F1 Rumors - news ahead of the headlines

Week of the 6th December 1998:

Psychological Warfare!

Returning to the topic of Damon Hill's comments on the ability of Michael Schumacher to develop a car, that the Ferrari team is really the old Benetton team, and the recent release of his book which portrays the actions of the double world champion in a bad light, and considering the additional comments by Eddie Jordan about the Schumachers in general, don't you see something of a pattern emerging?

Sorry to be cynical, but it's all being done with intent! There are two reasons for it, and both are being served admirably: Damon's book is selling substantially better for the 'revelation' that he is not happy with Michael Schumacher. And the all important psychological war for the 1999 season is getting into full swing - but for a change, it's not in favour of the German.

Doubt me? Well - check any Formula One bulletin board or chat, and the returning issues are outraged Schumacher fans responding to the hint that their hero isn't all he could be. Usually, they are not even in full possession of the original statements (or chose to ignore the qualifications) and are returning fire at Damon or Eddie... so it's easy to tell the comments are effective.

I guess the next question is, did Eddie and Damon sit down and plan this? Or is it a silent agreement? When will Heinz-Harold join the party? And biggest of all, will it work?

However we look at it, psychology is an important factor in Formula One, and it's nice to see someone other than the old Maestro playing the mental game!

The heat is on!

It's always said that testing times must be taken with a pinch of salt... but that is only true for comparing teams against each other! Team mates are another story - the basic premise that your team mate has the same equipment holds true in testing too, usually.

After Heidfeld set a stunning time in Jerez, Ron Dennis was heard to joke 'looks like a Heidfeld and Hakkinen front row for Melbourne, then!' - something that David Coulthard probably would not find amusing in the slightest.

Similarly, Ralf's excellent performance in the Williams is being noticed - certainly it the car suits his style (more on that next week), but the times he is putting up are definitely worthy of attention...

All told, there are people wondering what both David Coulthard and Alex Zanardi are doing so far off the pace of those they are supposed to be better than; but the official team lines on both cases are that they were proceeding with a normal test program that did not permit them to run with a qualifying setup at peak times. I guess we'll just have to wait and see!

It's a question of tyres.

So. What difference does a tyre make, anyway? All the teams are running on the same tyres - so what's the big deal?

A good question. It's true that the teams are all running on the same tyres, so they all have the same problems to battle against. The winning team this year will certainly be the best (or so close as makes no difference) at handling the particular issues of the 1999 specification Bridgestone tyre. But what makes this tyre it different to last years?

Well, the differences are obviously not so great as when grooves were introduced in the first place. Adding a single extra groove to the front tyre and setting a minimum width should, at first sight, have little impact. Where things get interesting is when the other factors are taken into account. Including the thinking behind the change: Bridgestones brief for the year was to make the cars slower by a couple of seconds per lap using tyres alone.

The reduced contact from the extra groove requires Bridgestone to use harder compounds (or the tyres wear too fast). This in turn further reduces the mechanical grip available to the car... so Bridgestone just ensure the tyres are hard enough for the required slowdown to happen.

Furthermore, the wider front tyre, in addition to increasing drag and reducing top speeds, ensures that there is a bigger disruption to the airflow - which in turn has interesting affects on the aerodynamics. Drivers are reporting a tendancy for the car to weave when driving in a straight line at speed: this is a direct result of the reliance on aerodynamics for grip, and happens for much the same reasons as a rain drop weaves its' way down a window... relatively small changes can make relatively large differences to stability.

This gives the teams an interesting dilema! They can fix the 'wandering' problem, but it has a cost. Currently, the airflow is basically directed in a manner to increase downforce; but is designed to put drag to a minimum for the downforce generated (or top speed suffers). To compensate for the cars wanderings, it is necessary to create opposing forces directed horizontally - these must be significantly stronger that those causing the cars instability, but would have the effect of increasing drag, and lowering the top speed.

One potential side effect is that the horizonal forces (in theory) could be generated in an even, opposing fashion on the straight, but designed to assist cornering off the straight... significantly improving corner at high speeds, in a similar fashion to the ground effect cars of yester year.

Guess what - it's rumoured that Ferrari has it's aerodynamicisists working on just that problem. Who can doubt that the other top teams are not also working on the same problem?

Second test - Mixed feelings for Williams

Williams are pleased to find Ralf quick off the mark, in the second test: in the first day of only his second session in the Williams, the fast German was right on the pace the team thought the car should be capable of. Alex Zanardi ran some second and a half slower than his team mate, and is just starting to cause concern in the Williams camp. They gave him a different program, still expecting him to continue aclimatising to the car, but were looking to see his times closer to those of his team mate.

