F1 Rumors - news ahead of the headlines

Week of the 1st November 1998:

Thoughts on the Future... Toyota in Formula One.

Toyota want to be in Formula One for 2001. An interesting position, since the FIA have fixed the maximum number of teams that may take part in the Championship at 12, and Honda look likely to fill the last slot for 2000. So what are they to do? Well, the three options available are to (a) get the FIA to increase the limit; (b) buy a team - the equivalent to getting a team to leave the championship; or (c) to be an engine manufacturer providing works engines.

Frankly, option (a) is unlikely - the FIA give governments a hard time over changing their policies, so a manufacturer attempting to break in would have to show some pretty impressive reasons for changing the rules on their behalf. Indeed, the only manufacturer who ever held that sort of sway over the FIA is Ferrari!

So what about option (b) then? Surely someone can be induced to sell their team? Well, here we can keep the field fairly narrow - in recent years, some teams have changed hands and there is no reason not to think more will do so. Lets check out the cases... We can rule out some obvious teams - among the leaders, Ferrari, McLaren and Williams will be around for a while yet. In the middle, BAR are new and keen, and Peter Sauber has never looked likely to sell out, whilst at the back, Prost and Minardi are sure to be around for the next decade - though if Prost did sell out, it would be to a French buyer! Honda would be in their second year, and not interested in selling so soon.

So that leaves us considering the remainder... Rocco Benetton might have had enough of running his own team by then, though it is more likely he is just getting on top of the job, and keeping his team consistently at the right end of the grid through a season. So he would not yet be very keen to move on.

In the middle order, there is Jordan, which would have the additional benefit of several years experience of running with arch rival Hondas engines. A big bonus for a team whose sole purpose in the sport is to beat that particular rival! And if the money is right, and Eddie is in the right mood, who wouldn't believe the team to be available; so there is a very real possibility there.

And at the back of the grid, we are looking at Stewart and Arrows. Both teams are in need of some improvements to keep their spirits up - and if Stewards Works engine deal with Ford ends before they have shown any real results, where are they going to get competitive power from? The selling option might appear attractive... as might option (c) - the Toyota works deal.

A Toyota Works deal. Who would be interested in that? Well, all the back runners without one would love the benefits of a Works engine deal; the money freed up for other development and extra power of a dedicated power plant could make a massive difference to their fortunes over a season. Of the front runners, there is little chance of change - with Renault returning to the scene, powering BAR and probably Benetton, BMW for Williams, Ford attempting getting in on the act with Benetton, and Ferrari as always keeping their own power plant, options are distinctly limited.

So, where might such a deal work? Toyota would not be likely to supply works engines to more than two teams; one is most likely. Obviously, they would want to supply the best team possible in order to get the best results. With the top teams powered up, that leaves Jordan and Sauber.

But Jordan run Honda, and Sauber Ferrari engines, I hear you say... well this is true at the moment - but there are sound reasons why this might not remain so. Sauber have been looking to develop their own engine for some years now, yet remain using the Ferrari plant for a number of reasons. A major problem with that is the politics which keep them on the same rubber, and the engine at least a year behind the Ferrari plant - after all, Ferrari would be embarrassed if another team beat them using their own engines! Without that restriction, who knows how much better Sauber might be doing.

But with an outside chance also is Jordan. This team is attempting to get their current contract with Honda extended to 2001. Also, they have plenty of experience of working with Japanese engine manufacturers... and Toyota will be able to develop its F1 engine in a car that it's rivals used, enabling a very accurate rating between the Honda and Toyota power plants to be made - so the benefits for them are plain to see.

Or the Prost team. With Peugeot concerned about their expenditure in Formula One, and threatening to withdraw at the end of next season, there is a team with enormous potential that will be looking for just this sort of deal.

But will they beat Honda? That is an important question. There will be no Toyota in Formula One unless they believe they can at least beat Honda - for if they are not at least competitive with their main rival, their is no point in being there. This is why the Works deal looks most likely: with a front runner if they can get it (Benetton are the only possibility at this point; BARs plans tie it to the new Renault plant, Williams with BMW, Ferrari as always their own masters), or a middle order if not - which is more likely to be Sauber than Jordan, if the latter gets its way and renews the contract with Honda to the end of the 2001 season. Buying a team is a difficult proposition: do you buy a back runner and build a new team, or a frontrunner and attempt to integrate? Either way, expect a very interesting first year of Formula One as the learning curve is very steep. Easier by far to be competitive in the Engine department before committing to buying a team.

That brings us on to a varient of the last option: running under another name. Why should Toyota risk appearing uncompetetive if they can simple get another manufacturer to run the risk for them? What are the odds that, should there be a works deal in the offing, it is Yamaha that appears on the engine cover... will we see Yamaha fronting for Toyota, developing a top specification power plant to kick start the Toyota entry when they put their own name on a car? The rumour mill already has a Toyota, Yamaha, Arrows linkup - which has massive potential: who cannot believe that a little bit of power in the current John Barnard chassis won't transform the team? Maybe a Yamaha plant would not power them along with the current front runners, but a Yamaha developed with Toyota might be another story altogether.

So, the bottom line. Will we see Toyota in Formula One?

Probably. The odds are strongest for a Works deal with Arrows, Sauber or Jordan, and maybe a second plant in the Prost. After that, Toyota might purchase, in order of likelihood, Arrows, Jordan, Benetton or Stewart.

