F1 Rumors - news ahead of the headlines

Week of the 14th March 1999:

Young Aussie hopeful for an F1 Test

Australian F1 hopeful Mark Webber returned to Europe after the Australian GP to continue the cash chase that could make or break his hopes for an F1 drive this year.

Money is all that stands between the 22-year-old Australian and a spot as a F1 test driver, most likely with the Jordan team. Jordan team boss Eddie Jordan said Webber needed a consortium of people backing him to buy a test drive.

"He's very quick, he's as quick as anyone else. He needs some backing behind him and that's all he really needs. The problem about formula one is that the opportunities are very limited now and he needs to have some good backing," said Eddie Jordan.

Webber spent the entire Australia GP weekend wheeling and dealing to try to snare as much support as possible, but will have to keep up the pressure on potential sponsors in Europe as a primary aim this year.

"Its hard work getting money. But it will help everyone's cause. Everybody's behind me, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, (Victorian Premier) Jeff Kennett, (AGP chairman) Ron Walker. We have to try to pull the triangle together. In formula one everything has to be perfectly timed." said Webber.

Webber said he had been "very excited" by the talks he had with formula one chiefs but concedes his chance might slip away unless he can move closer to a test drive. hopefully with Jordan over the next few months.

Zanardi to be Replaced by Salo

According to rumors from one of our reliable sources Sir Frank Williams has contacted former Arrows driver Mika Salo to replace newcomer Alex Zanardi for the remainder of this season.

If Zanardi does not improve his performace before the season starts in Europe, Salo will take over from Zanardi in the San Marino GP in the beginning of May.

A Swedish sponsor is going to back Salo up by bringing a substantial amount of money to the Williams team.

Three days at Barcelona

It appears that Stewart have really got the bit between their teeth this season - and could be in a better position to challange McLaren for this seasons honors than Ferrari!

On the first day, Jean Alesi went well, taking the top spot from Eddie Irvine when the Ferrari encountered a technical issue. Both Stewarts broke their engines...

The second day showed what the Stewarts can do when the cars run for long enough. Both Johnny Herbert and Rubens Barrichello ran full race simulations - incidentally setting the days top time - to prove the reliability of the new Ford engine. Whilst not convinced that all the problems have been fixed, the Ford gamble on improving performance whilst attempting to correct the overheating problem appears to have worked.

Eddie Irvine was running multiple chassis for back to back comparisons of components - do not be misled by his times; they were bit testing, rather than putting all the solutions on the car at once. The Jordan team concentrated on the aerodynamic performance and setup (as opposed to mechanical setup), in preparation for Brazil.

On the third day, Marc Gene of Minardi improved his times considerably - demonstrating his newness to Formula One by taking so long to get on the pace... expect his times for qualifying and racing next year to be significantly better than this as his experience improves! The talk, however, was of the Stewarts. Their performance was of the order expected from the McLarens - dominating practice and posting exceptionally quick times. OK, so some of those times were set during a number of 'qualifying' type runs, but they needed data on tyre wear and performance under qualifying type setups... and their 'race setup' runs were not much slower.

Will Stewart catch the McLarens in Brazil? Probably not - a complete second advantage will not disappear over the space of five weeks! Particularly if you listen to the mutterings of 'underweight' from the pitlane (there was some speculation that the weight Ford saved from the engine had not been replaced with ballast - seems like sour grapes to me).

However you look at it, warnings have been posted. The Stewarts have taken the McLaren approach to 1999: take the risks - be quick, then get reliable. And if they put them both together, we are in for some real races at the front this year - and not just a rerun of last season, either.



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Salo's Dilemma

Salo's manager says he is not talking to Ferrari about the possibility of lining Mika Salo up for a test drive, and the current speculation puts him into the likely position of test driver for Honda, alongside Jos Verstappen.

Bear in mind that Honda is happy running the single chassis for at least a couple more months - they have a lot to work on, but it's very focussed and does not need two seperate cars at this time - and then there's still 'the decision': racing as engine partner to Jordan, or entering a complete team of their own. It's not unlikely that Mika will not get a drive at all this year.

Salo is generally recognised to be very quick. Some tag him a 'Monaco specialist', but it should be recalled that Monaco and wet circuits are both great levellers, allowing driver talents to come forward. By that token, he is better than Jacques Villeneuve... which is an interesting pointer to the probable origin of the latest rumour.

Mika Salo has, allegedly, been offered a drive in CART next year. Well, we do not have any confirmation of even talks taking place, but it is an interesting thought. He's shown more in Formula One than a certain Alex Zanardi, so perhaps a quick voyage across the pond is warrented. But if there is a chance of driving the Honda next year...

The Unthinkable Rumour

There is a rumour doing the rounds that goes as follows: should Ferrari fall behind the likes of Stewart and Jordan in this years assault on the championship, they would sell out to Toyota for 2001!

Whilst this rumour is, of course, unfounded, it does provide some food for thought. If Ferrari fell away from the competitive end of the grid, how long would Fiat continue to fund an obviously floundering team? Whilst Formula One and Ferrari are tied historically, there is no certainty that the team would continue to be a part of the F1 future if it couldn't compete at the top level... and that would certainly change the shape of the sport.

