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17 February 2001 Volume 3 - Issue 2
If silly season testing is anything to go by it looks as if the rule changes made by the FIA for this season have yet again failed dismally.
The rule changes were supposed to reduce downforce by as much as 50%. This was supposed to be achieved by raising the front wing, limiting the rear wing to three aerodynamic sections and shortening the rear diffuser protrusion.
Other changes included extending the side pods to in front of the cockpit opening, widening the undercar plank by 15cm and widening the car by 20cm.
In two significant areas the rules were relaxed: the undercar plank is now allowed to be shaped and after the Spanish GP traction control will probably also be allowed.
The desired affect of these changes was to slow the cars and allow closer racing and overtaking. With a larger profile (a wider car) drag would be increased and as downforce was theoretically reduced as well as less turbulence produced by the shorter diffuser, cars would be less sensitive to turbulence and overtaking should be easier.
I believe that the FIA underestimated the potential to increase aerodynamic performance. It was reasonable to assume that the teams could not replace the loss of aerodynamic grip in two months. But they did!
The cars seem at least two seconds faster on some tracks than they were last year and pretty much immune to the regulation changes. How this will affect the overtaking ability of the cars is anyone's guess but we do not have long to wait before we will see. Last year overtaking was almost non existent in Melbourne so if we see some overtaking this year in the first race, we can safely assume that we will see more overtaking over the rest of the season.
I suspect that the extra speed came from several developments:
Firstly I believe that we all (and possibly even the teams too) are still unaware of how much more speed and grip can be gained in the wind tunnel. Aerodynamics has been studied for years in aircraft design, sailboat design and even race car design but the advent of dedicated wind tunnels in F1 racing is very recent and not fully exploited.
Lifting the front wing should have removed most of the ground effect advantage but it appears that long hours in the wind tunnel clawed it back. Limiting the rear wing to three sections should have removed lots of rear end downforce but most of it was recovered by increasing the angle of the elements.
Being allowed to shape the plank to maximise under car ground effects would also have made a big difference.
All or most of the above will increase the drag of the cars which added to the additional drag that was introduced by widening the cars should have slowed the cars considerably, and would have if it was not that all of the leading teams (and some others) found a lot more power over the off season.
The effect of the introduction of another tyre manufacturer will also have a dramatic effect. Last year Bridgestone supplied all the tyres for all race meetings and could afford to build tyres that were robust. This season they have to compete with Michelin and we will see the introduction of tyres that offer a lot more adhesion but probably far less reliability. Tyre blistering and excessive wear on some circuits will be back.
Teams will also take advantage of the increase in mechanical grip. Combined with reduced turbulence it may well mean that overtaking will be easier.
I do not believe that overtaking can get any worse than it was last year but I am also not convinced that we will se a dramatic improvement this season. Downforce is still playing a very big role and while cars rely on aerodynamics they will always be sensitive to turbulence.
Ferrari look very fast, possibly faster than they have ever been. If testing is anything to go by, they have found a lot more speed and are not suffering from a lack of downforce.
But, is that enough? Last year they were consistently slower than McLaren, and if it was not for McLaren's appalling (and surprising) reliability early in the season it is unlikely that Ferrari would have won the championship. Ferrari may well find that they are just that little bit slower again.
What they do have going for them is a well-honed team that has the ability and flexibility to optimise every race on the day.
The driver to beat. With his ability and the backing of the team he will win almost every race that he has a chance to win.
Michael Schumacher has the ability to think and plan while driving on the limit. He has great support from the Ferrari team. His input into strategy during the race is valuable and respected and he constantly delivers.
Statistically Michael is the driver who has the most successful career of all the drivers this season and I do not see that changing.
Last year Rubens won one race and, in my opinion, that was the last time he showed real promise.
It appears that Rubens is finding it very difficult to adjust to the car and team culture and there is little evidence that he will be doing better in this season.
A driver that is tall on promises and short on delivery.
McLaren are again playing their cards very close to the chest. They are testing mostly in secret, after launching their 2001 contender almost two weeks after Ferrari.
I still believe that they will have the fastest car (certainly in the early part of the season).
Where McLaren need to hone their skills is in their ability to take advantage of their superiority. Last year they lacked the reliability to finish races when they were clearly the fastest and when they finally found the reliability and speed to go after the title they lost on race tactics and often strategy.
A formidable driver. Mika has spent so much time on the podium over the last three years that one must accept that he has the ability to compete with Schumacher for this years title.
It does, however, take Mika a long time to adjust to a new car. Last year Coulthard seemed faster in the early part of the season while Mika was struggling to come to terms with his car and the set up for races.
I hope that he has spent a lot of time in the new car because he can ill afford to get to know it during the season, like he did last year.
A driver that can be very fast but seems to get disheartened very easily.
While he was seen to be faster than Hakkinen in the early part of last year he was quite capable of taking on the formidable Schumacher/Ferrari combination, but as soon as Hakkinen showed that he could be marginally faster than Coulthard it was almost as if David admitted defeat.
If he can overcome this fragility in his motivation and determination, he should be a contender this season.
Last year Williams proved that the BMW engine, though plagued with the expected reliability problems, was certainly powerful enough to be the best of the rest.
This year the engine should be more stable and with the potential that the new rules have increased the importance of mechanical grip on some of the circuits, Williams, who have a history of building very good mechanical grip chassis, may be in a very strong position.
It is unlikely that they will have the speed to run with the McLarens and Ferraris from the start of the season but they should be able to close the gap towards the end of the year.
Although I believe that Ralf is a very competent and gifted driver I still do not rate him in the same class as his older brother.