But at the end of the day, I guess we all just have to wait and see.

Do you have an opinion? Voice it on the F1 Forum.

Takagi's Honda Place

Whilst it is possible that Takagi may get a drive with Arrows next year, he is expected to be at least a test driver for Honda in 1999... and if their prototype proves competative, he will be in the driving seat for Melbourne next year.

Honda are not really expecting their first attempt to fly, and will most likely spend next year in serious development for a 2000 entry, in which case they would want their drivers to be available for testing - but would not be adverse to their continuing to gain experience with other teams.

A number of possibilities for a second test seat have been bandied about - Mika Salo has a definite contract, in the event of his Arrows seat falling through, and Jos Verstappen is the most believable of the other names, as even though his speed is sometimes suspect, his technical feedback is excellent.

Michelin to enter F1 with Williams

Williams has denied rumours that has them switching to Michelin tyres in 2000.

Italian paper 'Gazzetta dello Sport' reported that the team would only sign a one year contract with Bridgestone because of a deal with French tyre manufacturers Michelin.

Williams technical director Patrick Head said: 'Michelin has declared no interest in F1. There is no contract between us and no discussions have taken place.' Michelin have been linked with the BMW sportscar programme and BMW are to supply Williams with engines in 2000. However, Michelin would have to declare their intentions to enter Formula 1 in 2000 before the end of the year as new rulings state that tyre manufacturers must give at least a years notice of joining or quitting the sport.

Should Michelin decide that Formula One is the way to go, then also look for Prost to be on their rubber - and receiving preferential treatment, as the French company would be under enourmous pressure from home to help what amounts to the national team.

Yamaha to return to F1

Yamaha is believed to be considering a return to Grand Prix racing only 12 months after pulling out of the sport. Two representatives of the Japanese company were at the Japanese Grand Prix and are understood to have met Tom Walkinshaw whose Arrows team ran the engines in 1997.

It is believed that the company is eyeing a return to the sport as early as 2000, though close links to Toyota, also said to be intending to enter the Formula 1 fray, could cause a problem.

Then again, it might make a lot of sense... it is well known that Toyota would like to get into Formula One to beat Honda, but would not like the stigma of getting involved, only to be thouroughly thrashed. By using Yamaha as a front, in the same way as Mugen-Honda is fronting Honda, they can become involved without much risk. So an Arrows Yahama linkup in 2000, using the experience from developing the Arrows plant as a boost to the development of the Toyota/Yahama plant, could be a solid first step.

If this is the planned route, then we could look to see Toyota buy Arrows as soon as the engine is competitive (maybe as early as 2001) to make a real entry as chassis builder too.

1999 Will be slower... and pit stops fewer.

At least, until the teams get their acts together with the cars. It has long been established that the greatest factor in improved performance over the years has been tyre influence: a 10% aerodynamic improvement can save 1 second, whilst a 2% tyre improvement will save the same time.

With Bridgestone working alongside the FIA to reduce times next year, they are introducing a harder compound and extra grove in the front tyre (the alternative was to produce lateral grooves).

The net result of this will be all the teams running on tyres that are harder to support both the reduced surface area from the extra groove, and the requirement to take 3 or 4 seconds off lap times. As a result, the tyre wear rate will be much the same for all teams, and is expected to be lower than this years wear by the time full production goes into effect for next year - resulting in less degredation of the tyres as the race progresses, and fewer pitstops for new boots.

There are some interesting possibilities for the coming season, tyre wise: Bridgestone can still provide "Prime" and "Option" tyres, much like this season, or could even increase the range, as they will not have to put in any significant development between races. It could allow for the teams to gain a noticable performance benefit, at a controlled degredation in wear characteristics; the safety factors are adhered to - the wear rates for each type of tyre will be well established - and teams opting for faster tyres will be compelled to make the extra stops as their tyres will certainly not last the extra distance of the nominally slower tyres.

As a side benefit, the increased tactical side can be made more interesting again by drivers who are able to look after their tyres: using 'fast' tyres to set a top qualifying lap, then look after them in the race to use fewer stops than expected (whilst holding up others who might be attempting to benefit from greater durability), could throw some surprises.

All in all, there is opportunity for some very interesting drives next year - though whether it improves the on track overtaking against the pit stop passing is another issue altogether.

Mika Hakkinen takes the Championship!

No, this is not a preview for next year (though it might be)! F1 Rumors would like to take this opportunity to congratulate this years title contenders, in particular Mika for a superb season, culminating in the Drivers Championship, and Michael Schumacher for keeping it interesting to the last - his excellent race in Japan a fitting tribute to his talents and Ferrari luck this year; also, the Jordan team for their comeback to ensure interest doesn't stop with the top two teams alone.

Let's hope next year runs as well - Michaels renewed determination to take the title, Mika's to defend it, Williams signs of return to form, and Eddie Jordans intent to mix it with the leaders all promise to make next year another to remember.

Toyota to take over Arrows?

Rumors suggest that Toyota is looking to take over Arrows. An approach will be made during this weekends Japanese GP. If Toyota goes though with the plans, they will enter F1 in 1999. If not, they may supply engines to Arrows in 1999 and enter a works based team in the year 2000.

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