F1 Rumors - news ahead of the headlines

Week of the 14th February 1999:

Unlimited Testing for Ferrari and McLaren

With the recent question and answers session on the Bridgestone role as tyre supplier to Formula One in 1999, Hiroshi Yasukawa (Director of Bridgestone Motorsport) has revealed how Ferrari will be able to get the unlimited testing they required for this season:

"Tests carried out under the Bridgestone tyre development programme will not count either towards the 200 sets of tyres or the 50 agreed days of testing".

Ferrari and McLaren are the two teams that Bridgestone will be working with in their tyre development program, stating "We intend to agree mutually convenient test dates and venues with the two teams involved".

Ferrari are incredibly secretive about their contract with Bridgestone - an issue that's come up before. It's already known that they have a clause relating to tyres for their road cars; but now it seems the definition of mutually convenient may also be defined - under Ferrari's terms.

Kyalami's Nathan to Meet Ecclestone

Following speculation earlier in the week concerning Kyalami’s Selwyn Nathan meeting Bernie Ecclestone regarding a South African Grand Prix this year, Nathan confirmed today he is meeting with Ecclestone next week.

Nathan leaves Sunday on his trip. Although the meeting’s agenda is scheduled to cover motorsport business other than a Grand Prix at Kyalami, Mr. Nathan felt it was not out of the question the subject of a South African Grand Prix would come up during his discussions with the FIA.

Questioned on timing, should a Kyalami be requested to take up the Argentina date of 21 March, Nathan said that would be an all but impossible task to achieve, especially in light of the circuit hosting the World Superbike opener only one week later. He did not totally dismiss a grand prix date later in the year however, but again added that at this stage he had no indication at all that the FIA was even interested in a date at Kyalami.

Any news of the outcome of Nathan’s meeting with the FIA, will however be awaited with some trepidation by South African F1 fans, especially after the taste some 70,000 spectators had of a Formula One test last week.

Michele Lupini

The Reliability Issue

With McLaren practically showing a clean pair of heels to the whole paddock last year, 1999 has presented a tough challenge to all the designers. In order to close the gap, each team has had to attempt a big leap forward, which in turn means lots of new, untried components on the cars.

Testing this year has certainly been informative: all the teams have had reliability problems; with lots of new components at maximum tolerance, it's inevitable that there will be breakage. Testing is the means to discover where tolerances are too narrow, or unexpected side effects come into play - the Supertec vibration causing rear wings to fall off is an excellent example!

Furthermore, with the Bridgestone dispute over tyre supplies around December, even launching early has not allowed most teams the running they need to ensure their biggest reliability worries are covered. So, the opening Grand Prix in Melbourne will find most of the teams running in a high temperature environment for the first time, without the expected miles in reliability tests...

The famous addage to finish first, first you must finish is certainly going to be demonstrated in Melbourne.

The Ford Factor

It's not news that Jackie Stewart would be delighted if he was in a position to offer a drive to a talented, and above all popular, American driver. With Ford as an engine supplier, the positive publicity it would generate for the company 'back home' is very valuable.

In the 1999 season, Ford have demonstrated a commitment to Stewart that is comparable to the Mercedes effort with McLaren: the power plant is tailored to the Stewart teams requirements, utilising leading edge technology and exceptional tolerances. The weight of the engine this year is on a par with the other top runners certainly withing a couple of kilos of the Mercedes unit - and the center of gravity has been lowered too; furthermore, the power developed is has been improved, and the development program for this season is very aggressive

Even beyond that, Ford is lending enourmous resources to the Stewart effort. The company has years of experience in competitive motorsport, adding valuable managerial experience at the top level to Jackie Stewarts own Formula One knowledge.

Recent rumours speculate the Jeff Gordon might make his way into a Stewart car. It's not entirely far fetched! The popular Nascar driver has expressed an interest in testing a Formula One car, and would certainly be interested in playing with one; but is on record stating that beginning again in a new series is not a challenge he considers in his future. He would be just another new boy, starting at the back, and having to learn everything from scratch.

