Week starting 20th June, 1999:
Silly Season updated
Mika Salo is rumoured to be favourite to replace Damon Hill, particularly if he retires early this season. The Finn has already announced he is interested in the drive, and has the advantage of being available at very short notice.
Greg Moore could be crossing the channel, according to reports from the States. He is unhappy with Players and Forsythe at the moment - though it could be posturing to strengthen his position for resigning.
Austrian radio announced Wurz has been resigned by Benetton for the 2000 season.
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Friday Practice Completed
The Friday practice was a strange affair.
In the first session, neither Ferrari made it out onto the circuit - both drivers satisfied themselves with watching the others wokring out their problems. The McLarens were slow out, and immediately went top of the table, with Alex Zanardi looking comfortable in third place.
In the second session, Eddie Irvine made an early foray onto the track, but headed back to the pits, having posted a very quick time. Michael Schumacher eventually made his way out, then fell off the circuit - blaming poor setup (not surprising, as it was his first quick lap).
The session ended with Schumacher heading back out, taking the quickest time (with a total of 9 laps) from Irvine, leaving the Ferrari's ahead of the McLaren's of Hakinnen and Coulthard respectively.
Ferrari are believed to have been using their new specification engine during this session.
Click here for full results
McLaren spring a new Wing
McLaren may have a revision to their rear wing available for the French Grand Prix, according to speculation from their rivals.
It appears that the team were concerned that the Ferrari's were so quick in testing, and are bringing forward the introduction of a new rear wing, which was due for the Silverstone Grand Prix. Details are sketchy, but the advantages are rumoured to be in the wings weight, and a modest improvement in it's drag/downforce ratio.
The McLaren team have suffered reliability problems for much of the season, and will be keen not to compromise their situation further by introducing untested parts for the race, but there's not expected to be any reliability trouble in this instance - though if there was, and the wing fell off, it would highlight the need for a more rigorous test than that introduced ahead of Brazil!
Zanardi's Future, Back in the Past
The year Nigel Mansell returned to Formula One in a McLaren, he discovered that the car was not of a standard which would allow him to race - the man who had concurrently held Formula One and Indy (now CART) titles could not race. So he withdrew, rather than have his reputation damaged.
At the time, many said it was because he was over the hill, and didn't have what it takes any longer - something he proved conclusively was not the case a few years later at the wet Donington BTCC race, where he drove an underpowered Ford Mondeo from the back to the front of the grid, enthralling many race-goers who were looking to see the old magic. In fairness, the McLaren was not the car it is today.
The question of preserving a reputation could be something of an issue for Alex Zanardi. The reigning CART champion is not having an easy time making the transition back to Formula One, and must be contemplating the fun he would have had in his old car, being handled so effectively by Montoya this year.
It's rumoured that there are clauses in his contract which will allow him to cut short his foray into Formula One, should he so choose, and the current rumours reflect that, and his performances so far, hinting that he could be departing at the end of the season.
These rumours are, however, just that. It is possible that Zanardi might decide to "protect his reputation," but in that case, he is too late as the damage is already done. Far better he remains true to his original goals, makes the most of this year's less than perfect car, and is ready to challenge in 2000 and beyond.
This week's Atlas F1 Grapevine:
- V12 in the 2000 BAR
- Damon's departure
- Picked from the Bunch (including Silly Season Update)
Battle of the Qualifying Components
Eddie Irvine's stunning time in testing last week is, allegedly, the result of running a number of "qualifying" components on the car, and qualifying setup.
The French track often requires completely different directions between race and qualifying setups. This allows a very quick qualifying time, at the expense of the tyres which wear fast; obviously, the race setup must allow the tyres to last to the pitstops.
However, the 1999 spec tyres are so hard, and the Ferrari so well balanced, that this year it is speculated that the Ferrari's race and qualifying setups are virtually identical, give or take the advantages of any qualifying parts on the car.
It remains to be seen if this, or the rumours that Irvine had qualifying parts on the car are true, but however you look at it, Ferrari have something that work on this track, and look forward to dominating this weekend.
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Living in Testing Times: French GP
With the French Grand Prix just around the corner, most of the teams decended on the circuit last week to develope their cars, and to prepare for the race ahead.
The French circuit has characteristics also associated with the Barcelona track, scene of the processional Grand Prix before the Canadian event; the grip level is relatively low - placing some premium on aerodynamics - but varies considerably with temperature. This could place the teams in the same position they faced at the Spanish Grand Prix, where all the work they put in over the last week is for naught, as weather conditions change!
Two things that are likely to be different, however, are the weather, and the gap between the leading teams. This is Ferrari's best chance since Monaco to beat the McLarens, as the circuit's overall speeds are relatively low, so their better mechanical grip can come into play. However, the Mercedes power and drivability should not be underestimated, so a Ferrari front row foregone conclusion!
The other major player could be the sudden heavy rain that is a regular feature at this track. If nothing else, it could enliven proceedings in what is likely otherwise to be a processional event; though it should be noted that David Coulthard was able to overtake here last year...
Prognosis - the free practice and qualifying sessions will probably be more interesting than the race, and most of the cars should make the finish. The usual players should be in action, though Damon Hill is a wildcard after announcing his retirement, and the Prosts could surprise the Supertec runners, if their new chassis lives up to the teams hopes.