THE most remarkable thing about the 1998 Formula 1 World Championship was that it was not decided until the final round of the series in Suzuka in November. It should have been over by September. McLaren produced a remarkable car which destroyed the opposition in the early races. At Melbourne the cars had a three second advantage each lap over the opposition. But then a combination of dubious decisions by the FIA, McLaren errors, intense development work from Goodyear and Ferrari, and great driving and opportunism from Michael Schumacher pulled the Italian team back into the hunt.
PROST GRAND PRIX has finally announced that John Barnard is to join the French operation as technical consultant.
BRITISH AMERICAN TOBACCO has pulled its 555 State Express brand out of the World Rally Championship after six years with the Prodrive Subaru team.
THE Formula 1 teams completed the final tests of 1998 in Barcelona with Williams driver Ralf Schumacher emerging from the three days of running with the fastest lap time. Ferrari, Benetton, Sauber, Stewart and Minardi chose to miss the test but Schumacher was quicker than both David Coulthard's McLaren and Damon Hill's Jordan.
THERE have been stories circulating for some weeks that the Sauber Petronas V10 engine program had been stopped and last week Peter Sauber confirmed that this was indeed the case and that the Swiss team is looking for a deal with an engine manufacturer for the long-term. For the moment, however, the team will continue to use Ferrari V10 engines badged as SauberÊPetronas V10s.
BERNIE ECCLESTONE's hopes of borrowing $2bn from financial institutions, secured by the future earnings of FormulaÊOneÊHoldings, have run into trouble with reports circulating in Europe that the German bank WestLB is willing to buy most of the bonds but will only do so if the borrowing is reduced to $1.4bn.
FOUR British-based tobacco companies last week won the right to challenge the European legislation banning tobacco advertising and sponsorship at the High Court in London.
THE loss of 555 sponsorship for its World Rally Championship team is undoubtedly a blow for David Richards's Prodrive Subaru team which had been expecting to continue it relationship with British American Tobacco. At the same time, however, Prodrive is clearly in the process of building up major new sporting plans, which involve close links with the FordÊMotor Company in touring car racing, rallying and probably Formula 1 as well.
FERRARI has hit back at comments by Damon Hill that its technical team is "stale" by announcing that technical director RossÊBrawn and chief designer Rory Byrne are to continue at Maranello until the end of the 2001 season.
THE FIA World Council met last week in Monte Carlo and published the latest version of the 1999ÊFormulaÊ1ÊWorldÊChampionshipÊcalendar. It features 16 races with the possibility of two others in Argentina and China. The planned Chinese Grand Prix at Zhuhai, which had been scheduled to take place on March 21, has been pushed into reserve.
THE Japanese daily business newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun last weekend quoted a senior Honda official as saying that the company will be entering Formula 1 with its own team in the year 2000. This may be the long-awaited announcement of the program although a more formal notification may come in the course of the next few days. The company announced in March that it was planning a comeback in F1 but refused to give a timescale for the plans.
THERE are rumors in Germany that the deal between Zakspeed and Arrows has now been completed for around $40m and that Japanese driver Tora Takagi has been signed to drive alongside Mika Salo thanks to a sponsorship package worth $9m. The stories in Germany suggest that the deals will be announced within the next 10 days.
THE Belgian Grand Prix at Spa has been beset by political troubles in recent years with different Belgian authorities battling over whether or not the race should be allowed to feature tobacco advertising. Last week the Wallonia regional government voted to overrule a national anti-tobacco law voted in November 1997 which banned all tobacco sponsorship in Belgium from the start of 1999. The ban caused the FIA to cancel the 1998 event and it was only reinstated when the regional government became involved.
FIA President Max Mosley confirmed in Monaco that the governing body is looking to introduce an all-weather tire formula for the 2001 season.
PORSCHE boss Wendelin Wiedeking has rejected suggestions by Mercedes-Benz boss Jurgen Hubbert that Porsche should enter Grand Prix racing. Wiedeking, who has rebuilt the company dramatically in recent years, says that F1 is too expensive and the money is better spent investing in production facilities.
THE San Marino Grand Prix has been confirmed on the 1999 Formula 1 calendar following talks between FIA President Max Mosley, Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo and the Italian Minister of Justice.
MOST of the Formula 1 teams were in action last week at Jerez, in southern Spain, where the weather was dry and sunny. Ferrari ran two cars on all three days with test driver Luca Badoer completing around 250 laps of the track with a best time of 1m26.26s as he worked on developments for the 1999 car. Eddie Irvine did the first two days of the test in the second car, completing 130 laps with a best of 1m25.34s before handing over to Michael Schumacher for the final day. The German did 76 laps and set a best time of 1m23.86s, which turned out to be the fastest lap of the test.
THE Formula 1 teams, the FIA and Bridgestone representatives met last week in London and reached agreement as to how much testing the teams will be allowed in 1999.
THE FIA World Council spent some time last week discussing what the organization's attitude towards tobacco sponsorship should be. It approved the decision to ban all forms of tobacco sponsorship by October 1, 2006 in line with the agreement reached with the European Commission but added that a worldwide ban could come sooner if there is convincing evidence showing that F1 sponsorship encourages people to smoke.
FRENCH police recently arrested seven people in the Dragiugnan area of Provence and charged them with supplying cocaine to the jet set in St. Tropez and along the French Riviera. According to French newspaper reports one of those arrested was a fashion model who said that she had supplied the drug to a Formula 1 driver - among other celebrities.
THE Formula 1 aerodynamicists are some of the most important men in Grand Prix racing and in recent weeks several of the top names have been on the move. The moves began with the departure from Ferrari of Wilhem Toet and his replacement by Nick Tombasis, who had worked with Toet at Benetton and then at Ferrari. This was followed by the departure from Sauber of Rene Hilorst to join Team Toyota Europe in Cologne.
ALL the Formula 1 teams except Benetton and BAR were in action last week in Barcelona with Michael Schumacher emerging fastest in the two dry days of the test.
FORMULA 1 is coming back to America. After months of waiting Tony George and Bernie Ecclestone announced last Wednesday that there will be a United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the year 2000.
THE French Grand Prix will continue to be held at Magny-Cours until the year 2001. The race had been in difficulties because of legal problems related to access for television cameras. This involved the passage of legislation through the FrenchÊNationalÊAssembly.
GOODYEAR may have pulled out of Formula 1 racing but there is still a battle going on over tires with the FIA, the team bosses and Bridgestone representatives due to meet tomorrow in London to find a compromise over restrictions on testing. Bridgestone asked for a cutback in testing in order to ease its production and supply problems, calling for a limited number of tests at which all the teams would be present. Ferrari has refused to agree to this because it wants to go on testing at Fiorano and Mugello.
THERE must have been some interesting negotiations in the course of the last few days as the FIA has included BritishÊAmericanÊRacing in its official entry list for the 1999 Formula 1 World Championship.
THE Ford Motor Company last week announced that it has extended its contract with Stewart Grand Prix until the end of the 2001 season.
WHILE negotiations continue between Arrows and Zakspeed there are unlikely rumors that a 40-year-old Nigerian PrinceÊMalikÊAbo Ibrahim is putting together a bid to beat Zakspeed to the deal. This may be more of a negotiating ploy by Walkinshaw to raise the price of the sale. To complicate matters former Benetton boss Flavio Briatore has managed to get himself involved in the negotiations as a consultant to Zakspeed.