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New cars everywhere...

THE last week has seen the appearance of a series of 1999 Formula 1 cars with the presentation of the Ferrari F399, the Williams FW21, the Prost AP02 and the first appearance of the Minardi M01. Ferrari launched the F399 on Saturday and, having told the world last year that it was going to win the World Championship, decided this year to adopt a rather more humble attitude and so deliberately played down Michael Schumacher's chances of victory. "This is a sport," said Schumacher, "and you cannot predict anything."

The F399 is a development of the F300 which took Schumacher to the runner-up position in the World Championship last season. It is similar in appearance to last year's car but according to Ferrari Sporting Director Jean Todt is quite different due to a considerable amount of detailed development work. "We concentrated our efforts on weight reduction in order to improve weight distribution and work on the center of gravity," explained Todt. "We then looked at the aerodynamic efficiency, the driveability of the 048 engine, the gearbox and the suspension." The result, according to chief designer Rory Byrne, is a totally new car. "Although an evolution the F399 is a completely new car," said Byrne. "We've improved aerodynamic efficiency and stability but most importantly we've worked on enhancing all its components and have managed to reduce its total weight by about 20kgs." The new car will begin serious testing this week with runs scheduled at Fiorano and at Mugello.

The launch marked a further shift at Ferrari towards full commercial sponsorship. The team's big partners Marlboro and Shell retain the same level of sponsorship but Asprey has been replaced by Federal Express and the confectionery company Tic-Tac. Telecom Italia's subtle presence on the front wing has been replaced by a more obvious deal with Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM), a Telecom Italia subsidiary. The team also has a new relationship with Ferrero.

Williams unveiled its new car at Barcelona at the start of the week. The FW21 is the result of the most far-reaching design review at Williams in 10 years and the team is confident that it will be a lot better than last year's car. "There are a lot of determined people at the factory and we are approaching the season with the aim of winning races," said Sir Frank Williams.

The FW21 is completely new and features a striking livery with new backing from Nortel Networks, Petrobras, Brother and Fujitsu. The team has lost its backing from Germany company Falke. The team was keen to play down the disadvantage of using the customer Supertec V10 engine but admitted that the development was not likely to match that of the Ferrari and Mercedes engines.

Prost revealed its AP02 in Paris on the same day with Alain Prost and John Barnard both underlining that the intention with the AP02 was to build a basic and reliable car which can be developed in the course of the season. The AP02 is the design of Loic Bigois although a great deal of emphasis has been placed on aerodynamics. The team's head of aerodynamics Ben Wood has come up with some interesting new sidepods which Prost expects will be widely copied by other teams. Barnard and his engineers at B3 Technologies did most of the work on the front suspension.

At the launch of the new car Prost was eager to point out the enormous changes that have taken place for the team in the last 12 months - the number of staff having risen from 80 to 200 and a completely new factory having been built. In addition the team had finalized a series of high-technology partnerships which Prost hopes will bear fruit in the long-term.

Prost says that he would like to see his cars battling with Williams and Benetton this year but says that he expects another big jump in performance in the year 2000 as the team's investment in new technology begins to pay off. The team revealed several new partnerships at the launch with new deals involving the telecommunications company Cegetal, America's 3M (Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing) and the French clothing company New Man.

The new Minardi M01 was not officially launched but ran for the first time in carbonfiber black at Ferrari's Mugello test track at the end of the week. Ferrari test driver Luca Badoer was allowed to do the testing and will continue until the team decides on who will drive in 1999. Badoer remains a possibility if money can be found to fund his inclusion in the team.

This week Jordan is due to reveal its 199 chassis at a presentation in London while McLaren expected to unveil the MP4/14 in Barcelona on February 8.

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