As it stands, whilst Ferrari are currently under pressure from the likes of Stewart and Jordan, it's still early days in the season, and Ferrari does head the championship. It's certainly too early for that rumour to be floating around!

Atlas-F1 Grapevine

This week's Atlas F1 Grapevine:

  • McLaren awaiting FIA goahead
  • Update on BAR and Raynard
  • Wet/Dry tyres on the cards
  • Picked from the Bunch

Barcelona Testing

The test session in Barcelona is progressing very nicely for Eddie Irvine and Ferrari. Throughout the day, the team has experienced no technical issues, but has produced some quick times; new parts are coming online, and the cars setup is being improved. The days progress left the team in a positive mode that their targets are attainable.

The Sauber of Jean Alesi ran well - as opposed to that of Pedro Diniz, which didn't get a proper run all day - resulting in the second fastest time of the day. Considering their performance in testing this year, it was surprising to see them so far off the pace in Melbourne, though Alesi often suffers from understeer there, which is a killer for his style of driving.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen showed that the Jordan pace is still there, against competitive times from Trulli in the Prost and Barrichello in the Stewart; Johnny Herbert having another largely forgettable day in the pits with reliability problems. The changes Cosworth made to the Ford unit have improved some aspects, but damaged others - attempting to improve reliability and performance at the same time could prove costly. Panis has not quite pulled out the times of his team mate, but worked on a different program so comparison is unfair.

E. Irvine (Ferrari)1:23.96780
J. Alesi (Sauber)1:24.05366
H. Frentzen (Jordan)1:24.10349
J. Trulli (Prost)1:24.20558
R. Barrichello (Stewart)1:24.31232
O. Panis (Prost)1:24.42259
J. Herbert (Stewart)1:25.9679
P. Diniz (Sauber)no timed laps

Silverstone Test

The Silverstone test went relatively well for BAR, although they still have not managed to complete a race distance: the attempted simulation was halted when they lost sixth gear. The rest of the program passed with few hitches; the team learned a lot about setting up the car, and practiced pitstops (apparently taking over three seconds off Zontas 'in' to 'out' time), which could stand them in good stead later in the season. Overall, reliability is improving, and there is more speed to come from the car, but the team has work to do still.

Benetton continued to assess the FTT system, and work on several setup issues. The cars are promising, according to the drivers, and they think there is a lot to come, if they can get to it. The FTT has provided some benefits, but not as much as expected at this stage.

Arrows are still struggling to find pace - and even reliability seems to be on the fritz, with niggling problems keeping them in the pits more than expected on Monday. The team is working on a number of solutions to the speed problem, but at root, they still have more questions than answers.

The undisputed team of the test is McLaren, however. Both cars have run full race simulations - and proved that reliability should not be such a problem from now on. David Coulthard in particular was in scintillating form, outpacing his team mate on both days. His mood is positive for the Brazilian Grand Prix, where he expects to be competing with Mika for Pole and Race honours. No other car is expected to match the pace of the McLarens before Monza at least - and not even there if Ferrari's next step engine is delayed or not up to the challenge.

Unofficial lap timesMarch 15March 16
Couthard (McLaren)1:25.7111:25.880
Hakkinen (McLaren)1:26.1981:26.153
Fisichella (Benetton)1:27.5201:27.887
Zonta (British American Racing)1:27.7141:28.063
Wurz (Benetton)1:28.2451:27.716
de la Rosa (Arrows)1:29.1421:28.208
Takagi (Arrows)1:29.0311:30.210

Impact of FFT

The Front Torque Transfer system being used by Benetton, and now in development at Williams, has measurable advantages, according to an insider.

The system provides a link between the front wheels that essentially prevents a single wheel from locking when breaking into a corner - though it is possible to lock both wheels still. Because the wheel that would lock is under loaded, the benefits are not enourmous, and certainly not as effective as 'proper' anti-lock breaking would be.

The device is used to break deeper into the corner than would be possible without it, preventing flat spotting (not as much of an issue with modern hard tyres), and potentially allowing drivers the extra meter required to out-brake an opponent when overtaking.

When the car is carrying a large fuel load, the effects can be seen better, and sources indicate the device should be worth a couple of tenths per lap on suitable circuits, though on others the advantage is offset by the extra weight at the front of the car, and could actually cost time.

Rear Wing Deflection Tests

There is speculation that the Wing Deflection test will comprise a 100kg rearward pull on the top of the wing structure, with a maximum permitted deflection of 1 degree, measured against the original position of the rear wing.

This test is not as strict as it could be - the forces on a rear wing at near 200mph are substantial, so the 100kg pull is well under the maximum stress load the wings are expected to sustain; indeed, it's possible that Sauber (who openly admit using flexible wings) and Ferrari (who demonstrably use them) will be unaffected.

With the test being set, other teams can now be expected to develop wings that conform to the test, but might deflect by two or three degrees (worth a few mph) at top speed... but as long as they stay on the car, the test should not be tightened this year at least.

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