F1 Rumors - news ahead of the headlines

Week of the 21st February 1999:

Travel problems to Melbourne?

The British based teams are organised to fly out to Australia; but there may be transport trials for some of their rivals:

Sauber were reported to be delayed after a road traffic accident closed the tunnel to Milan airport - it's not yet known if they missed the flight... or what compromises they'll face if they have; but a 24 hour delay should not do too much harm.

Adverse weather conditions in European could mean Ferrari and Minardi arriving late - and losing out on testing time. Ferrari can certainly afford to make alternative arrangements, but for Minardi to do the same would generate a large hole in their budget.

For all the weather scares, however, it's most likely that the flights will all operate as scheduled, and nothing untoward takes place.

Gary Anderson's view on Jordan

The Irish-Times has interviewed Gary Anderson, picking up his views on Jordan - his employer until he moved to Stewart last season.

In the interview, Anderson intimated that the design team did not take the direction he would have taken; expecting the new car to be strong at the start of the season, but falling behind the pace of development Ferrari and McLaren are expected to make.

He further commented that "there's something about the Ferrari setup that doesn't work", tipping McLaren to pull the double despite Michael Schumachers acknowledged driving skills for Ferrari.

Considering he still thinks of Eddie Jordan as a good friend, this is unlikely to be a case of sour grapes; but with the fantastic development Jordan put on for the second half of last season (undoubtedly, the top improver through the season) there seems cause to wonder why he thinks they will not match the development pace of Ferrari and McLaren in 1999. Does he know something we don't?

Kyalami Rumours Again

It seems that Kyalami can't stay away from the rumour mill at the moment - there's more talk in South Africa that the circuit has been sold to a British concern, probably resulting from the meeting between Selwyn Nathan and Bernie Ecclestone.

Bernie Ecclestone's blessing on any such deal is certainly a necessity; the bottom line is, he decides where Grand Prix take place, and who will benefit from them, so the buyer must be in his good books in order to have any chance of hosting.

Recent rumours linked Ms. Nicola Foulston, owner of Brands Hatch, to a potential buy out of Kyalami. As mentioned before, she appears to be in Bernies good books, following his assurance that a takeover of Silverstone would ensure the British Grand Prix. With the Silverstone owners not playing ball, there is the chance she is looking elsewhere for the opportunity to play host to one of the worlds most exclusive sporting events!

Atlas-F1 Grapevine

This week's Atlas F1 Grapevine:

  • The surprise Arrows lineup for Melbourne;
  • Secret components on the MP4/14;
  • Optimism at BAR, but not enough time;
  • South African Grand Prix news.

Report - Closeup on Kyalami

With most F1 teams running down their testing programmes after a rather frenetic start to `99 and packing their goods for Melbourne, the two teams that visited Kyalami for a five day test in the sun must have more realistic views on the first race of the season than the rest.

Williams and BAR took the trouble to escape the European winter, winging their way to a far more realistic set of circumstances at Kyalami, just north of Johannesburg, South Africa. Itís an interesting choice, Kyalami. Sharing time zones within an hour or two, it allows the test team to be in direct contact with the normal shift back home, while English speaking South Africans are more than keen to help out, however they can. If something breaks, frequent flights to and from England ensure not too much time is lost either.

But the big advantage Kyalami offers is its climate. Real summer days - hot, dry and challenging, coupled to the extra factor of rarified highveld air. Kyalamiís at almost 6 000ft above sea level. So if you want to be sure about reliability, then Kyalamiís the place. And it brought out the worst in the Williams and, particularly, the BAR.

Despite their ongoing reliability body-checks, both teams did get many laps in between, although never a full race distance. So itís clear that both teams will be going to Australia and Brazil, both with similar temperate southern hemisphere climates to Kyalami, with a lump in the throat about their machineryís reliability. But that could work out as an advantage, as reserved expectations often do in motor racing.

BARís chief problem lay in an alleged transmission control software glitch, while Williams had a variety of snags, not to mention a good few crashes and spins.

Ralf Schumacher seemed quick at Kyalami, settling down to a fast pace almost immediately and was also faster than his team mate in the time sheets all week. But his times were erratic in comparison to team mate Zanardi: Alex was highly impressive in his consistent lappery; his times from lap to lap never varied by much more than a tenth of a second, either up or down, more often than not continually a tenth quicker each lap to a point and then back by the same amount for a while - almost if controlled that way. Ralf was nowhere near as consistent, keeping the power down far more than Alex, but clearly paying for what appeared to be the results of that, by laps which were often seconds quicker or slower than the previous.

