F1 Rumors - news ahead of the headlines

Week of the 28th February 1999:

Melbourne Qualifying

Wasn't that an excellent session? Excepting that only the McLarens would be challenging for pole position (coming out of the morning session 2 seconds quicker than the rest made it clear before Qualifying started), it was an action packed hour.

All the cars had problems staying on the circuit; for all that, Ferrari managed to get both cars into the top 6, finally getting a handle on the low grip to get Michael into third and Eddie (despite the off track excursions) into sixth spots. The Stewart of Barrichello lived up to the promise of its practice performance, gaining fourth spot, and Heinz-Harald put his Jordan into fifth spot.

The grid is very mixed up - apart from the leading McLarens and trailing Minardis, only the Arrows pair qualified next to each other; this is certainly a good point about the new tyres. Fair enough, a lot of drivers didn't go quite as quick as they are capable, but with the tyres taking three of four laps to 'come in', and with lot of laps ruined by off track excursions, it's a real mix up.

If only McLaren had not done their homework so effectively (Adrian Newey said this years step was bigger than last years, and no-one could quite believe it), so there could be a real battle for pole between McLaren, Ferrari, Stewart and Jordan!

The familiar names missing from that list are, of course, Benetton and Williams, whose Supertec powered cars are just not quite on the pace yet. For the supertec teams, Fisichella, Ralf Schumacher and Wurz did put their cars in the top ten, Villeneuve pulled out a gritty eleventh (looked good and was in the top four at one point; turning 'donuts' on the Quantas kangeroo during an off was a definite highlight), while Zanardi ran out of laps, and Zonta is having a hard time learning the track.

Disappointing were Damon Hill in 9th, who should have been closer to Heinz Harald; Trulli in 11th, worse than his practice sessions; Panis, who never got to grips with the track; Sauber who did badly, with Diniz ahead of Alesi (a result of failing to dial out the understeer - Jean can't abide it!) and newcomer Marc Gene, who failed to qualify, though the Stewards will let him race as he showed competitive times in testing. We won't mention Arrows here, but their times are largely related to spending more time off the track than on it in the session!

Whilst the number of off-track excursions will offend many enthusiasts (and certainly add fuel to the safety debate around grooved tyres), the session itself was unpredictable (barring McLaren leading) and exciting to watch: you never knew who would be missing the next corner, how many hot laps drivers would try, where the traffic was, or who would next take third and fourth spots. Great viewing - if tough driving.

Practice Feedback

Feedback from Friday practice has Ferrari concerned about the pace they have not managed to set so far; although the program was optimised towards race running rather than looking at quick times, the loss of Michaels running time and difficulty getting the car setup right has some in the team concerned. General feeling is that with a good session today (Saturday), recovering to qualify both cars into the top six is feasible, but getting Michael on the front of the grid will need everything to go right from now on.

As mentioned below, Stewart are pleased with their step forward so far, and barring reliability issues hope to qualify well.

Jordan are happy to be in the top 6, but hoped to be closer to McLaren - a full second off the pace was not what they expected. Being lower down the lists, but only a couple of tenths off in many ways would have been better! The teams attitude is very positive for this race, where they are already hoping points are on the cards.

McLaren are happy to head the timesheets, and David Coulthard - who likes the Melbourne circuit and usually goes well there - is optimistic about his chances in qualifying.

The Prost team are being relatively quiet, but they are pleased to see Jarno Trulli in the top 10: the Italian is going well for the team, and they hope to continue being competitive against Williams and Benetton for qualifying. Their new car is a substantial move forward from last year - possibly as much as the Stewarts, though coming from further behind the results are less plain. The team hopes to beat the Supertec runners in qualifying, then get to the end of the race intact.

Stewart and Ford pleased

With Ferrari having a bad Friday practice, there was opportunity for another team to step into the 'top six' - and Stewart made the most of it, placing their cars to share the four positions behind McLaren with the Jordans.

Stewart have been telling anyone who would listen that this years package is a real step forward; OK, practice is not qualifying or the race, but being able to put both cars into the top six is certainly a positive step!

F1 Rumors picked Stewart as a team to watch from the launch: they are behind in testing, so reliability will be a thorn in their side this year, but the basic package from which they are building is incredibly solid: the engine is a completely different beast, the chassis has balance, and the understeer is actually controllable!

As the other teams (particularly Ferrari) get their acts together over the weekend, the Stewarts may fall through the field for qualifying; but they have a package that should put them in the top 10. Whether the cars can last a race distance is another matter altogether!

Bridgestone prepares for the USA

With news that the read and white "Melbourne" advertising banners now read "Firestone", Formula One's return to the USA is further assured.

