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Formula One

News Update - 18/12/1996


It now looks like Team boss Frank Williams, technical director Patrick Head and other sundry Williams personnel will most definitely be charged with manslaughter in the Italian courts, for the Death of Ayrton Senna. If convicted they could face a prison sentence of up to seven years but it is expected that should a guilty verdict be drawn a 2 year suspended sentence would be most likely. As reported in ‘Speed’ earlier, most teams would expect to participate in a boycott of all Italian events. Boss of Benetton, Flavio Briatore, stated that he would not race in a country that can convict you for an accident in a sport where fatality is part of the game.

In a recent interview with Reporter Russell Bulgin, Viviane Senna, Ayrton’s sister and President of the Ayrton Senna Foundation, said: ‘ To find who was the guilty party won’t change anything. Whatever the result, it won’t bring Ayrton back. I don’t think Williams were solely responsible’. The word ‘solely’ seems to indicate that there is the belief in her mind that someone is to blame. This indeed seems strangely at odds with the opinion of her brother, who, had he been able to comment on his own demise, would probably have shrugged his shoulders and called it a racing accident. The world now waits to see whether Ferrari will ever get another chance to win a home Grand Prix.

Meanwhile the Williams FW16 that Senna died in, is still being held by the Italians who have allowed the Williams team only a cursory examination since the accident. There appears to be no chance of the car being released to the team at any time before the trial.

Nigel Mansell’s much publicised testing session for Jordan-Peugeot turned into a bit of a damp squib last Wednesday as the Ex World Champion failed to prove to the assembled international media that he was up to the job. Finishing the session on a damp track four seconds slower than fastest man Jacques Villeneuve and four tenths of a second slower than his potential team mate, rookie Ralph Schumacher. The following day on an even wetter track he was down to almost a second and a half adrift. On both days he was the slowest man in the field. Since the Jordan Peugeot car has never been a front runner it would have been a spectacular occurrence had he trounced the field. This brought up the query as to why Mansell would want to return to Formula 1 in a second string car.

Michael Schumacher recently warned Mansell of the boredom factor in not being competitive. But after 18 months ‘out of the saddle’ his times appeared to please him and he said that ‘It was a wonderful experience and over the next few days we will be considering our future’. Quite who the other person was, no one seemed to know. Eddie Jordan was also cautiously optimistic about Mansells turn of speed but wary of his commitment at the age of 43, to a full race season. ‘It is up to him’. Said Jordan, ‘he still has the basic skills, but as to his commitment for 17 races, that’s a question only he can answer."

At the end of the day, as Mansell flew back to Devon at his own expense in his private plane, there weren’t many in the pit lane who felt imminently threatened. The biggest grin was on the mouth of Brazilian Pedro Diniz the recently recruited number two driver for the TWR Arrows team. Driving the ’96 Arrows-Hart, a dog by even the Jordan’s standards, with 60 kilos of fuel and 500RPM less than in racing trim to save on engines, he managed to better Mansell’s time by almost two tenths of a second.

It’s all a question of motivation. Why Mansell should want to come back, is the burning question. He has nothing to prove and he is not short of cash. To let his ego rule his head would not be implausible but to drive for a second string team could damage that irretrievably. The pundits watering themselves at the 19th hole at Mansells Devonshire golf club have another theory. It’s to do with the roar of the crowd. There isn’t a lot of that in Golf and no matter which set of wheels takes him past the Chequered flag in whatever position, his ‘comfort zone’ would be considerably heightened by his old adoring crowd returning in their thousands to see their Hero back in action.


The FIA World Council introduced several significant changes to the rules for Formula 1 for the 1998 season. Whilst tyres are to remain unchanged in width, they are to be scribed with circumferential grooves to effectively lessen the amount of rubber contact with the track hence reducing grip. The grooves (three on the front and four on the rear) are to be 14mm wide, narrowing to 10mm at a depth of 2.5mm. They will be central on the tyre and 50mm apart. In an effort to encourage more frequent tyre changes during racing, at least 50% of the total groove must still be visible after use, unless the absence is due to abnormal wear caused by car damage.

