F1 Rumors - news ahead of the headlines

Week of the 24th January 1999:


Luca Badoer - Opportunity knocks?

It's no accident that Luca Badoer is driving the installation laps for Minardi - this appears to be no simple agreement to 'borrow' a driver from Ferrari.

There is rumour (coming from sources in close to the team) that Luca will be driving for Minardi in 1999, whilst still contracted to Ferrari as their official test driver, and replacement for Michael Schumacher or Eddie Irvine, should anything happen to them.

Sticking points are, as usual, mostly financial - if the team can get a significant boost to it's finances by taking someone else, then they might well go that route anyway. Further, the clause keeping Luca in the Ferrari test role could hamper development of their own car.

Initial reports show that the installation laps driven yesterday went much as expected - that's to say, all the expected problems were encountered, but no show stoppers. Prognosis? If they can get the drivers sorted out, Minardi are looking at a good year.

If they want a good year, then obtaining a rated driver like Luca should provide the opportunity to make the most of their car.


So, where's this McLaren then?

Again, McLaren are delivering their seasons contender late. Why?

If you listen to the rumour mill, then it's because they've found some design faults that have to be fixed! The official line is that a major step forward was discovered for the front suspension. Actually, from what we've been able to find out, there's truth in both stories - and they are connected.

The McLaren MP4-14 is, it seems, going to be something really special. The MP4-13 - which walked away at the start of the 1998 season - was only a prototype for the new car. There have been some very interesting developments in all the crucial areas - and the aerodynamics have a twist that noone else seems to have included this year. Wait and see!

But that is not the only thing. The story about the front suspension appears to be founded in truth - there really is something in the pipeline (though it might only be a variant of the Front Torque Transfer system Benetton pioneered); couple that with an evolution to the engine that should surprise a few people, and what appears to be a neat way around the 'independant braking' issue, and the car really could be the business.

Is it going to be a McLaren cakewalk? No. Even if the car starts 1999 with a second per lap advantage, Ferrari will probably catch up in three or four races; and no one is quite sure what Jordan have up their (currently very quiet) sleeves... the regulations are much the same as last year, so it should be tighter at the top.

Having said which, the feeling at McLaren is that something really rather good is coming out of the workshops - and they've got a reigning World Champion to drive it.


Thoughts from testing

At the end of the weekend in Jerez, Ricardo Zonta showed his potential in the British American Racing car, finishing clearly ahead of his experienced team mate. That he beat Jos Verstappens time for yesterday is a bonus, but without the Honda on the track, there's no way to really compare the performances.

Stewart went well, and are looking like they have a real chance to spend time amid the Benettons and BARs of the world this season. They have had reliability problems, and are still trying to dial out understeer - but they have arguably the best technical man for that job on board in Gary Anderson.

Most talk is still of Honda. Their test went exceptionally well, getting plenty of miles on the car. Feedback was very positive from the team, and they know they have placed a marker for themselves. Whilst being seen in an 1999 Grand Prix is highly unlikely, they will be able to get a feel for the pace of development this year, testing alongside the other teams.

The Barcelona test showed Mika has come back from holiday ready for action - his fastest time of the day in last year's McLaren was just ahead of Ralf Schumachers time in the 1999 Williams. With the new step expected from Renault, they might not be too far off the pace this year.


Calendar woes

Just when the FIA had the 1999 calendar sorted, things start going pear shaped!

The Malaysian Grand Prix appears to be in trouble - according to F1-Magazine, the Sepang circuit is suffering from the current economic crisis in Asia, and may only be ready to host a Grand Prix in February 2000. The track itself is actually complete, but the supporting structures (pits, gravel traps, Grandstands and so on) are behind schedule.

With the loss of the Argentine Grand Prix already cutting the season to 15 races, it is very likely that China or South Africa will appear on this years calendar, should the Malaysian Grand Prix fail to materialise.


Article - Humour by Jeff Rose

BayWatch All-Girl Pit Crew at AutoSport 99

by Jeff Rose

We're back and boy is AutoSport 99 happy about that. Autosport International recreated a Formula One pitlane with WilliamsF1, Benetton, Sauber, Ferrari, Jordan and McLaren. Things were going great until the BayWatch All-Girl Pit Crew arrived. The crowd figured they didn't know a tire change from a wet tee-shirt contest.

To read the whole article, click here


Honda rumours are rife

In the wake of Honda's exceptional test results this last weekend, there are rumours flying that the team might be seen in the last four to six races this season.

Despite the difficulties associated with bringing forward their entry, it's a feasible proposition. A complete season would put both Dallara and Bridgestone into a difficult situation to supply chassis parts and tyres - despite the huge financial help Honda could provide; but a 'short season' might just fit the bill... rumours are already indicating that Honda have asked Bridgestone to confirm a large number of tyres for the season - enough to run several Grand Prix, in addition to testing. Further, there is speculation inside Honda as to who would run with Jos Verstappen - whose place is confirmed - should it happen... it's expected to be a Japanese driver, but who varies according to the teller!

