F1 Rumors - news ahead of the headlines

Week of the 3rd January 1999:

Stewart in the top four? It's crowded at the top!

There's no surprise that at the Stewart launch, there was talk of the teams prospects in 1999.

The Stewart team made a successful introduction into Formula One in 1997, with some strong performances. The '98 performance was not so good, for any number of reasons... but particularly the dominant performance of Ferrari and McLaren making points scarce, and technical problems with the gearbox and engine through the year, added to a difficult chassis.

With Ford's new engine for 1999, the Stewart team have a package that is designed to be integral with the car right from day one, including a number of innovative features (more on those later in the year!), power in excess of expectations, and reduced weight with a lower center of gravity. The improved wieght and center of gravity should enable the handling of the car to be improved significantly, via the experienced feedback of Ruebens Barrichello and Johhny Herbert.

So, all in all, the team has little choice but to talk of their improved chances for 1999 - stating they hope to be up with Williams et al chasing the McLaren and Ferrari teams, and looking for a top four finish to the year.

But what makes them special? Why should Stewart improve dramatically when, in the history of Formula One, almost every tail end team has claimed it's produced a top four finisher at the launch of their car, but choked?

Well, there is something about this package. Johnny Herbert is highly regarded for his technical feedback. Ruebens Barrichello is a gifted and very fast driver (expect him to maximise the benefit of Johnny's efforts). Ford are committed to this venture, demonstrated both by extending the engine deal and building a whole new engine with this chassis in mind... a chassis designed by an experienced and exceptionally competent team.

There's always upbeat talk at car launches, but if there's a dark horse this season, then it is probably going to be Stewart. A top four finish? Probably not... but I wouldn't bet against seeing the team regularly in the points, and giving Sauber something of a scare!

Article - Humour by Jeff Rose

We're Back, And Boy Is Formula One Happy About That
or; Jackie Stewart trained BayWatch Girls for an Indianapolis Pit Crew because Sylvester Stallone had WonderBra for a sponsor and some French guys made Richard Petty drink white wine instead of beer.

by Jeff Rose

(Stallone and Hollywood have been attending Formula One races in preparation for a new movie. We have a stolen copy of the script. Beware: Many jokes are F1 insider and racing humor.)

We're back and boy is Formula One happy about that. The LeMans Start was our fault, a rookie mistake; but the Wet T-shirt contests in the BayWatch Pit were not our idea. Still the Grand Prix crowd sneered at our efforts; and bad feelings hung over our team like this upcoming flashback. At least we didn't get a nickname like Ricardo "Wrong-Way" Rosset.

To read the whole article, click here

Russia to bid for a GP

In an unlikely move, an industrial city in Russia has announced that it will be bidding for a Formula One Grand Prix. The city of Tula is 100 miles due south of Moscow. Despite its run-down state, the city insists it is serious, claiming to have a wealthy investor ready to put up the estimated $300 million which would be needed to build a circuit and upgrade the airport. President Yevgeny Primakov is said to have approved a bid to host a Grand Prix by a Russian city. The bid is unlikely to succeed: an FIA spokesman said: "It's not absolutely impossible, but to say it's possible would be premature."

The industrial city is around 100 miles from Moscow, and claims to have the resources prepared to pay the estimated $300 million it would cost to build a circuit and upgrade the airport and accomodation facilities. It's a serious bid, but almost the entire world seems sceptical about the cities chances in the foreseeable future.

Impact of running dry/wet tyres

Recently, there has been a lot of debate in the F1 circus on the expected move to tyres for both wet and dry conditions in 2001. Ostensibly, the reasoning behind this move includes:

  • reduced costs for manufacturers;
  • reduced development time required for teams;
  • reduced running speeds in dry conditions;
  • much reduced running speeds in wet conditions;
  • more obvious application to road cars.
The tyres would obviously have to be a compromise between wet and dry ideals. Currently, cars running in dry conditions use relatively hard rubber, which operates at an ideal temperature in the region of 80 degrees upwards; full wet tyres are made from a softer compound, and as they are exposed to cold standing water must be optimised to work at under 40 degrees. As a current wet tyre is exposed to dry conditions, it rapidly overheats and goes off.

Looking at a wet/dry combined tyre, the compromise becomes apparent. A tyre that is optimised for dry conditions is likely to have poor wet performance from the reduced running temperature and harder compound alone, whilst those optimised for wet conditions will certainly suffer from the increased temperature and wear in the dry.

Further, it is necessary to look at the amount of tread devoted to shifting water. A manufacturer who thinks the race weekend is certain to be dry will produce a tyre with no tread (effectively slicks). This would perform better than the current dry tyres with grooves. Similarly, should it be possible to predict a wet weekend, wet optimised tyres will be required which (again) would have little or no speed reduction for the conditions. So in order to fulfill the mandate above, the FIA will need to restrict the amount of rubber actually in contact with the track, ensuring at least there is an upper limit in terms of percentage of the tyre surface that may make contact (effectively, ensuring grooves are present).

