Week of the 6th December 1998:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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".
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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