F1 Rumors - news ahead of the headlines

Week of the 13th December 1998:

The third test - signs and portents

If next season goes anything like the last test, then we are in for one of the best in recent history.

The Jordan team happily dominated the first two days, Damon Hill setting some very quick times and leading the timesheets. BAR joined the party with their new toy, and it made Jacques Villeneuve's eyes light up... he compared the way he feels about it to the 1997 championship winning Williams, even whilst downplaying BARs chances. And given they managed to get inside Zanardis time for Williams, who would want to bet they'll spend the season anywhere other than fighting for a top 6 place?

Williams are still not pressuring Alex for pace (though they would have preferred him not to be nearly a second and a half off the pace of his team mate), and believe his progress adequate; they think next years car will suit him better, so it's more a case of getting used to the tyres and setup proceedures, and providing feedback on new components (an area he really excels in) than worrying about his pace. They are all very pleased with Ralf Schumacher for the time on the third day - though the tyre wear from hot laps is worrying.

Olivier Panis has made the most of his return, and now the pins are out of his legs, his renewed confidence might allow him to get back on top of his upstart team mate next season! Prost have taken John Bernard on board to strengthen the design team; they expect to be competetive by mid season... though no one outside the team is holding their breath. If nothing else, at least they stand a real chance of improving their drop out rate next season - retirements was by far their biggest problem in 98.

Ferrari, apparently, considered their testing program for this year complete - though sources imply that a wrangle with Bridgestone over their tyres might be involved: we are working on getting the details, though at this stage we think it's about technical rather than legal issues. Another suggestion is that the team, having topped last weeks time lists, felt that nothing could be gained from testing next week... especially if Michael had not been able to outpace Damon, after the recent inflamatory remarks made by the Jordan driver!

BAR's Progress - Updated

The whole team at BAR is pleased with the first shakedown of their 1999 car - it completed three laps before being pulled to deal with electrical problems; something a certain team at Silverstone would have paid money for last year, after their new creation managed 200 yards!

It was known that the designers (a team recruited from the other F1 teams, and unconnected to Reynard Racing Cars) were pleased before the car was unveiled, and now we know why! The car has a mid height nose, much like this years McLaren, and the styling is smooth and elegant, making it as attractive as last years Arrows - though likely to perform better.

A few team members expect the car to be a real winner, but others see prospects for the coming season to be much like this test - good whilst it's going, but with technical issues that have to be handled through the season.

The BAR people face a huge task, running in a new team from the ground up - but the wealth of experience in the team, and talent in the drivers could show some excellent results early. When reliability isn't dogging them, they should provide interesting competition to last seasons top 5.

First day, third test.

The third test is shaping up nicely: Damon Hill managed to put his Jordan onto the pedestal for everyone to aim at this week, clocking a time fully half a second quicker than anyone else.

David Coulthard was tied up with component testing, and didn't go for a pure timed run, so it's not yet known if the McLaren was genuinely off the pace of the Jordan, or just running a normal test program that happened not to allow the best running at the best time in the session.

Williams saw Alex Zanardi running behind Ralf Schumacher again... but the gap is narrowing. He's not expected to perform on a par to Ralf until the season begins - the adjustment from CART and slick tyres to F1 and grooves is much greater than moving between a Jordan and Williams; his efforts are fully occupied with learning the finer points of setup and evaluating new components, without competing with his team mate - at least until February.

BAR have revealed their times - they had an interesting session with Jacques Villeneuve at the wheel, and are considering their position for the remainder of the test. The cars' first run out passed with no serious incident, and the team is optimistic.

Stewart hiding in the workshop...

The Stewart team is trying to get to grips with next years car in time to do some testing before the start of the season!

Their latest project is a major technological step forward from the previous years efforts in all directions, but carries the price of increased complexity. Everything is taking longer, and the car will be in need of extensive testing to avoid the problems associated with this move: Arrows last year looked for a big technological move forward, and spent the first half of the season retiring!

The expertise acquired by Stewart should at least provide a stepping stone over most of the problems a less experienced team might encounter, but they are expecting to face some difficulties in testing before getting the car running smoothly - lets hope they iron the bugs out before the first race!

Arrows keeping quiet about the future

Whilst there is no official word about Arrows deal with Zakspeed, there are a number of rumours circulating - including some that have a buy out already in place...

Arrows employees have told the press they believe that a sell-out is not the order of the day. With this in mind, it seems more likely that Tom Walkinshaw does not yet want to throw the towel in on Formula One, and is likely to be offering a proportion of the team to Zakspeed to boost finances; other rumours linking Yamaha with the team would imply that a complex deal has been (or is being) brokered which probably provides the following:

  • funding for the Arrows chassis in 1999 by the deal with Zakspeed - a technology share in return for financial backing;
  • funding for the Arrows engine - rebadging the Hart engine as a Yamaha, giving Yamaha access to current F1 engine technology in return for financial support;
  • a way in for Toyota - Toyota might be behind all this; supporting the bids from Zakspeed and Yamaha individually.
If the engine proves successful (and it may well be), then expect a Sauber or Benetton running works Toyotas from 2001; whilst if the chassis is successful, the name on it won't be Arrows or Zakspeed, but Toyota. There's a power behind these deals that is intent on remaining invisible - but Toyota have both means and motive to be there.

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