F1 Rumors - news ahead of the headlines

Week of the 29th November 1998:

Warning shots have been fired for 1999

With the third day of testing wiped out, all the teams taking part in the test at Barcelona are headed home to see what they can do about ensuring their 1999 cars work with Bridgestones new tyres.

The best settled in on the new rubber is undoubtedly Ferrari, who have definitely thrown down a gauntlet to McLaren: whilst neither team was running a true 1999 car, both tried out new parts that are expected to be on their new contenders. The bad news for McLaren is that Ferrari already have a bead on the tyres, and there is going to be no help from Bridgestone to stay ahead of the competition this year - indeed, if rumours about Ferrari's contract with Bridgestone are true, the opposite will happen.

Jordan made their mark too - being only tenths off the pace, even though like Ferrari they are changing rubber. It would certainly be a more interesting season if they can mix it with the big boys from the start this year!

The question is: who is going to win in Melbourne? We'll give you a rundown on the odds (from viewpoints inside the teams) next week. Meanwhile, of you have an opinion, voice it on the F1 Forum!

Engine revelations

There are several hinderances to high revs in a modern Formula One engine, with a number of established work arounds.

As revs go through about the 17,000 rpm mark (V10 engines), there is a serious problem getting more power from increasing the revs further, as the spark literally doesn't get time to propagate through the gas in the chamber - reducing the explosion to propel the piston.

Reducing the volume of the cylinder (by, for example, moving to a V12 configuration) helps, as does clever positioning and timing of valves; but multiple sparks has became the way to go.

Another factor is the inertia of the pistons - bigger pistons take more effort to move, and are harder to get up to pace - traded off against the friction of the piston against the walls of the chambers and the drive shaft... fewer, larger pistons have reduced friction at expense of mass (also providing torque benefits, particularly at low revs), whilst more, smaller pistons have less mass to move at a higher cost in friction. Again, recent developments have made this less of an issue: McLarens low friction cylinder linings might well be one of the key items in bringing V12 engines back for Ferrari or Honda in 2000.

Then again, valves are a difficult sticking point: already, they open and close faster than mechanical springs would allow (as the recovery time just isn't good enough), and are now driven by high pressure gas.

One of the Powertech breakthroughs - which will probably be seen in any number of engines by 2000 - is to change the concept of the valve system, to operate using a rotating mechanical mechanism that is designed not simply to open and close precisely (per a normal valve), but in the process of opening or closing to actually enhance the gas exchange process.

The question is, who will run with this engine in 2000?

Thoughts of Jordan...

The Jordan team are quietly pleased with the test results so far in Barcelona: the change over to Bridgestone is happening smoothly, and they are getting onto the pace really very quickly.

Whilst testing times are not true performance markers, sources in the team have suggested they expected to be around half a second off the pace that Ferrari or McLaren might muster; ending both the first two days well inside that mark - and well ahead of other teams - is a considerable bonus. Especially after losing track time with Damons little excursion damaging the car.

All they have to do now is keep up the progress...

Testing Blues

Testing times are always supposed to be taken with a pinch of salt. That said, it seems that Ferrari are not suffering from the new tyre regulations very much: their current car in the hands of Luca Badoer is quicker than David Coulthard in a championship winning McLaren...

It remains to be seen which evolutions either team was running, but the rumour mill keeps come up with speculation that Ferrari are running a 'between versions' engine - a half way house between the unit from the end of last year, and what they will be running next year. Quite what that means, or how they would do so is another issue altogether... unless it's the new engine mapping technology on the old engine, or revised electronics on the old block, or something along those lines. More likely, Ferrari have simply made an excellent transition to the new tyres...

A strong showing by Damon Hill in the Jordan indicates the team has not fallen off the pace by moving to the new Bridgestones - the team is looking forward to trying some new parts intended for the 99 car, but gathering data on the new tyres takes precedance. Having said which, after the comments Damon made about Ferrari progress last season (compared to the Jordan teams progress on a tenth the budget), it would be an unfortunate time to start going backwards!

