F1 Rumors - news ahead of the headlines

Week starting 28th November, 1999

Testing, Day 3

Rubens Barrichello's day was cut short with engine difficulties, after setting a lap of 1:01.063 in difficult weather conditions. The ex-Stewart driver was looking comfortable, and is settling in quickly both to the handling of the car, and left foot breaking. The team are optimistic he will step almost straight in where Irvine left off...

In Jerez, Alesi concentrated on testing as many different setup options as possible on the Prost. His work has allowed him to evaluate all the engines, and most of the setups for the car; Heidfeld took advantage of a chance to run the qualifying engine, and concentrated on establishing qualifying setups. Both drivers are settling in very quickly, leaving everyone confident that the new season will bring fame and fortune...

Jerez test times

   Name         Team       Time
1  D.Coulthard  McLaren  1:24.440
2  N.Heidfeld   Prost    1:25.040
3  O.Panis      McLaren  1:25.370
4  J.Trulli     Jordan   1:25.540
5  J.Alesi      Prost    1:26.370
6  R.Schumacher Williams 1:27.330

Digital Revolution

Looking a cash cow full in the face for a couple of seasons, it was only time before TOCA and the 500cc Bikers talked to FOCA, about putting together a digital television package cia Bernie's system.

Financially, this makes a lot of sense, particularly to TOCA, who are suffering from manufacturers leaving their series; the cash benefits to all participants should be significant.

Biggest winner of all, Bernie Ecclestone's digital empire should be able to absorb the extra coverage, even as it expands into more countries.

Blue and Silver work well together

Stephane Sarrazin, the Prost test driver, has been "promoted" in F3000 from the Prost junior team, to the West Competition team. The West team has been highly competitive in F3000, leaving Sarrazin confident of a chance to challenge for wins - and maybe the championship.

That much at least, is public knowledge. Less plain, and unfixed at this early stage of the season, is where it leads. Heidfeld, currently ensconsed in Prost, is expected to make short work of acclimatising to the new Formula. Once he has come to terms with the different style F1 requires, he can expect rapid promotion to McLaren. Sarrazin, already testing for the team, would step in behind him.

It's not quite so simple, however! Prost and Alesi have a solid friendship, but the Sicilian is known for his fiery temper, so it's not impossible he'll quit at the end of the year. Few believe it likely to happen, but Alesi's emotional approach to life means it's wise to cover the bases.

Sarrazin's move highlights an ever growing relationship between McLaren and Prost. Despite public statements to the contrary, it's long been speculated that Prost could be running customer Mercedes engines, should Peugeot pull out. Indeed, it's been claimed they'll make the jump regardless if this year's unit proves unproductive. The long and the short of it, however, is that Prost is starting to look like McLaren's junior F1 team - and the pieces just keep on falling into place.

Villeneuve - Happy at BAR?

Comment on the CART and Formula-1 ex-Champion

by Michael Bass

Jacques Villeneuve, once the world champion, fought hard to score points for the newly-born team British American Racing.

Jacques, along with team-mate and Formula One newcomer Ricardo Zonta brought the car home to a last place position in the Contructors Championship table with no points scored during their first season with the team.

The season has been a learning process for BAR, and their drivers; hype surrounded all at the beginning of the season, and no-one actually knew just how well the team would prove to be. The answer soon became clear however, as mid-season arrived with neither drivers finishing a race...

Click here to read the whole article

Jerez test, day 2

Jordan concentrated on familiarising Trulli with chassis 199/06, working on set-up and progressing with his understanding of the car: in 41 laps, he set a faster lap time of 1.25.56, about 1.5 seconds quicker than the previous day, and closing by half a second on Coulthard.

Eddie Jordan made a special trip to Jerez to check on Trulli's progress, and commented: "Jarno is doing a good job and his confidence is increasing daily. I am looking forward to seeing his progress in the test at Barcelona next week." Panis started settling into the McLaren, which he admitted is harder to drive on the limit than last year's Prost, for all it's speed, and Heidfeld lapped closer to Alesi in the Prosts.

Ralf Schumacher concentrated on developing engine mappings with the BMW unit in the Williams: the prognosis for the new manufacturer is good, with a solid, drivable engine straight from the box. Jerez test times

   Driver        Team     Time
1. Coulthard     McLaren  1.23.91
2. Trulli        Jordan   1.25.56
3. Panis         McLaren  1.26.87
4. Alesi         Prost    1.26.93
5. Heidfeld      Prost    1.27.02
6. R Schumacher  Williams 1.27.56

Minardi climb higher

With Minardi finally being bought by Telefonica, the team is preparing to announce an engine deal with Ford, which will see them running the CR-1 engine used to excellent effect by Stewart in 1999.

