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Formula One

News Update - 08/12/1996

Frank Williams who along with Patrick Head Chief Engineer At Williams Grand Prix Engineering and several other team members including the out-going Aerodynamicist, Adrian Newey, is expecting to be formally charged this week in connection with the death of Ayrton Senna at the San Marino GP at Imola in 1994. Whilst the prosecution’s case is based on the fact that the welding on a modified steering shaft was faulty, causing the crash, Williams was reported to have said that, "everything was working properly". In a statement earlier this year, he stated that it was the crash and not faulty welding that had in fact, broken the steering column. The theory goes, that debris may have caused a puncture which could have led to Senna losing control and, as previously stated, breaking the steering column on impact. If found guilty of manslaughter, a prison sentence is quite possible. Time and the Italian Cowboy courts will tell.

This of course raises the problems of racing in Italy in the future. There is talk of curtailing all FIA promoted events in Italy if the case goes to court. The fact that a puncture or a loose chipping could lead to a whole team being jailed is too ridiculous to contemplate. The Italian Tifosi would not take kindly to having their sport withdrawn from them in this manner. In such matters they would all agree that death is natural and, when inevitable, honourable in Formula 1. The Judge will be in for a pasting and not only from the motoring press if Imola and Monza are struck from the Formula 1 calendar. 

John Watson Ex Formula 1 driver, 2 times runner up to the World Championship and highly praised Eurosport commentator is moving to Indy Car with Ben Edwards now that the Channel has lost its’ Pan European rights to broadcast Formula 1 events. Whilst his voice will be sorely missed next season, he could bring some sense of meaning to the often senseless and naive commentary that we have to put up with currently. He plans to move to the US for the season. 

Martin Brundle is being courted by ITV to sit opposite Murray Walker in the commentary box when they begin their first season of F1 coverage in March. Brundle however, is still sitting on his hands and waiting to see if Eddie Jordan reads to the bottom of his drivers list where his name currently lurks. Jordan it seems, is trying his best to keep Brundle from sniffing Carbon next season and is at present considering pulling Ex champ Nigel Mansell from the putting green (see seperate story). Steve Rider secondary BBC TV Sports anchor man was asked to do the job and wisely turned it down.

Damon Hill World Formula 1 Champion took the honours at the recent Autosport Awards, by winning both ‘International Racing Driver of the Year’ and ‘British Competition Driver of the Year’ awards. Hill, in accepting the first, thanked all ‘the people who support ‘you’ and sit at home and agonize over whether it’s going to turn out all right.’ His wife Georgie and indeed, his greatest supporter, accepted the second award from Jackie Stewart.

Nigel Mansell is to Fly out to Barcelona next Wednesday (11th Dec) to Join the Jordan Peugeot team in two days of testing. The rumours of a comeback for the 43 year old Formula 1 and Indy Car Champion, seem to be ripening, yet why Mansell should even contemplate a return to Formula 1 with a team that has yet to win a Grand Prix, is somewhat mystifying. Mansell said at Silverstone on Tuesday, ‘I’m grateful to Eddie for giving me the chance to get re-acquainted with a Formula 1 car’. The Kudos for Team Jordan and it’s sponsors Benson & Hedges is obvious, though Mansell will certainly not get paid anywhere near the amount that led him to an abortive season with McLaren in ’95, it is thought that the money set aside for Damon Hill will go into Mansell’s pocket if the deal goes through.

Mansell’s return will not please many and a collective groan will be heard down the pit lanes of motor sport. It seems that the only thing bigger than his driving talent is his ego and whilst reporters and readers alike can accept the ‘Royal We’ it is hard to feel sympathy when things go badly, as he so often blames everything and everyone except himself. Despite his whingeing, he has provided the spectator with some stunning drives and fully deserves to be taken extremely seriously no matter what car he drives, as long as, that is, he can get in it.

Ferrari adopts a Sponsor: After severing ties with McLaren, Marlboro cigarettes are to be officially integrated into Team Ferraris’ official title next season. The amount of scarlet paint used on the cars, lessens with each season as the financial benefits of Shell, Pioneer, Asprey’s and Parent Company, Fiat serve to dilute not only the colour but the credibility of such a pedigree. The Cruel stripe of Marlboro accross the flanks of the prancing horse is seen as the final capitulation, by Ferrari, to the commercial forces that run the sport and is a public indication of the amount of money top driver Michael Schumacher has cost them. They will now be called ‘Scuderia Ferrari-Marlboro’.

Sauber is, after all going to get the 1996 Ferrari V10 engines. In response to a premature press release from Sauber two weeks ago stating that a deal had been cemented, Spokesman for Ferrari, Giancarlo Baccini, in a sour grapes response called the whole deal off, citing the Sauber press release as ‘Too early’. A change of heart and, no doubt, the money that will be paid by petrol giant Petronas for the power plants, led to a joint announcement agreeing the deal, late last week. A further sweetener for the Scuderia was the signing of Italian Nicola Larini as partner to Johnny Herbert for the ’97 season.

Jos Verstappen was trying to be cheerful recently when he announced that he had signed to drive for Ken Tyrell’s team in ’97. Yet, in a statement that could not be taken in any other way than as ‘resigned’, Verstappen praised the ‘excellent design and engineering skills’ of a ‘compact’ and ‘efficient team’. Having lost both the Sauber and Jordan seats, he should feel lucky that he got his signature on anything that will at least get him onto the back of the grid. Ken Tyrell can feel lucky that he did not have to sign another Japanese to drive his cars in a racing situation. It does seem that it is a ‘best of the rest’ situation and the barrel now bears the signs of being fully scraped.

Tyrell do have the advantage of course of not having Yamaha to hold them back next season. The lightweight engine ‘let go’ more times than Renault, Peugeot and Ferrari put together. The plodding Ford ‘customer’ engine whilst not quite so powerful, might at least get them to the finish and hence a point or two.

The Yamaha legacy has now gone to the TWR Arrows team of Tom Walkinshaw. Initially it will undoubtedly slow the team’s progress down, but TWR’s engineering department is such that they could show Yamaha a thing or two about building F1 engines. The second half of the season should see a definite upswing as Yamaha hand over the development reins to TWR.

Other news in Brief:

Ligier confirm driver line up of Olivier Panis and first time F1 novice, Shinji Nakano. Meanwhile, Alain Prost has now set the ball in motion for the purchase of an all French equipe, by completing formalities with Ligier Team owner Flavio Briatore. It is expected that Peugeot, currently powering the Jordan with the much improved V10 and disappointed with results to date, will sign a new deal with Ligier when its contract with Jordan expires at the end of ’97.

TWR sign Jorg Muller as test driver and Gerhard Berger tops the testing times at Estoril, pipping a sulking Jacques Villeneuve to the post by .18 of a second. New boy Heinz Harold Frentzen came in third breathing down his team mates neck, a mere 2 thousandths of a second adrift. Frentzen was however, using the evolution engine. Watch out Jacques.


All news reported is, as heard, read and seen by a ‘bloke over the pit wall’ and should be at least 50% correct! But things change in Formula 1 with the speed of a Benetton pit stop. Next week the tyres could be on the other wheel. Keep watching these pages for regular F1 News updates!

Chris Richardson

 1996 onwards. Speed and its contents may not be reproduced without written permission from the editorial team.