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Formula One

News Update - 29/Jan/1997

The past couple of weeks have been filled with the ballyhoo of new cars being unveiled and amid the swishing of the sheets, the skirl of the pipes popping fireworks and all manner of razzmatazz the feeling of optimism springs unbounded.


Benetton team's launch of their new B197 car amid the glamour of the Planet Hollywood restaurant in London, was marked by Gerhard Berger’s delight at having been extremely impressed with the new car. Both Berger and Jean Alesi have already pre tested the B197 at the Jerez circuit, Spain, over the past two weeks, and despite some misgivings about it’s behaviour through corners being similar to last year’s model, are optimistic about the car's performance: "We have done some good testing and we were at the top of the times, which was good, but more important we have shown we are reliable," Berger said. Benetton and Williams will both use the Renault RS09, Renault's latest and lightest version of their V10 engine. Alessandro Benetton, President of Benetton Formula, praised the hard work of the team over the last few months. "We feel prepared and will be able to pose a serious challenge to our competitors."

The car itself is, like most cars unveiled this year not radically from last years model. The nose is 30mm narrower than the ’96 version and it drops to a ‘lowline coke bottle waisting’ towards the rear. Despite Team Boss Flavio Briatore believing that Ferrari will take the crown this year even possibly and unpredictably beating Williams (see Jerez testing story) he puts his own chances as equal to McLaren’s which is rather an odd way of saying that you could be in with a chance. Even odder was Bergers rather ambiguous comment, "We are here this year to win the championship again and if we do not we will not have succeeded." Err..exactly.


AGIP PETROLl, with its 20-year experience in Formula One, will supply the Mild Seven Benetton Renault Team with their technology and environmentally safe fuels and lubricants. The partnership agreement extends also to a programme of joint marketing strategies. Also new to the team this year is AKAl, a recognised leader in the Consumer Electronics Industry. Although advanced audio visual equipment comprises the bulk of AKAI's business, the company diversifies into other products, such as high grade professional Electronic Musical Instruments and Recording Products. James H Ting, Chairman and President of AKAI ELECTRIC Co. Ltd, said, "This sponsorship agreement, which represents a significant financial investment for AKAl, marks a new milestone and a major step in our will to strengthen the brand on the global market."


The Ferrari F310B made it’s debut on Jan 7th. Sporting new sponsor Marlboro’s big white ‘Go faster stripes’ and a little harsher on the eye in its new Tomato - Soup - red colour scheme, the John Barnard design sported few modifications. A slightly ‘squarer’ mid section with revised rear diffusers and a slightly higher nose was all that was visible. Aerofoil shaped front suspension arms are also expected be fitted. This will probably be Barnards last car for Ferrari before he jumps ship - if rumours have it - to the Ligier team, to work alongside his old friend Alain Prost. Fully aware of the flaws in his design last year he said rather cryptically, "None of the improvements is a dramatic step. You can change the stability of the numbers you achieve and the way the car will behave and that’s what we are expecting". It would seem that he has been spending too much time around Berger as he said with caution "I think we are getting close to winning the world Championship. We nearly managed it at the end of my last spell at Ferrari but the difference now is that it’s more difficult to get an edge.


