F1 Rumors - news ahead of the headlines

Week starting 13th December, 1999


Audi Rumours Continue

BMW's project with Williams has already started to look like a promising partnership, since Ralf Schumacher put in some solid times with what is essentially a development unit.

The more successful BMW are, the stronger the rumour concerning Audi's return gets: currently, according to the mill at large, Audi are planning involvement sooner rather than later, and are thought to be in talks with Sauber, Benetton and Arrows.

It seems that the project would be run by the (currently redundant) Audi UK squad, who are led by ex Spirit F1's John Whickham. If rumours are to be believed, they are already up to speed on the subject, thanks to working with Arrows (and their Hart engine) this year.


Webber moving on up

With the Arrows two seater driving role all but sown up, Australian Mark Webber is looking to capitalise on some excellent tests with the team, by winning the test seat.

Sadly, despite impressing all concerned, the role does not come cheaply; the position is worth some $3 million to Arrows, and no-one gets the drive until they pay the piper. This problem has prevented many a potentially great driver from making the big-time - there are all too many sponsors ready to put their name to someone who has "maded it," whilst few are willing to risk investing serious money for what amounts to minimal exposure in a test driver.

However, Paul Stoddard, the owner of Webber's F3000 team - which is now the Junior Arrows team - is intent on seeing his man make it to the top. Webber has impressed Stoddard, who is prepared to back him substantially himself in the bid. This is certainly good news to Webber; he is not close to making the target yet, and is standing some risk of losing the seat if he cannot come up with the readies soon...


New tyre war in the offing

With Goodyear's withdrawal from Formula One, Michelin cancelled a planned return to the series, on the grounds it would not be beneficial without the competition of racing multiple other tyre manufacturers. However, in a move which is timed to minimise time for other manufacturers to react, they have changed direction, announcing the intention to supply rubber to Williams and Toyota in 2001.

It's thought that Goodyear are now urgently considering both the marketting benefits of returning to Formula One, and the timescale to ramp research and development back up in time to join the party - and they now have a week until the deadline for inclusion in 2001.

There have been strong, but hotly denied rumours of Michelin returning to Formula One for months; and now they have, others are also expected to follow, including Goodyear or a subsiary (eg Dunlop), but probably not until 2002.


Engine Regs - no change

Bernie Ecclestones drive for parity, in the name of improved spectator value to the sport, has led to the suggestion that major engine manfacturers should be compelled to offer their services to at least two teams, in order to take part in Formula One.

The original proposal was that the teams should offer a "second team" the same terms as they proposed to their "primary team." For example, if Ford sponsor Jaguar by providing engines through the season, at no charge, they should offer the same facility to a second team...

There were a number of clouded issues; for example, how to prove a "real" offer was made, and what to do about the "integration issues" - namely, the supplier working with it's primary team to ensure the engine was perfect for them, could make it difficult to install a second car. Furthermore, drivetrain issues, and support for tests made it a difficult proposition to manage.

At the end of the day, however, there was an issue which scuppered the project. The "second string" team running the same specification engines - within reason - as the "primary" team left engine-chassis teams (well, according to rumours, we should say Ferrari) unhappy that their competitive advantage could be troubled - not to mention the cash benefit they gain from selling on last year's engines (to Sauber).

At close of play, it seems the Bernie factor is all that's really required, however. His interest in maintaining Formula One's global appeal ensures that teams that are truly in trouble can count on his intervention. And if Minardi finally iron out the creases on their deal with Ford, in this case, it could see a truly surprising change of form for the 2000 season.


Stewart's School of Success

The Tartan Challenge by Julie Gates

This season has attenuated into pure professionalism for the Stewart Grand Prix team. From the moment Jackie Stewart announced he would create and lead his own team, world has had high expectations… and has not been let down.

Much hard work and preparation saw the Stewart SF01 emotionally launched in London on December 10th 1996. Complete with Rubens Barrichello, Jan Magnussen and a five-year exclusive deal with Ford, their future appeared to be shining bright on the horizon like a full moon in the midst of a clear night.

The debut season, 1997, was not easy for the team, who had several obstacles to overcome; rewards included a magnificent second place at the Monaco Grand Prix courtesy of Rubens Barrichello. However, the Ford engine yielded poor fruit, with the car only seeing the chequered flag eight times in thirty-four starts. Jan Magnussen's performance fell below peoples expectations and when liquidation rumours hit the team, they were compelled to provide the FIA evidence of sufficient funding to remain in Formula One. Still, six points and ninth in the Constructors' Championship was more than acceptable for a start-up team, setting them up nicely to focus on the next season.

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