The effectiveness of that solution analysed around this time next year, and the changes resulting from that will form the basis for ensuring continued development of the 2001 challenger.
Picked from the Bunch
English designer John Barnard has extended his consultancy deal with the Prost team for a further two years. In return, the French team will contribute to the costs of a new facility in the UK. This deal scotches rumours that Barnard was to return to Benetton, a team he worked for in 1990 and '91. Meanwhile, Benetton has taken on three engineers and designers who until recently worked for the defunct Honda F1 team.
BMW will be testing again at Miramas in the South of France next week. A new, lighter, version of their V10 engine will be fitted into the back of a Williams chassis.
Luca Badoer said he would probably continue as Ferrari's test driver next season, but that as yet he had no firm contract to drive in the Grands Prix next season. He is still negotiating with Minardi.
If the Belgian GP is cancelled next year, because of difficulties over tobacco advertising, then Portugal is now favourite to stage a replacement Grand Prix. Originally Zandvoort in Holland was on the list, but FIA insiders reckon Estoril will get the race, having last staged a Grand Prix in 1996. Work is currently underway to rebuild the antiquated facilities.
The Brands Hatch circuit in England has just applied for planning permission to bring its facilities up to those required to stage a Grand Prix. Brands Hatch is due to take over the event away Silverstone in 2002. Owner Nicola Foulston had hoped to persuade Silverstone's owners to sell the circuit to her, thus avoiding the costs of upgrading her facility and keeping the British race at its current venue. However, the British Racing Drivers Club, which owns the Northamptonshire track does not want to sell, forcing Foulston into the more expensive option. Last week, Ecclestone met with some F1 team owners to gauge their opinion on moving the race. It is believed that Ron Dennis and Frank Williams had doubts about the suitability of Brands Hatch, as complaints from local residents would mean restrictions on F1 testing there.
When the FIA World Council meets in October, it will vote on a move that would allow any team wishing to run a Formula 1 team to do so as long as it pays FIA a 48 million dollar deposit. This would be repaid at the rate of four million dollars per month over the first year. The point of the huge deposit is to make sure that only teams capable of mounting a viable challenge will be allowed to take part. This sort of cash would not be a problem for Toyota, who are said to be already evaluating three different types of F1 engine. This large deposit has been suggested in place of the current restriction which only allows for 11 teams to take part in the sport, effectively forcing any new manufacturer like Toyota from having to buy an existing team.
News emerged this week that Damon Hill could retire before the end of the season after all. The Englishman has already announced he will quit the sport at the end of the season, having hopefully helped the Jordan team to third place in the Constructors' Championship. However stories have now emerged that he could be allowed to leave prematurely, if the team secures third place before the end of the season. Jordan currently has a 24 point lead over fourth placed Williams. If Hill did leave, possibly after the European GP, then new signing Jarno Trulli would start his Jordan career early, allowing Nick Heidfeld, already crowned F3000 champion for 1999 to replace him at Prost GP, for whom he is due to drive next year.
The whole of Monza experienced a massive power cut on Friday as the power supply could not cope with the extra demand for electricity created by the Grand Prix. Luckily the power failed after the session was over and the official timekeepers at TAG Heuer managed to time the support races with an emergency generator. But all the lights failed, journalists could not use computers and there was no air conditioning. The power cut lasted for one and a half hours, but for the first time in years, there was no FIA Friday Five press conference.
Late on Saturday night, emotions boiled over between rival groups of fans in a track side campsite. Ferrari fans, mostly Italians and Germans, were taunted by McLaren supporters and squabbles soon turned to fighting. The situation got worse when track security staff tried to calm the situation and eventually 65 people had to be treated for minor injuries. The fight led to all sorts of glass and debris landing on the track and official worked through the night to clear it in time for the 9.30 race morning warm-up.
The world's greatest soccer player, Ronaldo, visited Monza for the Grand Prix. He spent a lot of time with fellow countryman, Rubens Barrichello, but admitted that he was a big fan of Ferrari. This is not surprising as he owns two Ferraris, an F355 and a 360 Modena. He is a keen follower of F1 and remembers that as a young boy he asked Ayrton Senna for an autograph back in 1989.
Ferrari's Eddie Irvine was fined a massive ten thousand dollars this weekend for speeding in the pit lane as it was his second offence. At the other end of the scale, BAR's Ricardo Zonta got off lightly with a mere five hundred dollar fine.
Ferrari hosted a huge media dinner at the Monza circuit on Saturday night. All media credential holders were invited, so there were about 400 guests in total. Ferrari President, Luca di Montezemolo was in attendance, although he did not stay for the race the next day. There had been rumours that Michael Schumacher would come to Italy for the weekend, but the German chose to stay at home.