F1 Rumors - news ahead of the headlines

Week of the 7th March 1999:

Moving the Goalposts

The FIA have released a press statement relating to the rules in Formula One:

  • Recoverable energy (immediate effect) - The maximum recoverable energy stored in the car is now limited to an amount which could not be used to increase performance.
  • Fuel (immediate effect) - The fuel for Formula One cars must comply with the European fuel directive 98/70 EC and the specifications which will be mandatory in the European Union from 1st January 2000 (maximum sulphur content 150 parts per million).
  • As from 1st January 2000, the fuel for Formula One cars will comply with the specifications which will be introduced in the European Union in 2005 (maximum sulphur content 50 parts per million).
  • Differential (immediate effect) - Electronic differentials may now only use the actually measured torque, and not the "theoretical" engine torque.
  • Impact absorbing structure (as from 1 January 2000) - In order to improve passive safety the rear absorbing structure will have a minimal external cross section of 90 cm².
At this time, it is unknown how this will affect all the teams for Brazil; the Williams and McLaren teams are rumoured to be implicated by the Fuel change, whilst an insider suggested the McLaren and Ferrari teams will be impacted by the Electronic Differential rule - how much difference it will make is unknown.

At least one team is awaiting the FIA defining 'recoverable energy', though at this time we have not been able to establish if the query relates to a device on the car, or in development.

One ruling that could have been expected, but wasn't there, is a load test for the rear wing to prevent them leaning at speed... presumably that is to follow, though the later it is left, the less time teams will have to react and prepare for it in Brazil.

Mercedes pushing to buy McLaren

Formula One world champions McLaren denied rumours on Thursday that Mercedes has plans to buy 60% of the team. Mercedes currently supply engines for McLaren, but that is the limit of their present involvement in the team.

A German newspaper reported on Thursday that Mercedes would buy 60% of McLaren for more than $500 million, after McLaren won the 1998 world championship, and started 1999 in very promising shape... that both McLaren's retired is not an issue, as they are expected to sort the reliability issues out and mount a very strong challenge for the title from Brazil.

McLaren have always maintained their independance - like Williams, the engine manufacturer is seen to be an integral part of the package, but not the controller. Financial concerns for the supplier are taken into account, but not allowed to dictate the teams course.

Should Mercedes succeed in buying into McLaren, it would probably spell the end of the name in the sport - at least whilst the car is winning - as Mercedes would want to reap maximum benefit from the situation. Fortunately for McLaren, they are in a strong position to maintain the status quo; although Mercedes is the best engine, it is taylored to McLarens requirements... and the McLaren is the best chassis.

McLaren's rejection of the offer would be taken relatively well - the partners are well suited to each other, and highly professional. Noone can blame Mercedes for attempting to buy in, or McLaren for wanting to maintain independance. But it is an awfully large sum of money to turn down...

Troubled times in the BAR camp

A notable absentee from last weeks Melbourne Grand Prix was Adrian Raynard - a shareholder in BAR, and head of the company that provides the expertise to build the chassis.

Whilst the team is playing down the absence, it is widely speculated that he missed the event because the car was never likely to win it...

Every class of racing Raynard has entered to date has resulted in a first race win; and had BAR succeeded in making the magic happen in Melbourne, there is little doubt that Raynard would have been looking for a significant proportion of the credit. The car is not in fact a Raynard design - rather, it was designed mostly by BAR partner Malcolm Oastler... leaving the Raynard claim to greatness intact.

With the not so revealing news that the Supertec engine is underpowered, over priced and under resourced, the chances of BAR spending much time on the podium this year - let alone winning a race - are remote. Adrian Raynard is a busy man. Speculation has him working very hard to expand into the American market; and business comes before pleasure. And watching cars that are not winning does not quite rate as either!

Atlas-F1 Grapevine

This week's Atlas F1 Grapevine:

  • Black Cat at BAR?
  • Ferrari headaches
  • Salo in a Ferrari?
  • Picked from the Bunch
  • Melbourne Tidbits

Ford pulling out the stops

Fords already aggressive development program on the engine has been accelerated, after the excellent results of the Melbourne Grand Prix. The Cosworth team believe their engine is the second best on the grid - ahead of the Ferrari unit - and they have a program intended to place them alongside Mercedes by mid season.

The current development direction has a weight reduction focus, though there are other elements being addressed - it's rumoured the engine will have lost some five to seven percent of it's mass by Brazil, though the final figures depend on the results from reliability testing.

The Ford commitment to Formula One can be easilly seen from the effort Cosworth are putting into making the Stewart car a winner. Certainly, the power supply for the car is top notch, and getting better. Once the reliability gremlins are ironed out, the package will really be something special.

Grip Imbalance

At the Australian Grand Prix, there were a large number of spins - particularly in qualifying. Whilst this can be quite exciting for the crowd (who will never know if a driver on a hot lap will stay in track or not until they cross the line), it is very nerve wracking for the drivers, and really must cause concern for safety.

