This week's Grapevine brings you
information fresh from the paddock on:
- Prost Plans for the Future
- Silly Season Closure
- Picked from the Bunch
Prost Plans for the Future
With a planned test cancelled to avoid Jarno Trulli taking secrets of new developments on the Prost chassis to Jordan next year, Speculations began on what Prost are developing for the 2000 season and beyond.
It is widely believed that the test did not, in fact, involve any radical new parts – rather, it is thought to have been required for evaluating potential benefits from a number of components being considered for the 2000 suspension and braking systems. However, there have been a number of tales told about Prost's plans to win races by the end of 2000, and potentially a championship in 2001.
Rumours of the hydraulic-based "active" suspension indicate it's still only on the drawing board – the complicated nature of the wheel interactions over bumps has the computer model showing the current designs would be incredibly difficult to set up effectively. The model did reveal, however, that potential gains worth literally a second per lap could be on the cards for a perfect implementation.
The theorists are looking at taking the hydraulic suspension concept further, with a "self tuning" variant which changes the ride height of the car, according to the conditions it "feels," via the wheel movements. It would mean that on a long straight, as the car picks up speed, it would settle – effectively reducing the ride height – on relatively flat surfaces. Under braking, the system would react to the "bump" on the front wheels to raise the ride height, making the cars configuration suitable for riding the curbs.
The systems under discussion are substantially more difficult to implement than the active ride suspensions of the early 90's and Prost could be delayed until 2001 in getting a working version on his cars; but the potential advantages preclude dropping the concept at this time.
Beyond suspensions, the team is examining new ways of looking at aerodynamics. Recent results comparing wind-tunnel results to the real world effects the cars feel have demonstrated that there are some big issues to be addressed. A full scale wind tunnel is costly, but currently seen as the "best" way to test new components – computer modelling helps to reduce the number of components which require testing, but is insufficiently developed at this time to provide the complete answer. However, Prost seems to be hoping to steal a march on rivals and is investigating a parallel technology: water tunnels.
This technology has a number of benefits. Small models, using water rather than air, can be used to simulate the cars on the track. The water flow rate required to simulate high speed air-flow is quite low, and the results are an almost perfect match against the wind tunnel. However, Prost are thought to be interested in another benefit. They are believed to be investigating building models from a flexible substance, which allows the water flow to further mould the design, effectively reducing the drag associated with test components. How far this approach will take the team remains to be seen.
Lastly, Prost has not been lax on tracking down a good engine supply to replace Peugeot at the end of 2000. Whilst it's possible that Peugeot would remain in the sport if Prost have a good year, the team have been looking at potential deals with Renault, Honda and Ford to replace the unit.
Both Prost, and the French government - which appears to be considering backing the team as a national project - favour a Renault deal. Renault are believed to be considering the proposal seriously, as it would provide them with an opportunity to return to Formula One, replacing a home-market rival, and potentially out-performing them from the outset. Rumours of the French manufacturer's return were rife until they spent heavily to buy Nissan. It's been believed that the purchase robbed the coffers for Formula One development, but internal reports indicate that the market presence generated by a successful engine in Formula One should be worth the costs. Considering Nissan also have high tech engine building expertise, the project is not as far fetched as many believe.
Should the Renault option fail to materialise, it's thought that Prost would be able to gain customer deals with either Ford or Honda. The Ford project is – officially – a manufacturer only affair at this time, but a return to supplying customer engines in a strategic technology alliance (ie, a head-start on hydraulic suspension) is thought to be negotiable. Furthermore, with Jordan running "works" specification Honda engines in all but name from next year, Mugen-Honda are believed to have the capacity to run customer units for other teams, providing valuable income for further development of the works units.
All told, Prost's plans are certainly ambitious. The revolutionary suspension is likely to be troublesome, as active ride was in 1990. New ideas for improving aerodynamics might provide unexpected leaps, and plans to ensure a decent engine for the future were on the cards anyway. However, the plan has potential, and whilst there could be a lot of problems over the next couple of seasons, it is certainly possible that Stewart will not be the only new team to buck trends, and leap to the front of the grid.
Silly Season Closure
With all the major teams completing their line-up, the Silly Season for 2000 has pretty much come to a close. There will be sporadic rumours concerning the drivers for Minardi and Arrows – probably through to February next year – but basically all the pieces fell into place when Ferrari and Barrichello announced their plans for the forthcoming season.
So, with Barrichello going to Ferrari, and Irvine expected to announce his move to Stewart – renamed Jaguar – there are no major surprises waiting in the wings, and the rumours mill is running slowly. Be sure that we'll continue to bring you the latest news and views when driver's contracts come up in the rumour mill...
Picked from the Bunch
Rumours of Damon Hill's early retirement have come to the fore again – speculation has the English driver ending his racing career at Monza, if Jordan's third place in the championship is safe. It's thought this might be a move to allow Honda's driver Jos Verstappen time behind the wheel to prove himself, after the sterling work he put in to develop their test chassis at the start of this year.
Luca Badoer is considering not renewing his testing contract with Ferrari, after being disappointed by the team's decision to use Mika Salo in Schumacher's absence.
South Africa are also petitioning for the Spa date in 2000. After the high attendance at a Formula One test at the Kyalami circuit, they are hoping to swing their return to the calendar a year earlier than originally expected.
And a few grapes collected by our friends at RaceFax Online:
The Monza organisers have modified the gravel traps in the first chicane, the second Lesmo, the Ascari chicane and the Parabolica, giving them an upward slope, just as the drivers have been requesting.
BMW is believed to have blown 64 engines so far, in their tests for the 2000 season. What is more worrying, is that the September tests have now been called off after the latest spec engine still proved bellow par - it puts out 660 bhp, 10 % less than a Supertec engine, and it weighs at 27 kilos heavier then the ford engine.
After his first pit stop in Belgium, Heinz-Harald Frentzen kept asking the Jordan pit - with increasing desperation - who had passed him. Finally, he got the word that no one had actually passed him. He'd lost a place briefly during the pit stop shuffle, but returned to third place after others stopped. The team had simply forgotten to replace 'P4' with 'P3' on his pit sign board.
Like Ayrton Senna before him, Michael Schumacher has licensed cartoonists to create a comic strip character based on himself. Marlboro is not pleased at the prospect, because the character will be named "MS", which coincidentally is the brand name of a Marlboro competitor in Italy.
After Ricardo Zonta followed the lead of Jacques Villeneuve by crashing a BAR heavily at Eau Rouge, Villeneuve's fitness guru, Erwin Gollner, reportedly asked the Canadian, "Do you feel ambitious? Ricardo's crash looked much better than yours."
The Formula One Commission met last week, and has apparently approved Ford's request to rename the Stewart team as Jaguar. The announcement of the change is expected at the Frankfurt auto show, following the Italian Grand Prix.
Also on the agenda at the F1 Commission meeting was a proposal from FIA president Max Mosley to cut GP meetings to two days, reducing expenses for the teams and allowing the money to be used to expand the schedule to 20 races. It was, apparently, an offer the teams found easy to refuse. Also discussed were possible new teams, including Toyota, of course, but also a resuscitated Lotus, under David Hunt, and a third team, run by Robin Herd and former Onyx team boss Mike Earle, reportedly with CART's Gerry Forsythe providing the hefty deposit required to enter F1. Forsythe is also a part-owner of the BAR team.
The Zhuhai circuit in China is still doubtful, despite being on the tentative 2000 F1 calendar. The FIA has told Chinese track officials more changes are necessary to the pits and garages.