What would be gained? It's not like moving from the CART scene, which is often compared against the fundamentally similar sport of Formula One! A whole new driving approach must be learned to go well in the open topped single seater series of Formula One: the prize for success would be a new following in a new series, but failure would be costly indeed. Jeff Gordon is an exceptionally popular figure in Nascar, with a huge following and commanding enourmous mechandising revenue. That's an aweful lot to gamble away - especially by joining a team that is not running at the front of the field in the new series.

The Ford influence is strong, and they would like someone of Jeff's stature in the Formula One team they are associated with. They might be able to provide him with a package to tempt him into the Formula One fold; but the word on the street is that Jeff Gordan will see out his days in Nascar, thank-you very much. Though he's really very flattered by the interest!

Formula One Racing Meets Quantum Relativity

or; Welcome to CERN- Fastest High-Speed Oval in the World

by Jeff Rose

Well, we're back and boy are the Quantum Physicists happy about that. With no races scheduled, the BayWatch All-Girl Pit Crew went to Switzerland for testing. Rumor had it the fastest oval track in the world was at someplace called CERN. This place the pit crew had to see.

The crew showed up early morning at the CERN high-speed oval course. Following the directions they found no race course; only a large parking lot. The crew was usually on top of things. And, funny, that's what the people from CERN said when they asked: "You are right on top of things." But no problem here, the parking lot had some good corners and would do just fine for the tests. Later the crew would find out about the true, and underground, nature of the CERN high-speed nuclear particle ring.

To read the whole article, click here

The weekend at Barcelona

Ferrari are disappointed to be running slightly behind McLaren at Barcelona. Both teams were sandbagging somewhat - in Ferrari's case, this included not running with some of their aerodynamic solutions; and McLaren never put the MP4/14 into qualifying trim.

Schumacher seems to be on form - his consistancy is as good as ever, and he manages to know exactly where to break into the corners, even as conditions change through the day. It's something of an experience to see how he finds the limit of braking, without quite straying over, time and again. The Ferrari's stability in corners and under traction away is improved from last year, though it seemed less smooth than either the McLaren or Benetton.

For all that, Ferrari would have preferred to come closer on at least one day - but were realistic on a track where McLaren tested for the whole previous week, it was unlikely that even Michael Schumacher would be able to put the Ferrari straight into the top spot; indeed, many in the team seem pleased to have been looking at a couple of tenths, as they believe there's nearly a half second in performance terms that was not on the car.

The games will continue: this week Minardi is testing at the same track as Ferrari, and might provide a scare of their own (Marc Gene looks very quick), whilst Jordan will be attempting to put the frightners on McLaren by posting quick times at Barcelona... but the next time Ferrari and McLaren run on the same track is at Melbourne, and they won't be sandbagging then!

Ralf Pleases SA Crowd

Twenty five thousand grand prix-starved South African race fans converged on AA Kyalami today, to witness the first real F1 action there since the 1993 SA Grand Prix. They were treated to an interesting first day of the official FIA Kyalami F1 test session,which saw Ralf Schumacher top the time sheets in the Winfield Williams, from team mate Alex Zanardi and the BAR of Jacques Villeneuve.

Perfect, sunny South African conditions saw the trio swapping fastest times towards the end of the session this afternoon, as the afternoon shadows stretched over Kyalami, and track and ambient temperatures dropped off from highs of 40deg.C and 28deg.C respectively.

Most of the day saw the teams finding their way at Kyalami, dialling the cars in to conditions at the circuit just north of Johannesburg. Then, later in the afternoon, first Villeneuve stopped the clocks at 1min.25.8 seconds, according to his lap boards, the first car into the 1m25 bracket. No sooner was he back in the pits, than Schumacher responded with a blistering 1m24.7, to the joy of the pit grandstand as the Williams board man showed the time. Zanardi was also circulating at the same time, getting down to a very consistent pace just off his fastest lap of 1m.25.1. Villeneuve went out just before the end of the session, but the BAR “broke something” on the out lap. This was the only technical problem of the day, although Schumacher had a spin earlier in the session, but continued unaffected.