Jan 9th saw the launch of the eagerly awaited new TWR Arrows-Yamaha A18 at the Autosport International show in Birmingham. It was clear that Damon Hill was as pleased as punch as he threw the wraps away from the blue and white car amid the crackle of fireworks. "I think it's a sexy little number. I've got a great winning record and there's no reason why I can't win a Grand Prix in this car." He smiled " I've had a good period celebrating the championship , but now I've had enough champagne and I'm raring to go again. There's every opportunity for this team to do extremely well, but I'm also under no illusions." He went on: "I don't see why I can't win. The car's very slim, very impressive and I was very excited when I saw it last night." The car is yet another derivation of a proven design concept. Chief designer Frank Dernie has based the A18 partially on his own design for the ’95 Ligier for whom he worked last year with the TWR Group. A secret ‘feature’, that ‘Nobody’s done before’, could be the turning point for the team. It is supposedly based around a rear end extension that is load bearing and able therefore to carry a heavier and hopefully more substantial Yamaha engine. "It’s a development of the best bits that I’ve done with Ligier and the best that Arrows have done over the past couple of years" He said. This of course does not bode well for the team as a whole , looking back on both their records. Apart from a rather flukish win from Olivier Panis at Monaco, there is little in the bag that seems worth salvaging. However with a radically re jigged Yamaha engine by mid season and the possible advantage that Bridgestone tyres may bring in the early rounds Hill and even Tom Walkinshaw who is convinced that the team can put one race win under their belts this year, could be right. The Arrows went on to Silverstone the following day for a test but Hill managed just one lap due to gearbox software problems. Despite lapping in near darkness and with the unnerving experience of only being able to see three car lengths ahead, he still declared: "I know my way round Silverstone with my eyes closed anyway! It was a bloody good start and I was really pleased because there was a lot of tension before we started." Yet paradoxically Hill is quoted later as saying ‘I’ll be amazed if we win a race this year’. Another member of the Berger discussion group perhaps.


No such nonsense however from Team McLaren who gave the Formula 1 press a sneak preview of its new car the MP4-12 last week. Painted in original McLaren orange with its model number emblazoned diagonally across the bonnet in silver it is indeed striking and is probably the most redesigned car in the field. In line with the updated FIA technical regulations, the MP4-12 features a rear impact zone, collapsible steering column, reduced winglets areas and suspension designed within the limited aspect ratios designated by the technical regulations. There have also been a range of aerodynamic changes and further use of composites within the rear suspension. The nose too, is unfashionably, 20mm lower than last years car. A newly packaged version of the longitudinal transmission introduced in 1996 will be in place for a second season and the cooling system has also been re-designed to capitalise on internal air flow. Already rated by some as the best engine of last year, the revised Mercedes - Benz FO110E is based on the development work during last season. Team boss Ron Dennis typically keeping a level head stated that he was making "a conscious effort to play down my own expectations. I’m not going to make any predictions about the success of the car.."


Ligier unveiled it’s new model at the Sporting Club of Monaco on January 21. Driver Olivier Panis took the car for a brief spin around Casino square and part of the Monaco Circuit - conveniently opened for the Monte Carlo Rally - in a nostalgic rerun of his extraordinary win in ’96. New technical director Loic Bigois has wisely stayed on the path mapped out by former designer Frank Dernie, now with Arrows, in keeping the new Ligier JS45 similar to it's predecessor. " It’s a continued development of the JS43 with a completely new monocoque." Said Bigois "We have done a big job in the wind tunnel trying to solve the problems we had last year with sensitivity and efficiency on high speed circuits." The high nose has been retained and slightly ‘flattened’ and a brand new Ligier gearbox is to be used, as opposed to the one borrowed from sister team Benetton last year. Ligier managing director Bruno Michel said: "Improvements have been made in some sections. We were not happy with the brakes and that's one thing that has been worked on but the engine is also more powerful." The Mugen-Honda engine will have some revisions internally and as announced earlier, Ligier will use Bridgestone tyres. Panis and newcomer Shinji Nakano were quite optimistic about their chances for 1997 and hope to score points on a regular basis. Olivier Panis didn't even rule out a single victory this season. Panis said: "To win one race or more and to finish regularly in the points will be our goal this season.


Despite reports of hitches in Frenchman Alain Prost’s attempts to take over the team of Ligier, current owner Flavio Briatore said: "A lot of progress has been made and I believe we can go even further. We are talking and I hope we will reach an agreement but I don't know when. If there is an agreement, very well, but if not, we will continue to work. Ligier is now almost a top team and can still improve." He added: " The team is not for sale to anybody else. Whatever happens the future of Ligier is assured." It is thought that Mugen Honda might be on their way out to make room for Peugeot in 1998 and this is where the problems lie. Prost has already obtained permission from the FIA to change the name of the team to his own. The FOCA has also agreed to do likewise.