The questions remain, though, how Honda will stack up to Ferrari and McLaren. Further, with development over the coming season expected to be just as rapid as last, how long can they expect to maintain the advantage over mid runners like BAR and Benetton? Should they attempt to run the first Grand Prix in Melbourne? Or risk confirming entry later in the season, to find they have lost the edge?


South African Grand Prix in 1999?

With the loss of the Argentine Grand Prix to the 1999 calendar, is there chance of an event at Kyalami, South Africa?

Kyalami has the backing, infrastructure and circuit (already inspected for the event) to replace the Argentine or Chinese Grand Prix. Bernie Ecclestone placed South Africa on the reserve list, with the intent of a Grand Prix for 2001, and promised testing in 1999 and 2000.

The test session in 2 weeks time is happening, as promised. So, with a race possibility opening up, there's a real chance that the Vodacom South African Grand Prix can become reality in 1999.

A track official commented "We have not been notified of anything at this stage."


Jos Verstappen is having a ball

It's little surprise that Jos Verstappen is so happy at the moment. Finishing the third day of testing at Jerez a full second ahead of BARs Ricardo Zonta has left him feeling very pleased with his and the teams progress!

Some of the other teams have been shocked by the Honda performance, and there was talk of running a light car - something the team has emphatically denied, stating the car fully complies with all regulations, as they are not there to kid themselves. Furthermore, they are using the same Mugen-Honda engine as Jordan used for the Japanese Grand Prix - not the new higher powered unit expected for this years Jordan.

So, what can we expect from the other teams? Zonta proved team orders would be unjustified at BAR (two tenths quicker than Villeneuve, though it was a difficult day with lots of stoppages), but a full second behind the Honda. Benetton had another day of learning - way off the pace. It is thought they are running this years Renault/Mecachrome/Supertec engines, but judging from performance against the Honda and Ford, they must hope there will be a new step before Melbourne!

Showing their intent for the forthcoming season, Stewart - this time in the shape of Johnny Herbert - were again ahead of Benetton. Their pre-season promise to Ford and their fans to move into the 'second tier' of teams looks like a possibility.


Argentine GP linked with Tuero's withdrawal?

There was a rumour when he quit, that the reason behind Tuero's withdrawal from Formula One was an impending reduction of his personal sponsorship deals.

With the Argentine Grand Prix also looking unlikely to go ahead for financial reasons, possibly impacting directly on Tueros sponsors, there may be some credance to this story - though it would be a shame if financial issues are behind losing this youngster to the F1 scene, but maybe his talents will bring him back in years to come.


Test progress

The second day at Jerez has been relatively exciting: though it depends who you ask as to timings. At least, Ricardo Zonta had a good day, and is already competitive with Jacques Villeneuve.

Honda continued to be the car to beat, some half a second clear of the field in the hands of Jos Verstappen - wouldn't it be ironic if the fastest car of 1999 turned out not to have entered? Meanwhile, Stewart's Rubens Barrichello demonstrated that their 99 contender is on a par with BAR by posting competitive times (Johnny Herbert got little running, thanks to persistant oil systems problems).

Testing times are always to be taken with a pinch of salt - Stewart had Rubens at ahead of the BAR team in the timesheets, BAR had Villeneuve in second, track side timing had Zonta second - but the overall feeling is that Honda have made a good job of their car, putting themselves in the position to beat, whilst Benetton struggle to get enough time and laps in their car to be competitive with BAR and Stewart.

This season will hold some surprises - even though we have not seen last years top four yet.


Honda Management thinking hard!

After the first stunning day of Honda's debut test in Jerez, there are rumors within the team that management may rethink the 2000 entry strategy!

The team was a full second quicker than BAR on the first day, so they already know they are at least competitive with the other new kids in Formula One... and more than competitive against the Stewart team, who are struggling against understeer.

Sources indicate that the management was very encouraged by the session, sparking rumours they could be looking to enter this year, rather than wait - though it's unlikely, as they would need to ensure provision of chassis parts from Dallara, and ramp up the supply of engines to go through Mugen. But if this level of performance continues, the logistics can be handled, and the FIA give permission, we could see Honda enter it's cars this year.

Arguably more pleased with the result is the Jordan team, who are looking forward to trying the new Mugen-Honda engine in their 1999 contender next month!


Australia could lose GP over TV rights!

Allegedly, the FIA is in dispute with Australian TV company Channel 9, who does not show livequalifying and races to it's viewers.

An FIA spokesperson said 'Any TV broadcaster who has their own race in their own country should show qualifying and races, for all races.' That Channels 9s efforts for the Australian Grand Prix have won them awards in 95 and 96 matters not, and the FIA will rescind the Australian Grand Prix for 2000 if the matter is not sorted out by August.

Other TV stations are interested in buying the rights from Channel 9.

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