The deal arose from Bernie Ecclestone stepping in to ensure Minardi had power for the new season; details are being finalised, but basically the team is expected to pay a significant sum to Ford for use of the unit, which will cover some of the development costs from last year on top of paying the cost of producing the engines the team uses over the season. The Telefonica buy out was seen as necessary by the Telecoms giant to ensure a proper return on the significant investment in Ford's technology.

Effects of the deal are that Gene's seat is secured for 2000, and the team are expected to approach Pedro de la Rosa for the second spot. Performance wise, given that Minardi can actually design and build the car around the new unit in time for the season start, the team expect to give the Supertec runners a headache - and ambitiously, they will aim to finish ahead of Benetton in 2000.

First tests...

The start of December saw a number of drivers making their first proper tests with new teams.

Trulli made thirteen laps in a "classic" Jordan J199 to acclimatise to the car and it's characteristics, before putting another 32 laps on a chassis modified with development components, beginning the tests for next season. It was a positive start, though times were not particularly impressive, and there is clearly more to come.

Barrichello took a careful trip around Fiorano, putting in three laps on the 30th of November (apparently, they were considered "installation laps" and so permitted despite the ban on November testing) and another six the next day. Apart from being compelled to brake left footed (Schumacher preferred style), he was positive about the experience. It must be mentioned that as he is still under contract to Stewart-Ford, he is not permitted to talk to the press; accordingly, none were able to ask him to compare the car with the Stewart. Off the record? The engine is much the same in power, and slightly more drivable (though with interesting characteristics), and the car handles noticably better... but that could be a product of driving inside the limit!

Alesi and Heidfeld were not forthcoming on their experiences with Prost... however, whilst both are apparently in a positive frame of mind, the F1 newcomer has discovered experience pays - Alesi was half a second quicker!

Jerez test times:

   Driver       Team      Time
1  D.Coulthard  McLaren  1:24.74
2  J.Trulli     Jordan   1:26.99
3  J.Alesi      Prost    1:27.05
4  N.Heidfeld   Prost    1:27.63
5  R.Schumacher Williams 1:29.30

Zanardi successor rumours

Putting a new twist on the Zanardi replacement rumours, it seems a new contender is entering the rumour mill...

Dario Franchitti, the Scott who so nearly beat Montoya to the CART title in 1999 is being mentioned in connection with a test drive of the Williams later this year. There is little to substantiate the rumours, and no comment available from the driver himself, but many are crediting the rumour with some substance.

Franchitti has maintained he'd like to include Formula One in his future, stating aspirations on the Driver's Championship; however, until now it has always been thought that Ford links would see him with Stewart/Jaguar, when it happened. Potentially, Zanardi's loss could be Franchitti's gain, as Williams are highly likely to be competitive by the end of next year at least.

The "favourites" for the job are still Montoya top, and Kristensen ahead of Franchitti. Panis and Verstappen are occasionally mentioned, but Villeneuve is ruled out by his commitment to remain with BAR at least to the end of 2000.

Zanardi Departure Rumours - updated

With Zanardi's performance in 1999 falling below everyone's expectations, the Italian driver is expected to consider alternatives for the 2000 season.

In the event he parts company with Williams, sources indicate the team are looking at options including Juan Montoya, Tom Kristensen and Olivier Panis; rumours also sttribute Jos Verstappen with a chance.

Zanardi has been frank concerning his future at Williams, stating it is in the balance, as neither he not the team would wish for a repeat of the 1999 season, and the latest speculation appears to be sparked by Williams covering their bases, rather than Zanardi's actual announcement of departure.

See this week's Atlas-F1 Grapevine for the full story

Testing starts again...

With the first test of the new season to start on the 1st of December, a number of teams are struggling to complete the 2000 components in time for shipment to Barcelona.

Jordan are using the three days to give Trulli time to acclimatise to the new car; in many ways, it is more convenient to them that there are no new components ready for testing: settling Trulli in, giving him time to get used to the different configurations available, and in tune with the powerful Honda engine is important. With the test given over to this instead of pushinig to test Year 2000 components towards the end, it removes a significant danger of rushing Trulli, and potentially providing inaccurate feedback on developments.

Prost is struggling to make a new chassis in order to test the 2000 Spec Peugeot engine. The manufacturer listened to Prost's claims that small size and low center of gravity were the be all and end all of modern engines, and produces a unit so much small than last year's, it doesn't go in the car. The team will have their work cut out over the test, make no mistake!

McLaren are being tight lipped about their new components. The 2000 chassis is thought to be an evolution of this years: work on improving the stability and ease of driving is the key to developments through their off season. The team has plenty of speed in the car, but it's so difficult to drive at the limit that even a back-to-back World Champion can't keep in on the road through a whole race... The changes being made to improve ease of driving will incidentally allow the drivers more confidence in the car, which should give them the chance to drive it even faster.

Ferrari appear to be the team to beat for off season preparation. They are expected to be in action at Fiorano, and according to sources are bang on target against their expectations: they have new components are ready for testing, a new driver to accommodate, and a bundle of plans for the new season.

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