The Tyrell Racing Organization presented their new car today in London to the sounds of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. In keeping with the conservative swing in all this years car designs, Dr.Harvey Postlethwaite echoed the sentiments of the majority of technical directors and designers when he said, "The car is a logical development of the previous model." The most striking detail on the new car is the single long central pillar support for the front wing. The strength of this design was proved , by supporting the combined weight of both drivers standing on the wing. The team not surprisingly are glad to see the back of the troublesome Yamaha V10 that they have endured for the past four years. Last year alone they suffered over 50 engine failures. Deputy technical director Mike Gascoyne explained. "We had a lot of problems with the Yamaha. I didn’t pull well from low revs, it didn’t have low down power, it had bad torque characteristics and it was unreliable." This is indeed a fairly damming condemnation of the engine with which the TWR Arrows Group hope to power current world champion Damon Hill to podium positions. He went on, "The Cosworth V8 should be better in terms of traction, ‘drivability’ and reliability and Cosworth has made a lot of gains on the power side." The Ford Cosworth EDV8 currently has already gained 8% power on last year's version and, according to the Ford engineers, their objective is to find a power gain of 15% this season. Despite expectations to the opposite the team will use Goodyear tyres and not Bridgestone this year. Gascoyne expects the Bridgestones to be a little quicker but a lot softer. "Everyone will be doing two or three pit stops and if you get it wrong, some will be doing four or five". Drivers Mika Salo (in his third season for the tream) and Jos Verstappen are reckoned to be the most competitive of the new young driver line ups. Refering to the colour scheme of new sponsors PIAA, team owner Ken Tyrrell, without a mobile phone in sight, spoke the magic words, "The future is bright, the future is black and white" and to complete the rosy glow of Team Tyrells immeasurable optimism Gascoyne concluded, "This is the first step on the ladder to bigger things."


Gianni Morbidelli again signed to be Ferrari’s test driver for 1997. The Italian who has just celebrated his 29th birthday, test drove for Ferrari in 1995. Last year he didn't compete in F1 but the two years before he drove for Arrows. He has also driven for Dallara, Minardi and Lamborghini.

Team Minardi SpA will launch their new car on the 4th Feb



Problems beset both the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher and the Arrows of Damon Hill on all three days testing at Jerez in Spain when mechanical problems cut short their Formula One testing.

Hill had been hoping for the first serious run in his new TWR Arrows car. He managed to complete eight laps in the morning session on Wednesday 22nd and one lap into the afternoon re-start before being sidelined in the pits by a seized engine and a recurring gearbox software problem. He failed to set any realistic time.

Schumacher's Ferrari suffered the fourth major engine failure since the launch of the new F310B at Fiorano earlier this month. "I can't say yet, what is wrong, the engine will be checked," said the two times world champion. Schumacher heard a strange sound, and ended his test session after 28 laps. Earlier in the week, attempting to cover a Grand prix distance another engine blow up caused him to spin onto the grass alongside the main straight and the rear of the car quickly caught fire. Although he escaped unhurt and the car was only slightly damaged, it will hardly have impressed Schumacher who reportedly hinted to Ferrari bosses this week he is not entirely satisfied with the overall performance of his new car. By the end of the final session in Spain however, Schumacher said that he was not disappointed. He said, "Despite the problem with the engine, I am quite satisfied with the work we have accomplished. The car proved to be well balanced and its handling is consistent, in terms of both tyre and brake wear. It is also encouraging to have covered 1200 km in six days."

Jordan's new Italian recruit Giancarlo had an inspirational test finishing the early session a second and a half ahead of the Williams of Heinz-Harald Frentzen and a second quicker eventually than teammate Ralf Schumacher while driving fewer laps. However the pecking order soon established itself and despite minor gearbox problems and an engine change, Frentzen reasserted himself at the head of the field by the following day.

The new Stewart Grand Prix team also made an impressive start to their first Formula One season by producing some fast times in early testing at the Jerez circuit. Brazilian driver Rubens Barrichello set the pace ahead of his rookie Danish team mate Jan Magnussen but disappointingly ending the session in second to last and last place.