Bridgestone have had a strong US presence for some years, marketed under the 'Firestone' branding. The move to advertise the brand globally has a couple of implications - first, don't be surprised to see Bridgestone trading as Firestone for all performance tyres (for road and racetrack) worldwide; and second, expect the names on the cars to change accordingly.

The Firestone success on the track in the States, coupled with the importance of that market, and the high visibility outside the US from partaking in Formula One, provides the company with an ideal chance to lose the 'split personality' of running under two names, and maximise the marketting potential of Formula One.

Atlas-F1 Grapevine

This week's Atlas F1 Grapevine:

  • Away Matches;
  • Wings of Desire;
  • Bernie Cuts of the Southern Hemisphere.

Wet opener at Melbourne?

With the weather forcast for Sunday predicting torrential rain (or changeable weather), the pitlane at large seems to think fortune could favour Ferrari and Michael Schumacher for the season opener.

The rain-master would not comment on whether rain would improve his chances in Sundays race, only iterating that it's difficult to drive in the wet, but not many would bet against him in difficult conditions.

In the past, Schumacher has shown an uncanny ability to predict how the weather will change through a race, ensuring his car is set up correctly to handle the situation. Couple this with his superb wet weather skills, and the odds start to favour the Ferrari driver, even if his car proves to be off the pace of McLaren in the dry.

However the weather turns out, the field is expected to be closer overall than any other season this decade, and there's a real danger of a thrilling final season of the millenium in Formula One.

Internet Guide for those with TV Troubles - Updated

With the news that several countries have been unable to come to terms with the FIA to show Formula One - whether for financial or contractual reasons - it's time for a quick guide to following a Grand Prix over the Internet.

If you are interested in live timing information, including all practices, qualifying and the race, then there is only one place to go. At F1-Live you will find this information - updated every two minutes whilst there is on track action.

To watch live Grand Prix, we offer three sites: our very own Paddock Chat area will be covering the GP live, with the added benefit of allowing you to chat with other enthusiasts whilst catching the action!

The Michael Schumacher Website also offers TV coverage in their RealVideo section, with RealVideo for those who have high speed connections. Lastly, one of our recommended picture sites Formula One Pictures - Formel Eins Bilder also covers the race and qualifying live.

For those of you with internet access, and no television coverage, it's a poor second, with no commentary, but we hope it helps you out.

A Thought on Team Orders

With thanks to the FIA for clarifying the rules on team orders ("team orders may be used to aid the Championship contender."), I am looking forward to the coming season with this thought: what if Eddie Irvine wins in Melbourne? It's not impossible! Last year, he scored whilst Michael Schumacher's engine expired - maybe this year we'll see a similar situation.

Now complicate things a little. Suppose Michael Schumacher gets a puncture at Brazilů and again Eddie wins. This would put Ferrari on 20 World Championship points - all courtesy of Mr Irvine. Should the gentlemen in question then find themselves - as happened more than once in 1998 - with Michael behind Eddie in the next race, will we see more miraculous 'brake fade'? And if we do, how exactly will the FIA explain the rules this time? After all, the race and Championship leader will be compelled (contractually) to make way for his higher esteemed, but lower scoring team mate. Whoops.

Flying New Zealand Visit for Top Finn

Andrew Potter

Reigning Formula One world champion Mika Hakkinen slipped into New Zealand yesterday.

The 30-year-old Finn was keen to avoid media attention when he jetted into Auckland, the country's largest city, just before midday. Sources close to Hakkinen say the Finn would spend a few days on holiday before leaving on Wednesday for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix. They say Hakkinen is staying at a undisclosed private location and may make a brief public appearance during his stay.

Formula One drivers often visit New Zealand around the time of the Australian event. In a country dominated by cricket and rugby, the star racers can walk the streets in virtual anonimity. The late Ayrton Senna particularly favoured short vacations here, and was rumoured to have stayed for several days in the company of super model Elle MacPherson after the 1991 Australian Grand Prix. The pair met when the supermodel made a one-off in the celebrity race in Adelaide driving a 3-series BMW. On the dummy grid Senna artfully edged out then Dallara driver Emanelle Pirro to offer MacPherson driving tips. She crashed within the first two laps. They were then rumoured to have had a short-lived love affair after Senna took MacPherson to New Zealand to work on her 'technique.'

Salo out!

According to Finland's newspaper "Turun Sanomat" Mika Salo lost the Arrows seat for the 1999. The newspaper contacted Salo's manager, Sue Greasley. She said that Salo will not drive for Arrows this year. As we posted earlier today, the team is expected to announce their second driver tomorrow, which will most likely be Tora Takagi.

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