Week starting 21st November, 1999
Teams concerned over Pi takeover
With Pi being taken over by Ford, many of the teams are concerned that confidential information will make it's way to Jaguar's headquarters over the coming months.
The Pi Group is a Cambridge based company, heavilly involved in motorsport. Their services are used by most of the teams for collating and transmitting telemetry data; and despite assurances from Pi that confidentiality will be maintained, there is concern that Ford's involvement will give them access to telemetry data.
There are other options in the market, but Pi is good at what it does - so teams are now assessing ways to ensure damage is limited, should information "happen" to leak...
With the off season peaking - tests don't start for another week - rumours of teams interested in getting together a Formula One effort are coming to the fore. Most of them are repeats of speculation from earlier in the season, but it's still difficult to distinguish the wood from the chaff.
The latest rumours - the return of March - are founded on understanding that Robin Herd and Mike Earle are attempting to find the sponsorship required to compete in F1 again... this is something Herd at least has been doing (on and off) since March stopped racing after 1992.
Recently, Lotus return rumours have surfaced too - though in this case, as an engine supplier alone, rather than a team in the original sense - alongside rumours that Toyota could decide not to compete from 2001 after all, allowing another team the elusive twelfth and final spot on the grid...
Other hopefuls include half the successful F3000 teams from the last year, and any number of hints that ex drivers (Damon Hill and Nigel Mansell are both popular at the moment) could be looking to take over a team, or start one of their own.
The rumours keep the presses turning, but have no more bearing on reality than when they occur in the main season: which is to say, one day, Lotus may return, and March might buy Minardi, and Arrows could win the constructors championship. Certainly, stranger things have happened, but the likelihoods are not exactly high now, are they?
Arrows Aero package leaping forward
Following news that TWR boss Tom Walkinshaw is pulling the BTCC Volvo R&D team onto developing the Formula One car in 2000, sources are indicating a significant step forward for the team's aerodynamics over the off season.
The team has focussed on the 2000 project, pretty much from the start of 1999. The new car, it seems, carries on some aspects of the original, but is basically a new concept, based around a significantly improved aero package.
The anticipated changes are thought to provide the team with equivalent downforce to the 1999 car, at a reduced drag cost of some 8-12% - depending who you listen to. If this is the case, then combining the new aero package with a Supertec engine should really put an Arrow amongst the pigeons: the team would expect to compete on a similar par to Williams last year: circuits requiring power would be a problem, but the others should give the team a chance to compete for something other than a wooden spoon.
BAR change gear...
Whilst BAR's management have been struggling over control of the team, and generally distracting from the effort, it appears their employees have more sense, and have been getting on with the job.
Sources indicate lessons from last year's car have been learned, and the team hope to make the most of their experience. Furthermore, the team have lent on Honda's experienced arm, picking up tips from experience with their own aborted challenger... so the game plan for 2000 is different to the 1999 model.
More than any other team, BAR suffered reliability difficulties in their inaugral year. The new approach sees an attempt to build reliability into the car from day one - the price might put the car off the pace of front runners at first, but that can be handled later.
The new gearbox and transmission appear to originate from Honda: they are expected to perform well, and take the strains from the new engine - transmission failure was a big issue in 1999. The car's designers aimed for simple, and elegant, allowing room for plenty of improvement. Getting on the road, and to the finish is top priority.
However, it seems that is not all. Performance is not being neglected - already, there are planned improvements to be tested and brought into play as the car's reliability is proven. All told, the contrast to 1999's big bang approach is marked: however, with McLaren and Ferrari poised to fight at the front again, leaving Jordan and Stewart to fight Williams for the remaining places, it might still prove difficult for BAR to score points.
Prodrive Talking Business
David Richard's days with Benetton might not be over, according to rumours floating currently in the rounds.
News that Prodrive are interested in getting back into Formula One has started speculation over how the company would achieve the feat - either by buying out a team, or aligning themselves with one. With 49% of the company being sold to an investment house, they have sufficient funds to buy Arrows or Minardi, should either team owner wish to sell.
Giancarlo Minardi was on record stating the team was for sale, after disappointment in Italy when the Arrows cars were used as battering rams to take his cars out of contention; however, since that time talks with Telefonica seem to have improved, and the team is again on it's feet. Arrows boss Tom Walkinshaw is also expected to continue with the team, and promises a big step forward in 2000.
More recent rumours indicate that Prodrive is talking to the Benetton family about selling up their concern in Formula One - the team becoming "Benetton-Prodive" with the family only as the title sponsor, much as they were before taking the team on. Other speculation has Richards in discussions with Sauber, concerning the potential to provide team-management and development resources to the outfit, though what they gain in return is unspecified.
All these rumours are just that - pure speculation - however, David Richards is a very determined man, who has achieved his goals in every arena bar F1; so the one thing which is certain is his intent to return.
Trouble for BHL
Nicola Foulston's hopes for staging the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch took a dive, as BBC television's Countryfile ran a story on one of the environmental issues: the destruction of 37 acres of Ancient Woodland in the middle of the existing track.
BHL refused the BBC permission to film the woodland, also declining an opportunity to be interviewed. In their planning application, they stated that the woodland is poor quality, and already damaged by some off-road rallying - however, local residents have different opinions, and are now making their presence felt nationally.
The local government will be making a decision on the request for planning permission, and have to weigh an estimated £200 million benefit to the area over five years, against a woodland which dates back to the ice-age...
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Toyota looking at Wirth
Nick Wirth's resignation from Benetton, officially, was due to "differing ideas on the future direction of the car" - not four years of sliding backwards against the competition.
Toyota are seeing Wirth as a designer with lots of Formula One experience... who has seen many of the pitfalls awaiting new cars. Accordingly, they are reputedly considering hiring Wirth in a consultancy role, to advise on their F1 project...