As mentioned though, both drivers spun several times, Alex kissing the wall twice, once on Valentineís day, losing two full days waiting for parts, and again on the final afternoon on low fuel and qualifiers. Ralf copied that crash within minutes, ending the week for Williams. It would be interesting to see how close they came to Nigel Mansellís lap record of 1.17.5 on the circuit without that horrid little chicane. Itís taken that the chicane is worth at least two-and-a-half seconds a lap in F1 terms, so Ralfís 1.21.9 isnít too far off.

Alex looks totally different on the track, his smoothness out there confirming his consistent pace, while Ralf appeared to be fighting the car more. It worked on a single lap - occasionally, but in general, his times seemed to match his scruff of the neck aggression.

Donít take the BARís final lack of pace too seriously. They never had a chance to bolt on qualifiers in the end, or chase times, that transmission gremlin ate up much of their time, especially on Ricardo Zontaís two days in the car after Villeneuve had left. Jacques was quickest on the Monday, his aggression in the car seemed more focused. He uses the power just as much as Ralf, but manages more consistent lappery with it. Jacques was perhaps the most impressive driver there, and his or the BARís presence should not be underestimated in Australia off the Kyalami performance. They remain very much a dark horse. Poor Zonta never really had a chance to even learn the daunting Kyalami properly with all the BAR hassles, his times mean nothing.

Technically, Williams ran without barge boards for much of the week, but seemed to keep on developing their front wing end plates through the days. Their rumoured torque transfer machinery did not appear though. BAR seemed very secretive about the wing tips on the front of their car, covering them with tyre warmer hubcaps as soon as the car stopped each time. Besides that, the biggest differences were the novelties of the new cars, the wing tips, as mentioned, and the aerodynamics ahead of the rear wheels.

Kyalamiís test results may prove exactly the opposite of what most expect in Melbourne. The dramas BAR and Williams endured there will have the teams on their toes right now, with few laurels to rest on.

Roll on Australia...

Michele Lupini

Kyalami F1 Testing, 13-17 February 1999
1Ralf SchumacherWilliams1 min 24.71 min 23.91 min 25.341 min 24.51 min 21.9
2Alex ZanardiWilliams1 min 25.11 min 24.4 -- 1 min 24.71 min 22.0
3Jacques VilleneuveBAR1 min 25.81 min 25.61 min 24.22 -- --
3Ricardo ZontaBAR -- -- -- 1 min 25.31 min 26.6
Track temperature:40C42C35C42C43C
Ambient temperature:30C31C26C31C32C
Conditions: Warm, Sunny. Partly cloudy throughout
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.

BARs colour scheme

As previously rumoured BAR are running their cars with the livery split left and right. Some thought it possible they would put the liveries on different sides for each car, but it has not turned out that way. There is still speculation that the cars appearance will change before Melbourne, and this is a compromise step: the testing at Kyalami brought up a number of issues... the new parts are expected to be on time for Melbourne, but would not be ready in time for a new livery to be placed properly.

A retouched image of the new livery is available in the pictures section - photos will be forthcoming as they are available!

Speculation over McLarens pace

Following the relatively slower than expected times McLaren posted in the last day of testing, rumours are surfacing that the team was running without the aid of a new device.

Recent news speculated that the MP4/14 might not pass scrutineering if the FIA don't give the go-ahead on a new component - so the team could run with last years MP4/13. Rather than have to take extra cars to Melbourne, rumour has it the team is prepared to spend time setting up the car without the device, so they can just remove it if the FIAs approval is not forthcoming.

Add this to the reliability problems the team experienced on the last day, and the 'news' they were testing tyre wear under heavy load, and the times are explained away - and using an unknown amount of fuel means the team has not revealed how much time the car gains from the new devices.

Surprises at Barcelona

The weekend at Barcelona saw something of a shakeup in the time sheets!

Trulli in a Prost - admittedly running low fuel and new tyres - set the fastest time of the year with the AP02; Barichello in the Stewart was again just off the pace, with Heinz-Harald coming in ahead of Jordan team mate Damon Hill. And the McLarens of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard finished shower that Panis in the other Prost.

Johnny Herbert was slightly off the pace of his teammate - but after his high speed crash into the barriers, it's no surprise if he takes a couple of sessions becoming fully comfortable with the car again.

In fairness, some of this is down to the programs being pursued - the McLarens had reliability problems, dogging the day; and there is speculation they were running very high on fuel to get data on tyre wear rates under heavy load, but they really didn't get in the miles to complete that information if this is true.

What it does show, however, is beating Ferrari in the timesheets last weekend might not be enough - Michael Schumacher in his F399 has had fantastic reliability in the last week of testing. So if Melbourne follows the progress of the last week, expect McLarens in the front, and Ferrari behind for qualifying... and a scarlet podium after the race! To stand any chance of winning, McLaren must sort out their reliability issues in the next week.

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