The BAR breakage continues the fledgeling team’s run of niggling development reliability woes.

Williams, in particular, praised Kyalami as a top-line circuit, complementing the tracks facilities as world class and perfect for testing purposes. The session also drew a cheerful, enthusiastic crowd, matching the biggest at any local race day in number, despite a busy schedule of other important SA sporting events this afternoon.

Kyalami offers the FIA a perfect solution to their problem with a shrinking GP calendar this year. It is clear by the large crowd which turned out to watch three cars test today, that South Africa is ready for a Grand Prix again.

Michele Lupini

Kyalami F1 Testing, 13 February 1999
1Ralf SchumacherWilliams FW21 Mecachrome1 min 24.7
2Alex ZanardiWilliams FW21 Mecachrome1 min 25.1
3Jacques VilleneuveBAR 01 Supertech1 min 25.8
Track temperature: 40C
Ambient temperature: 20C
Conditions: Warm, Sunny. Partly cloudy later
Lap Record: Nigel Mansell (Williams Renault) 1 min 17.578 (1-March-92)
(Lap record prior to circuit change by addition of chicane)
All times unofficial, no official timing in place.

Circuit Talk - Why not South Africa?

So, there may be problems with the Malaysian Grand Prix. The financial situation is putting pressure on the completion plan for the circuit (this should sound familiar to F1 Rumors regulars!) and the FIA may need to look elsewhere to avoid a 15 race schedule, with a month gap between the last two races.

The current news is that the Portugese Grand Prix may make a comeback to the calendar - despite having a track that is not really up to F1 standards, and an officialdome that in the past has rocked the boat.

So, why not have a South African Grand Prix at Kyalami? In preparation for BAR and Williams testing there next week, Charley Whiting - the FIA safety officer - inspected the track over the weekend. Sources revealed a couple of minor issues (some adjustments to a tyre barrier, and some circuit markings to be redone) to attend, but otherwise, Whiting was satisfied and gave the go-ahead for the session starting on Saturday.

The track itself is obviously fit for a Grand Prix, then. So what are the problems? It's possible that costs are a factor - travelling to South Africa is more expensive that going to a European venue - but surely, as it's a potential replacement for a long haul Grand Prix (Malaysia or Argentina), the costs are actually reduced from the original?

If it's not costs, then maybe there's a problem with the management - in this case, there might be something, as Kyalami was the centre of a big scam a few years ago - around the time of the last South African Grand Prix.

Kyalami was saved by the SA Automobile Association after it was auctioned off in an attempt to recover costs towards the proprietors (principally a certain Mr B. Ecclestone) significant debt. Key positions at Kyalami went to (among others) Piet Swanepoel, and Selwyn Nathan.

Mr Nathan has gone on to his current position, owning the TV rights to all circuit racing in South Africa, and might be held by Bernie Ecclestone to be part of the 'old regime'. Possibly, this might have created an invisible barrier, holding back any commitment to a Grand Prix there, despite the fact that everything's in place to do so - because Mr Ecclestone would certainly not wish to line the pockets of anyone he felt to be connected with an organization that caused him substantial financial loss and embarrasment.

That is, of course, pure speculation; but if it is the issue, then this should be interesting: there is a rumour running the rounds in South Africa that Kyalami is being sold to a British business for a substantial sum. Further digging has revealed that this might be Ms. Nicola Foulston - already owner of Brands Hatch, and certainly in Mr Ecclestones good books, as she previously arranged guarentees for the British Grand Prix to remain at Silverstone if she bought the track.

Perhaps things are not going entirely to plan in the Silverstone purchase, and Ms Foulston is revising her plans - certainly the Kyalami track is only missing the FIA actually placing it on the calendar. Pure speculation? Maybe! But the current Sterling to Rand conversion rate can only lend credance to this story.

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