Do not be misled by Zanardi's apparently slow times... the running order for the day never had him in a qualifying trim during the peak time setting periods - quite intentionally. His role for the day was to get to grips with the Williams, so that when he is let loose properly, it doesn't get written off! At this stage, his technical feedback on a planned program is of far more use (and importance) than a time at the top of the timesheets. There's more to come here!

Mika Salo (Arrows) outperformed Pedro Diniz (now with Sauber) as usual, but that is expected to change as the season progresses: the Sauber team are taking trouble over the settup of the car for the coming season, and are losing time now learning how to dial out understeer - the major requirement for their star driver Alesi to perform at his best.

So, few suprises from the first test... but noone is driving their new cars - we will not see any true comparisons until all the 1999 contenders are out in February - and that will have a couple of surprises!

Zakspeed win the Arrows battle.

Zakspeeds $55 million bid looks likely to be enough to take the Arrows name out of the sport.

The deal went ahead, despite a strong bid from Walkinshaw's friend, African Prince Malik Ado Ibrahim, and could spell the end of the Arrows name. Zakspeed are now likely to relocate the team into Germany. What happens next is what we aim to find out... we'll let you know!

If you think you know, tell us all on the F1 Forum.

The psychological war has started!

The first public shots in the psychological war for the 1999 championship have been fired!

Michael Schumacher, usually the master in this area, was on the receiving end from Damon Hill, who commented on BBC television "I wonder about his ability to develop cars and make the right decisions because quite often you see situations where the car looks good at the start of the season but gets worse throughout the year. There is more to it than just driving."

News from inside the team, as well as the public image, puts the Jordan team as an outside contender for the title this year: with Mugen-Honda designing an all new engine for the challenge, and Jordan hoping to maintain the rapid improvement rate acheived at the end of last season, they expect to be in the top six for qualifying and the race in at least half the races this season. This really could be year that Jordan prove their claim that they are as good as the 'top four', and are expecting a top three finish to the season, though they are hoping - and working for - even better things.

Launch date Blues

In the run up to the 1999 season, we are seeing a number of different approaches to getting the cars out: some teams, notably BAR (who are new to the game), need to get out as early as possible... requiring as much running time as possible to iron out reliability problems.

Others will be appearing late - Williams, Sauber and possibly McLaren, will unveil at the start of February. Their strategy lies on keeping the cars in the wind tunnel as long as possible to get the most out of the aerodynamics - which removes the issues surrounding remaking half the shell when the solution required for the start of season is known. This relies on a clear understanding of the mechanics involved in the new car, and knowing that the cars reliability will not suffer excessively from the reduced track time.

Then there is the Ferrari approach. Most teams run tests with new bits on old cars, gathering data for the final solution whilst keeping the new car in the wind tunnel, or get the car out and run the new bits on the new car. Ferrari are different. Leveraging their enourmous budget, they can have the contender out, unofficially, a month in advance, whilst still developing aerodynamic solutions flat out. They can get a lot of running in with all the new bits on the intended new car, knowing that aerodynamic improvements can be fitted before the release - even if a complete overhaul is required, as the actual release version is developed in parallel to the car being tested on the track. Enhancements found on track and in the wind tunnel both go straight on to the car; potential reliability issues are substantially cut by actually running all the parts properly in tests.

Ferrari performance and reliability is no accident - the structure is there, and phenominal work goes in to making it happen: McLaren stole a march last year, but expect reliability to be the key to this season. Performances levels at the top are close, and it's going to be missed opportunities that make or break title hopes again.

Ferrari F650 out by Christmas

It's officially unofficial, but the F650 should be taking its first steps in the real world before Christmas.

Luca Badoer tested a large number of parts for the car (before the Japanese Grand Prix) on a heavily revised F300, so much of the new car has already seen the light of day. But the first true F650 chassis is nearing completion, and expected to run some preliminary tests more than a month in advance of the cars official release.

Once more, we can expect to see Ferrari running camoflage Black cars before their more spectacular colours are revealed at the official opening - and we can tell you now, that is definitely something to look forward to!

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