Then, we must consider the individual circuits. There is a different likelihood of wet weather for each, so the tyres optimisation towards wet or dry running will be different for each. This in turn means the manufacturers will be required to develop a selection of tyres rated from '80% likely to rain' (Spa, Monaco), to '10% likely to rain' (Spain, Australia). That is without considering how hard it rains (read depth of standing water resulting from rain), which may range from none to a few inches! Again, the manufacturer will be required to optimise against the expected level of standing water in the event of rain.

So we are in danger of moving from the current position - several wet tyres by conditions (intermediates through full wets), and two dry tyres (prime/option) - to a single wet dry range that has to accommodate expected odds on rain falling through and the expected depth of standing water it would produce. Potentially, that's a new tyre per circuit, or two if 'prime' and 'option' are to be run.

Things could get interesting here, too. In a race containing mixed wet and dry conditions, the ebb and flow between performance within a team might change as a 'prime' shod car, wearing tyres optimised for wetter conditions, gains an advantage over an 'option' shod car that expects a drier race. Further, a team might gamble that the race is to be dry, and send one driver out on a pure dry tyre... if it rains, he'll probably slide out, but if not then even a Minardi would expect to make the podium if all the other teams are wearing tyres optimised for wet running! It will be interesting to see what Mr Prost can make of it...

Then again, the FIA would not be fulfilling its mandate on reduced cost if the tyre manufacturers had to make 16 different tyres in order to have one per track, so they will have to legislate there too.

The idea certainly has merits, but there will be an awful lot of head scratching going on for the FIA to cover even the issues mentioned here before it happens.

But if they really want to fulfill the mandate, then perhaps they should consider another amendment to the rules. Ban pitstops. Making tyres that last a whole race, in cars that have to carry fuel for the whole race, will certainly slow speeds... the tyres will be even more applicable to road conditions, and the manufacturers will not have to supply multiple sets for the race (reducing their costs further). And as an added bonus, we might even see some on track passing!

Young Aussie hoping for an F1 drive in 2000

Australian Mark Webber is hoping for a chance to test with the McLaren F1 team in the 1999 season and said that he is really pushing hard for the opportunity. "The testing is one thing that I am really looking forward to... to learn the car and to learn the circuits in a Formula One car. I know a lot of circuits in Europe now, but I need to go there in a Formula One car".

He is putting hoping to enter the Formula One arena in 2000 or 2001, saying the following about his aspirations: "I don't think there is any young driver who couldn't see themselves sitting there, lining up".

He concluded by saying: "Hopefully I'll prove myself this time in eight or six months so that we have the opportunity to start again here (in Formula One) the next year, and find a position for me to challenge for some points".

Honda on Dunlops?

Maybe it isn't so far fetched. Bridgestone are unable to supply Honda with the tyres they want for testing this year, possibly compromising the Honda challenge for 2000. There are rumours (unconfirmed) that Honda are getting into bed with another tyre manufacturer.

If this is the case, then things are going to become pretty interesting. Should Honda want to run on Bridgestones at this years tests, in order to compare their car accurately against the others on the track, then they are compelled to honor the Bridgestone non disclosure clause in the contract... making it difficult to work with another tyre company without serious controversy.

And if they are prepared to go without Bridgestone tyres, then they will have another unknown to develop this year - quite likely making the job more complicated than the extra testing time can compensate for. Also, who would go for this deal? And in what timescale? The tyre rules are expected to change again after 2000, so there will be little point in getting into Formula One, just to chuck out the whole first year of experience. Further, any company involved must be prepared to supply at least 3 teams - the FIA will ensure that's the case - if requested, which in theory prevents a one team monopoly.

Dunlop (a subsidiary of Goodyear) may indeed be talked into taking on the task, but don't expect to see their rubber in any races for the 2000 season, unless someone ensures the tyre regulations are stabilized for a while.

Formula One picking up steam

Most of the Formula One teams are back into the swing of things after Christmas: some even had folk in over much of the festive season to ensure they are ready for launch, and testing through January.

The much talked about Arrows team is getting to grips with their problems: financial backing for the 1999 season (and beyond) is believed to be established; it's a case of deciding details and making the announcements. The power plant is not the best on the grip (quite the opposite), but there are rumors of potential engine deals for 2000 from multiple sources - so at least one stands a chance of happening!

The Prost team is looking to turn their car around this year - Peurgot are pulling out the stops to give them a chance, aiming for power on a par with the leaders by the end of season, and the team is looking to see John Barnards influence making an impact soon.

The front running teams are all moving pretty much to schedule - few surprises have made it into the rumour rounds (we ignore all the Mansell returning to drive for Williams type rumours unless they can be corroborated)... there's not likely to be much until testing or launch for these guys.

All is quiet from Minardi, Stewart and Sauber. We know they have been busy over the Christmas period - and if anything is not going to plan, it isn't public knowledge at this time!

What we do know, is that everything is on line for a very interesting 1999 - potentially, we can hope up to six teams will be truely competetive between the different venues, even if Ferrari and McLaren dominate overall. Look for a season full of incident, and some really hard racing. The new tyre regulations may make passing harder, but there are some exceptionally talented drivers out there, and they'll be intent on making the best of it...

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