Reducing the mechanical grip on the cars has, as intended, reduced cornering speeds. Now the drivers must brake earlier and longer ahead of the corner, and mistakes are punished. This is as intended, and of itself is not a problem.

The issue is no longer the cornering speeds - the damage the cars and drivers obviously failed to suffer in Melbourne is testament to that - but the lack of controllability of the cars.

Due to the nature of grip, being split between aerodynamic and mechanical, there is an inherent problem with introducing an aerodynamic bias: when the car starts to spin, it also loses aerodynamic grip (which is totally reliant on the car travelling in a forward direction, particularly the diffuser). This large extra grip loss is certainly enough to prevent the driver from regaining control with the mechanical aspect - the car is literally travelling too fast for the tyres alone to provide enough grip.

What if the imbalance was the other way? Well, on losing the car in the corner, there would be less overall loss of grip as the percentage contribution from aerodynamic effects would be reduced. This would leave the driver with more chance to regain control.

All the above is based on simple physics principles; the FIA have made a decision to reduce mechanical grip by attacking the tyres - an unpopular move, but it does do what it set out to achieve. The issue that must now be addressed is the imbalance between mechanical and aerodynamic grip. Now there's a tricky issue!

Brazil Cancellation Rumour

Rumours are circulating in Melbourne that the Brazilian Grand Prix is in danger of being cancelled, due to huge floods in the Sao Paolo region. The threat of diseases such as cholera means the race could be axed leaving an eight week hole in the calendar before the San Marino GP.

Whilst there is an increased risk of disease as a result of flooding, the odds are against the race being cancelled - no officials have been prepared to comment on this rumour.

Forbes rate Schumacher

In this years listing of powerful celebrities by Forbes, Michael Schumacher is ranked 40. The German's influence is stronger than most politicians 'back home'!

Information from Forbes.

Melbourne - Signs and Portents

It shows the pundits can get things right and wrong - at the same time! They were right that reliability would be key to the Australian Grand Prix, but few predicted Eddie Irvine taking a win, or a Stewart going so well! Some thought neither McLaren would make the distance, but they always thought Michael Schumacher would be the beneficiary.

In a race full of incident, if not much overtaking, there was quite a lot of excitement; from the McLaren garage falling apart ahead of the race, to cars going up in flames on the starting grid (both Stewarts), hard chargers moving through the field from the back (Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello), high speed spins (Zanardi and Villeneuve), cars dropping out regularly, and the points positions shared between six different manufacturers (how long has it been since that happened?)

Full credit must be given where it's due: Eddie Irvine has played a difficult role at Ferrari, helping to drive forward Michael Schumacher's challenge for the title - giving up track position when required for the cause. The problems Michael suffered at the start of the race kept him away from the front, and allowed Eddie an unfettered tilt at the race. With the loss of the McLarens - who were in trouble right from the installation laps - Eddie inherited the lead. Driving at the limit without being pushed into mistakes by a charging Heinz-Harald in the Jordan kept him there. It's been a long time coming, and he made the best of the opportunity!

Eddie Jordan must be pleased that so many of 'his' drivers did well - everyone who finished at Melbourne except Tora Takagi has driven for him. Often noted as the best F1 talent spotter, the results spoke for themselves!

Markers are down for the remainder of the season. McLaren have - again - produced an exceptionally quick car, and lead the field by a clear second. Adrian Newey said this year's step was bigger than last year's, and in real terms it is, thnough reliability is an issue. Ferrari are shocked to be so far off the pace, and are bringing forward at least two development programs (engine and tyre evaluation) in an attempt to get on terms by Brazil.

Benetton made a better showing than in last year - Fisichella recovering from a broken wing demoting him to the back of the field to take fourth place overall, and Prost looked strong this weekend. The Saubers impressed at times in practice, though they disappointed in qualifying and the race. Arrows reliability made much of a car that was not really quick enough.

The surprise team of the meeting was Stewart - though not to regular F1 Rumors readers, of course. Aside from both cars going up in flames on the starting grid, they were very impressive. The new Ford engine and Stewart chassis combined well with the drivers, keeping them looking good all weekend. Johnny Herbert had a mechanical problem in qualifying, then couldn't start the race; Rubens Barrichello did very well - starting with Michael Schumacher at the back of the grid and getting a 10 second stop/go penalty, to finish fifth, was an excellent achievement. The car has some reliability issues, but it looks set to pull out some good results this year - certainly with the potential to finish ahead of some Supertec runners.

So, rounding up, the race was much as expected. The closer running meant most drivers did not qualify alongside their team mates, the race was about reliability, the teams largely performed as expected - though relatively speaking, Ferrari were slow, Stewart and Prost were quick, and Arrows was reliable! Melbourne 99 has proved an excellent start to the season, with action packing the qualifying hour and race ensuring an exciting affair.

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