Ralf has settled down over the past years and is no longer prone to retiring by crashing or sliding off. He has had several years with Williams and should be settled and used to the car and the team.
His challenge would be to stay ahead of his team mate.
Juan Pablo Montoya
Already fast, Juan Pablo Montoya looks as if he could be a force to recon with in F1.
In practicing he was not a lot slower than Ralf and as he gets used to the car he should get faster.
Not many drivers have made the transition from CART to F1 and succeeded. Recently Zinardi tried only to fail but I believe that Montoya, as a much younger driver, will adapt to the different driving style. If he does, his first target will be to beat his team mate.
So far they have not been fast in testing. Rumours that this is due to chassis flex and trouble with the newly designed flat V engine has been denied but the undeniable fact is that they have not posted a fast lap anywhere that we know of during testing so far.
They are unlikely to do well in the early part of the season and may not be able to get their radical cars to run close to the front this year at all.
Giancarlo Fisichella is a driver that I feel has not had a chance to show how good he is for a long time now. I still believe that, in the right car, he could be a serious contender for a podium position.
If the car gets better he will show his skill.
Although very young, Button has already established himself as one of the drivers to watch. I do not believe that he will have the car to make an impression for much of this season but he will certainly be as fast as the car will allow him to go.
He may not do well this season but he bears watching.
Although their test times are not anything to shout about BAR have spent more time than the other teams testing the new car. Villeneuve stated that the car was hard to set up and blamed that for the poor performance to date.
With Honda's involvement in this team we can expect to see more of the rapid progress that they enjoyed last season and I would not be surprised to see them on the same pace as McLaren and Ferrari before the end of the season.
If Villeneuve is right that the car is hard to set up they may struggle to get the car set up for individual races and this may hold them back in the early part of the season.
I am surprised that Villeneuve has persevered as long as he has with BAR. He is not getting any younger and is wasting a large part of a potentially successful career waiting for BAR to give him a competitive car. With his reputation he could have virtually chosen which team he drives for.
Hopefully BAR/Honda will give Villeneuve a car that will allow him to be competitive this year. He is an aggressive and fast driver with loads of experience.
Panis is a very competent driver that will certainly keep Villeneuve honest. He may not have the flair and aggression that Villeneuve has but he is kinder to his car and still manages to be very fast.
Panis will keep the second BAR close to Villeneuve, if not ahead of him and as he is not as hard on the car, he may finish in more races than Villeneuve.
Although Honda have pledged the same engines and support, that BAR will be getting, to Jordan I do not have as much confidence in this team. Their performance and reliability during last season was appalling and not much better than Prost (although they were faster on the track).
Jordan have a long way to go if they want to be competitive and I just cannot see it happening this year.
Heinz Harald Frentzen
A very fast driver that has had not had a chance to show his very real ability last season and I doubt if he is going to get the car to do it this year.
The jury is out on this driver. He is not slow but seems to lack the flair to make the best of opportunities.
Although this stable has been successful in other formulae they have yet to translate this into a credible performance in F1.
Last year they were very fast in the off season practice runs but were never able to convert this into a good performance in a race. This year they are looking good again but we have to assume that they will again not perform to the same standard when it matters.
A good driver that probably deserves a better car. Last year he pushed a little too hard to stay in the hunt and we can expect to see a similar performance from him this year.
I do not expect to see him finish in the points too often.
In F1 he is an unknown factor but his F3000 results are not impressive. We will just have to see how he adapts to the power and speed of F1.
Over the years Sauber have consistently built a good chassis that is particularly strong in mechanical grip. This knowledge may help them this season.
They have been very fast in testing. They are however using a dated motor and we cannot expect them to be fast enough for podium finishes.
Their best chance is to do well in the early part of the season while the other teams are bedding down this year's engines.
I suspect that Heidfeld is a lot faster than his performance to date indicates. He is a systematic driver who needs a stable and reliable car to show his best.
This year he is very unlikely to have the car to do well with. His only chance is to take advantage of the early reliability problems that the leading teams may suffer to score as many points as he can, but that obviously assumes that the Sauber will be reliable.
He is young and fast. Inexperience will probable mean that his enthusiasm and exuberance will end in many a gravel trap. On the other hand he may, like Button did last season, settle down very fast.
Young blood is always good for the sport.
It certainly looks as if Jaguar have still not sorted out their problems. They have not tested the new car much but the little that we saw was not inspirational.
Unless they have a lot more development up the sleeve we can expect to see the same lack lustre performance again this year.
For a team with one of the largest budgets they are surprisingly slow.
Although Eddie has shown some promise in the past I am not impressed with him. His performance to date has been adequate but not brilliant.
Another driver, new to F1. Unless Jaguar improves on the performance of the car we will probably never see what he is capable of.
Minardi has always been the training ground for rookies and they hardly
When a team that has performed so poorly suddenly finds speed in the off-season we must wonder where this came from. Admittedly the Ferrari engine is a huge improvement but I suspect that the blistering fast laps are planned to attract sponsors and reassure existing sponsors.
Last year their performance and reliability was appalling and I find it hard to believe that they have managed to overcome all of their many problems between seasons.
I do not expect much from Prost this season. In fact their performance has been so bad in the past that a vast improvement will still render them pathetic.
The most experienced driver on the track today, Jean Alesi showed that he still had the ability and flair when he broke the lap record at Barcelona during testing.
Although I do not believe that he has the car to do really well this year it is always worth watching Alesi on a wet track. In the rain Alesi is one of the best drivers I have ever watched.
I think being 4 seconds slower than Alesi in Barcelona says it all.
Agree or disagree ?