Exotic materials such as aluminium-basilicum compounds and aluminium and ceramic powder composites that govern the rigidity of brake calipers are effectively being banned by introducing specific caliper stiffness figures. Along with a one caliper/one disc and two pad rule for each wheel, these measures should put the breaking power back in the drivers’ legs rather than the pedals that they press.

The maximum width of cars will be reduced to 1800mm from 2000mm so making the car less stable and therefore slower through corners. These measures, according to Patrick Head Williams technical director, could cut downforce by at least 20%. However, despite the general nod in the direction of increased race safety, it was mentioned that in a critical dry/wet race, cars may be tempted to stay out a little longer before pitting for wet rubber, due to the added grip that the grooves on slick tyres might afford. According to source close to FIA technical delegate Charlie Whiting (who becomes new Race Director and Safety Delegate for the coming season) ‘there is little or no added advantage in running grooved tyres in wet conditions’.


1997 Formula 1 dates (17)

March 09 Australia

March 30 Brazil

April 13 Argentina

April 27 San Marino

May 11 Monaco

May 25 Spain

June 15 Canada

June 29 France

July 13 Britain

July 27 Germany

Aug 10 Hungary

Aug 24 Belgium

Sept 07 Italy

Sept 21 Austria

Sept 28 Luxembourg (Nurburgring)

Oct 12 Japan

Oct 26 Portugal **

** Portuguese Grand Prix date has been changed to allow engine manufacturer Renault Sport to have their final Grand Prix in Europe. This is a token of gratitude and respect from Bernie Ecclestone F1’s Media boss, for the contribution that Renault have given to the sport over the past 20 years. Next year also gives Germany the unfair advantage of having three Grands prix to their name at Hockenheim, Nurburgring and the A-1 ring in Austria. Whilst the latter is not strictly German it is considered to be an important trio of races due to the increased awareness by Teutonic racing fans of the two Schumachers and the new super fast Heinz Harald Frentzen. Of course it never entered Ecclestone’s head that for the past two or three years there have been at times, up to seven British formula 1 drivers competing and never less than four. So how many European Grands Prix have been held in the UK? Donnington was the last in 1993. Digital TV in Germany has filled his coffers to the brim and it is now imperative that he should give them as many opportunities as possible in which to exploit its commercial potential.

London saw the launch last week of a brand new car to a brand new team. The Stewart Grand Prix Team revealed its first born in rather understated manner. A derivative of the high-nosed cars of ’96, Jackie Stewart, Chairman is hoping for consistent midfield qualifying. With 100 million pounds invested in them by Ford over the next five years and with sponsorship from The Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank, Texaco and Japanese giant Sanyo, the white car with the Tartan ribbon wrapping, looks set to become a permanent fixture. However Stewart is still looking for further Sponsorship. The car is yet to turn a wheel, but to check whether designer Alan Jenkins got his programming and sums right, it will be tested at an undisclosed location before Christmas. This is as much for tyre manufacturers Bridgestone’s benefit as SGP’s. Jenkins said ‘..we came in at the highest level we could and I’m pretty pleased with it’.

News in Brief

Ricardo Rosset and Ex F3000 pilot Vincenzo Sospiri have been confirmed as ‘Second time round’ team Lola drivers for 1997.

Rumours of a mechanical form of ABS (antilock braking system) being developed by Ferrari, using the rotational power of the wheels to maintain hydraulic pressure have so far been unsubstantiated.

The new motorsports reporter for The Sun, Bill Shut, sent a picture of FOCA chief Ecclestone to Ex Benetton Manager Ross Brawn and then picked a fight with Rory Byrne. Although puzzling at the time, all became clear when his lead the next day was "Brawn gets Bernie, Byrne gets brawny."

(courtesy of ‘The Formula 1 Insider’)

Goodyear came to the Estoril testing session last month with 1600 tyres to service six teams. Bridgestone attended with upwards of 400 to service just one car, that of TWR Arrows driver Pedro Diniz.

New Tyrell signing Jos Verstappen won a recent go-kart event in Vienna beating Damon Hill who retired with technical problems. The fact that ‘Superblonde’ Bridgitte Nielson was driving too and finished in the points doesn’t give much credence to the quality of Verstappen's win.

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.

Chris Richardson

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