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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:

  • Rolling into 2000
  • They never tire...
  • Picked from the Bunch
  • Japanese Tidbits

Rolling into 2000

The chequered flag at Suzuka brought the 1999 season to a close and no team is now allowed to test until December even on their private tracks.

In the meanwhile, most of the teams will be trying to get their 2000 challengers into shape: the biggest players all started their designs as far back as July, and worked in parallel on the 1999 car; indeed, there is usually a fair amount of crossover, as components tested in preparation of the 2000 model end up on the 1999 chassis.

At Ferrari, the plans are to evolve every aspect of the car. The new shape is expected to include a lower nose to fall between the current position and the McLaren position. The plans to evolve the engine are taking a setback, as Beryllium alloy was to be used in the cylinder linings; however the so called "nuclear aluminium" does not fall into this category, so the bulk of plans proceed uninterrupted... Revised front suspension is expected to enhance the car's already exemplary mechanical grip, improving balance and reducing oversteer problems on Bridgestone's extra soft compound.

McLaren have been keeping their 2000 season components well under wraps. They are expected to produce another all-new car, though it will be closer to the 1999 model than that was to the 1998 model; however, unlike this year, the car is not expected to be late out: if reports are to be believed, they will be testing the new chassis in January.

Stewart, soon to be Jaguar, and Jordan are expected to be close to the front. Ford's engine at the heart of the Jaguar project is a gem, and many lessons from the 1999 season have been learned: the car might not have Ferrari's rock solid reliability next year, but it is expected to be one of the more reliable on the grid. That said, plans are incomplete, and delays could put them back on the slippery slope, whilst Jordan are looking forward to taking two competitive drivers into the new year. Their challenger is thought to include a ground up redesign, around the proposed new Mugen-Honda unit, which (officially) will have little in common with BAR's new Honda engine.

Talking of BAR, they have drafted Honda Research to help with the new car. Widely publicised is the information that Honda have a BAR chassis to run tests on the new engine; less open to scrutiny is the work being done to evaluate the car's weaknesses, providing feedback to BAR's design team for the new project. Unlike 1999, their car is not expected to be ready for December though a number of new components will need testing.

There are three test sessions already planned in December: the 1st to 3rd at Jerez; 8th to 10th at Estoril; and 15th to 17th at Barcelona. All in all, whilst November is the nearest thing Formula One has to a "holiday period," in fact it's just another time of stress for the car designers and manufacturers in the world's premier racing league.

They never tire...

No matter what happens, Ferrari has detractors who believe there's a conspiracy. If they had a perfect race weekend, then it's because the FIA favour them. Anything short of that, and they are vilified by the Italian press, whilst pundits around the world claim that "Todt has sold out" or "Brawn is en route to McLaren."

Finishing the 1999 season sees little change. This time, there are two schools of conspiratorial thought. The first has Schumacher's poor start down to his desire for Irvine to fail in the Championship quest. They see the tirade against Coulthard as part of the cover-up: Schumacher should have passed him quickly, as there's no way a car travelling three seconds slower than the Ferrari over three corners could hold him off. So to deflect attention, he blames Coulthard with ten corners of dirty tricks...

The other school of thought, though not widely put about, simply puts a case that the FIA made a deal with Ferrari: their appeal would succeed if they threw the Drivers' Championship, allowing McLaren to win. This would be in light of the worn tyres, which were not protested, and to ensure a tight finish to the season.

Of course, there's no evidence to support any of these theories, and different results would only have resulted in different theories, but then, that's the nature of the team - and increasingly, Formula One in general.

Picked from the Bunch

  • Bernie Ecclestone has bid for BHL (Brands Hatch Leisure) against the American advertising agency Interpublic. Rumours indicate he is also trying to purchase the Circuit de Catalunya, host of the Spanish Grand Prix, near Barcelona.

  • A Grand Prix in Egypt might be on the cards next decade, if Ecclestone's plans come to fruition: he's known to have visited the country to discuss the possibility. The FIA are keen to start racing at a couple of tracks on every continent, so alongside South Africa, an Egyptian GP would ensure all the continents are covered.

  • With Lord Hesketh's resignation from the Presidency of the British Racing Drivers Club, apparently over dissatisfaction with the proposed restructuring, Jackie Stewart is tipped as his most likely successor.

  • BMW have run another test session demonstrating that reliability is starting to come with their new engine. Officially, they are expecting to start the season in the mid-field, but hope to have won at least one race by the end of the year.

    Japanese Tidbits

  • Rubens Barrichello left Stewart with a barge-board, signed by all the staff. The gift was selected before the Ferrari Barge-board affair, but the irony of it all was not lost on anyone.

  • Damon Hill's parting gift was somewhat more useful: Mugen-Honda presented Hill with a Honda monkey bike a replica of his first motorised bike. On a different occasion this weekend, when all the drivers gathered on track for an official 1999 group photo, Hill, in a giddy mood, stole Michael Schumacher's cap "as a souvenir" and later agreed to give his long time arch-rival a personalised signature - but not before the German was seen chasing Hill around the pitlane!

  • Pit-lane speeding is an expensive business. The FIA have collected $69,250 from offenders this season, including a painful $12,250 from Ralf Schumacher alone.

  • Ralf Schumacher's consistent season has seen him break into the top ten of the World Driver's Rankings (as compiled by Champion Spark Plugs) for the first time... as his brother drops out.

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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