At F1 Rumors this week, we commented that the Williams package is expected to be pretty useful, and Ralfs times (half a second off the pace) confirm it...

His opposite number in the Williams / Jordan driver swap, Heinz Harold Frentzen, was in similar form to Ralf through the day, but his final times do not reflect it, as he finished early when scheduled maintenance on his car took place.

David Coulthard revelled in being given free reign later on in the test, and whilst checking new components for next years car set the days top time. His driving later in the day looked to be the sort of form that would make Mika sit up and take notice - he's definitely eager to get on with the next season!

Team feedback from the first test - Stewert

It has been difficult to get feedback on Stewert's thoughts regarding the first test this season... which, sadly, did not go as well as for the other teams.

The team was pleased with Johnny Herberts feedback - getting used to the way a driver handles technical feedback is a major part of making a team work - but were disappointed that he didn't really get into the driving for the current car.

One of the big things that Sauber had to deal with last year was Jean Alesi's aversion to understeer, so the car (as the year progressed) became more and more stable at the front end - if the Frenchman was not confident about the turn in, it added significantly to his lap times.

So, Johnny climbed into a Stewert that is exceptionally sensitive at the front end - quite the opposite to what he's used to from the year gone by - and just wasn't able to get comfortable with it. In fairness, the Stewert has had problems all of last year, so it's a reflection of the move from Sauber rather than Johnny's talents... but it has frustrated some of the technicians to be two seconds off the pace!

The good news is that the technical team has been beefed up for next year (despite the loss of chief aeodynamicist Hamedy), and Anderson's strength in getting mechanical grip and new ideas from his time at Jordan, combined with Johnny's technical feedback and direction might prove an awesome combination this year...

Expect Rubens Barrichello to profit most, as he takes full advantage of a chassis improved by the efforts of Johnny! Even if the new car starts relatively slow, with the strong technical feedback and Fords massive resources in the engine, it should be picking up points by mid season.

Renault to return

According to the French manufacturer, Renault, they are looking forward to the upcoming season and plans to fight back at McLaren.

Christian Contzen, the general manager of Renault Sports, said the following: "We want to give to Bar, Williams and Benetton a propeller that rivals with Ferrari and Mercedes".

He furthermore said that they will be featuring a complete new engine for the 1999 season, designed by Philippe Coblenze. According to the designer, their only objective for the 1999 season is "we want to win".

Team feedback from first test

Here's a quick rundown from the teams about how they think the tests went last week.

Full marks go to Ferrari, who managed to set the top times for both days. They are fully aware that David Coulthard was working on a tyre test program for Bridgestone, so he may never have had a chance to really try for the top time on either day - but they do not think he was going to get it anyway. Ferrari are pleased with the test - it's shown their adaption to Bridgestone is going to plan, and revised components for the 99 car are performing as expected.

McLaren were hoping for a little more than they achieved, being pleased with the progress of testing, but concerned over the Ferrari pace - David should have been quicker than Luca, though he was more consistent with his pace through the day. Overall, they are happy with the test (the Bridgestone work was profitable), but should have liked to be a little quicker, despite sandbagging.

Sauber are pleasantly surprised by Diniz - he's settling into their car very nicely, complimenting the engine, and making little bones of getting to grips with the car itself. After some in the team were concerned that the Brazilian might not be up to the mark, its been a happy session for them!

Jordan are pleased with progress... Damon used both chassis, and encountered relatively few problems, allowing them to complete the planned program in good time. Results were mostly as expected - giving the team confidence that everything is on schedule.

Whilst a couple of teams are looking smugly at their performance compared to Zanardi at Williams, it is important to stress that he has not been let loose yet. The Williams team are happy with progress, which steady and within their expectations. They tried a number of solutions in the two days that testing ran, finding some things of benefit to both the car and the style of their new star driver. They are looking for more from the engine, but believe it's going to be a great package once they get into the season, and Zanardi's had some running time. The big unknown is Ralf Schumacher - expect him to be quicker than his Italian team mate in qualifying, but the car is being taylored to Zanardi's aggressive style, so he'll go better in the races (unless he breaks it).

Lastly, Prost have been dealing with some new components - traction out of corners and stability under braking have both been improved. They are pleased with progress in general, but disappointed that the other teams seem to have made at least as much - more in some cases.

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