The McLaren ran well also despite fuel pump problems for David Coulthard. Mika Hakkinen setting second fastest time of the session behind Gerhard Berger stated that the MP4-12 was the best McLaren he had ever driven, setting an impressive 1m 22,75 secs lap during his 65 laps running.

Despite Gerhard Berger setting fastest overall time on the first day of testing and smashing Schumachers Lap record to boot, team boss Flavio Briatore remained quietly pessimistic about the teams prospects, tipping Ferrari to win the world title. "Williams, as usual, will be stable and competitive," he said "But McLaren will be strong too, and so will we. It will be a very open and exciting championship."



Friday January 17

Berger 1:21.25 (91)

Hakkinen 1:22.26 (43)

Schumacher 1:23.45 (45)

R. Schumacher 1:24.34 (45)

Fisichella 1:26.59 (15)


Saturday January 18

Coulthard 1:23.99 (50)

Schumacher 1:24.34 (54)

Fisichella 1:24.56 (39)


Sunday January 19th

Schumacher 1:27.27 (17)

Barrichello 1:32.32 (10)

Coulthard 1:45.79 (06)

Barrichello 1:38.11 (03)


Monday January 20th

Mugnussen 1:38.66 (21)

Schumacher 1:38.77 (47)

Frentzen 1:39.48 (30)

R. Schumacher 1:43.93 (20)

Hill 1:47.36 (12)


Tuesday January 21st

Frentzen 1: 21.93 (57)

Coulthard 1: 22.22 (51)

Schumacher 1: 23.68 (41)

Fisichella 1: 23.76 (37)

Schumacher 1: 24.66 (67)

Barrichello 1: 26.66 (14)


Wednesday January 22nd

Frentzen 1: 22.03 (40)

Hakkinen 1: 22.75 (65)

Fisichella J 1: 22.75 (42)

Schumacher 1: 22.86 (34)

Barrichello 1: 23.19 (18)

Magnussen 1: 26.29 (17)

Hill 1: 26.99 (10)


According to DPA Germany’s Newsagency, Ferrari want's to start in Melbourne with the 96 version engine. Ex-Champion Schumacher says, "We have a fantastic engine in the old car and we will start the season with it. As soon as the new engine is perfect, it will be used for the race."


Wednesday 22 January 1997 from the Gazzetta dello Sport

Lawyer Roberto Causo has decided not to defend Frank Williams and the other members of the Williams team in the trial on the death of Ayrton Senna. This decision stems from the fact that Williams' line of defence is going to be to blame the death of Senna on the conditions of the track at Imola. Before the San Marino GP, Williams had signed, like the other teams, the official document accepting that the track had no responsibilities for what might happen during the race. Signing this document is standard procedure and follows the approval of a track by the FIA. This means that the Williams team will be accusing Belgian Roland Bruynseraede, who approved the track on behalf of FIA. Roberto Causo also is the lawyer of Bruynseraede, therefore he cannot be Williams' lawyer at the same time. Williams has already nominated Oreste Dominioni as new lawyer. The Williams team will find themselves in the position of saying at the trial "we blame the track, even though we signed a paper accepting that it was safe before the event".

(courtesy Federica Massagrande fanm@soton.ac.uk)


Damon Hill will be a major threat in this year's Formula One championship race, according to Gerhard Berger. He expects Hill's Bridgestone tyres to be an important factor and said: "I don't think we have seen Damon winning a race for the last time. Damon is a very good racing driver and I am sure he will win and be back on the front row of the grid again." The Berger school of reasoning strikes again and while his friend Damon may find it heartening the pit lane gossip is not very positive for Hills chances this season.


Martin Brundle has, as expected been signed to co-chair ITV’s new Grand Prix coverage with Murray Walker. This will make Brundle a busy boy, what with his new position as a director in the TWR Organisation and his commitment to drive the Le Mans 24 hour race. This should be a significant improvement on the much lapped, but hardly lamented Jonathan Palmer and we look forward to his dry sense of humour and race insight.


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 e-mail zoom@cix.compulink.co.uk

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