F1 Rumors - news ahead of the headlines

Week starting 15th August, 1999:

Webber Lands McLaren Test

Young Australian Talent, Mark Webber has been rumored to be in the process of landing a test drive for current constructors champion, McLaren. Mercedes boss Norbert Haug revealed to the Herald Sun at the Hungarian Grand Prix that Webber is mulling over a three-race deal in Formula 3000. If Webber lives up to his potential the talented Australian will then be slotted behind the wheel of a Silver Arrow.

Haug would not confirm whether Webber is being offered the seat of Nick Heidfeld who wrapped up the Formula 3000 championship in Budapest last Saturday. Mercedes are now looking to make good on a promise to find Heidfeld a seat in Formula One and as he moves on there will be a vacancy that Webber could fill.

Mercedes have denied that Webber well be released from his contract. 'We have offered him a testing possibility in Formula 3000 and the possibility of driving in three Formula 3000 races this season,' Haug said. 'No decision has been taken by him so far. Webber has spoken to McLaren managing director Martin Whitmarsh. The test drive of the McLaren is a possibility in the future but first he has to race in Formula 3000.'

Webber had hoped to land a Jordan testing deal but they refused to consider it while he was contract-tied to Mercedes - McLaren’s engine supplier. Jordan team sources have previously said that Webber needed an outing in Formula 3000 to prove his credentials.

Review of Hungary 1999

McLaren back on top

by David Cunliffe

After all the euphoria of the last two races, Eddie Irvine and Ferrari were put firmly back in their places in Hungary today by an emphatic McLaren 1-2. Mika Hakkinen took a lights to flag victory, thanks (this time) to a mistake-free race by the team from Woking. Despite a poor start, which dropped him to 5th, David Coulthard made a strong recovery and took 2nd place after pushing Eddie Irvine for several laps and forcing the Ulsterman to make a mistake. Irvine came home third and maintains his place at the head of the Championship table, albeit now by a meagre two points.

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Week starting 8th August, 1999:

Irvine & Herbert

the Antipodes of Fortuity

by David Bell

With the "best" half of this year's campaign long gone, I feel that an attempt to rationalise a truly comic 1999 season is now due. But to do so in toto, in the depth such an analysis deserves, would protract this article from 'rather lengthy' to the 'insufferably prolix.' Concerned for my readers' mental health, therefore, I will solely concentrate on the winners and losers who now shape the title run-in to this millenium's final World Championship.

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Prost's Options

Will Prost be Silly Season's biggest loser?

by Christiaan W. Lustig Four-time Formula One World Champion Alain Prost and his team Prost Grand Prix could be left empty handed with their drivers and manufacturer leaving and virtually no choices.

Prost's current engine partner Peugeot is likely to quit supplying the French team with engines, eventhough their contract runs for another year.

Jarno Trulli is due to sign for Jordan Mugen-Honda, because Prost can't live up to the performance clause in Trulli's contract. Prost's other driver, Frenchman Olivier Panis, was set to be dumped, and is now linked to Arrows. That said, test driver Stephane Sarrazin, favoured replacement, hasn't impressed much in recent testing, so Panis could be staying at Prost for one more year. Potential engine supplier Supertec has already been confirmed as signing a third team: Minardi. Supertec does not have the infrastructure to supply a fourth team in it's current shape.

Few options remain to Prost. The team could try for Arrows' current Hart-built engine, but these have not been properly developed in recent months - even Arrows boss Tom Walkinshaw admitted all development goes to next year's car. The engine is over-sized, under-powered, and bearly adequate for qualifying!

Prost are limited on drivers to choose from, too. Rumours indicate they have approached Ferrari driver Mika Salo, but it is highly unlikely the Finn would give up the chance of a Ford or Ferrari seat to drive a Prost.

Yet, there are a few positives in the pipeline for Prost. It's rumoured that Mercedes is prepared to supply Prost with (old) engines in exchange for the education of their protégé Nick Heidfeld, if nothing else is forthcoming. Another manufacturer has also connected with the team - Honda. Having signed with both British American Racing and Jordan, a third team using older spec engines could provide income to further speed up development of the BAR-Honda factory team. In that case Honda's test driver Jos Verstappen would come with the package, which could be useful to Prost.

Whatever happens and whatever choices Alain Prost makes, his promises of being able to compete for the championship within four years is unlikely to come true. In fact a number of years could pass before Prost becomes competitive enough to score a healthy number of points…

Schumacher's return as 'Guest Star'

Sources indicate that the second Schumacher operation was a great success. Apparent, what they've done is decided that Schumacher is so fit, they can ease off the plate a bit and make his leg move more freely. Very useful when using the accelerator, apparently.

The downside is that Schumacher can expect to have terrible arthritis in later life as a result of this, but he won't be driving for Ferrari then so, that was not the major consideration. Still, it's now expected that even if Schumacher is not back for Monza as Webber is hoping, he should be back for the last two races as a sort of 'guest star.'

There's little cause to expect his pace to be diminished, however - apart from residual problems overcoming the injury, which could take a race or two, he should be as quick as ever.

Is the Red Sea Parting?

by Jo Howard

Ferrari haven't won a championship for 20 years, and they make no secret about their desire to win another one. The "problem" (for some) is, that with the absence of Michael Schumacher the burden has fallen onto the shoulders of Eddie Irvine. With the change of drivers and the possibility of the world championship, rifts are developing within the Tifosi. There are those who are delighted to see Ferrari's winning, the next best thing in the absence of their hero. Winning races and the constructors title is not an issue for debate among fans, they all want to see the scarlet cars reign supreme this season. When it comes to the drivers title, there is much division.

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Sounds of discontent from BAR

With even the BAR team itself confessing they have underachieved this year, it seems likely a rocky end of season is in prospect, unless points come soon.

Jacques Villeneuve is a competitor - always keen to race, but never happy to struggle at the back of the pack. The second half of last season, where his underpowered Williams finally started to be competitive, gave him an opportunity to show his mettle, and fight for points. Being at BAR, in a car that hasn't carried him to the finishing line once, is proving a demotivating experience. Unless something changes in the immediate future, there are strong odd's he will move on. Prost, Stewart, Ferrari and even Jordan have been mooted as possible candidates.

The deal with Honda, whilst widely publicised, is not absolutuly certain even now. Should things fail to gel between the Japanese giant and BAR, particularly if Villeneuve moves on, they could find themselves without an engine deal or star driver to attract the capital to gain one, and fold.

Clearly, having ten teams in Formula One is never going to be an option, so Bernie Ecclestone would probably step in and salvage the team - either by persuading Honda to buy BAR out at a knock down price, or arranging for an Arrows or other lower order engine supply, and promote an F3000 team.

Either way, if BAR want to be in Formula One next year, they need to make the car reliable enough to finish races, and ensure the relationship with Honda works well. Losing either Villeneuve or the engine deal would probably be terminal.

Formula One on BBC

It's not a done deal, but the incoming BBC Director General Greg Dyke is thought to be considering a major shakeup in the Formula One digital coverage scene.

The BBC's home sports coverage has been suffering a lot over recent years, seeing Formula One move to ITV, Soccer to Sky, and Cricket to Channel 4 to name a few high profile losses. Greg Dyke is expecting to strike back where possible, to demonstrate that the BBC can still carry World Class Sport.

With football costing very serious money, his primary target is thought to be Rugby Union - something achievable that the license payers would appreciate. A close second is Formula One. Greg Dyke gets on well with Bernie Ecclestone, and is thought to have an interesting sweetener up his sleeve; something that would appeal to Ecclestone, and make ITV's financial strength less of an issue.

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