Columns - Big Al

Prepare for a three-way fight for the 2002 World Championship


No, I'm not joking this time. And yes, I'll admit that it doesn't happen very often. In fact, the last time I can recall a genuine three-way battle for the World Championship was in 1986 when Williams-Honda, Lotus-Renault and McLaren-TAG were all in with a genuine chance of glory almost to the end of the year.

Dreaming for 2002? I don't think so. Recently Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn admitted the thing he most feared next season was " a reliable Williams-BMW" and it's fair to say that the McLaren-Mercedes squad is likely to be similarly concerned. But all three of F1's present super-teams are intent on raising their game in 2002. And it should be great stuff.

Consider the teams one-by-one. Ferrari will be aiming for a seamless transition into a third year of World Championship success. Can they do it? Very possibly. The staffing continuity and stability is certainly there.

"The pressure of building a new car when you are still developing the existing car, like McLaren and probably Williams, right through to the last race of the current year is quite demanding," said Ross Brawn.

"The F2001 is I believe the best car we've produced since I've been at Maranello, along with an effort which went right to the end of the previous season. We have great stability with the likes of Rory Byrne, Aldo Costa and Giorgio Ascanelli, Paolo Martinelli, all of them have been there for five years or more. And I think the fact that we have all agreed to stay for several more years have helped the situation."

As for Williams, the new BMW P82 V10 was tested for the first time last week in preparation for next season. Like Ferrari with Schumacher and Barrichello, Williams will have the added bonus of the same driver line-up in Schumacher Jnr and Montoya.

Over at McLaren, they are preparing for an ambitious upgrade after what they freely confess has been a disappointing season. The current 75-degree Mercedes F0110K Mercedes engine was probably 30bhp down on the Ferrari/BMW opposition and this was the cause of a degree of tension between McLaren and Ilmor Engineering behind the scenes. Ilmor's problems were also tragically exacerbated by the death of company co-founder Paul Morgan in a flying accident in the middle of the season.

'We picked up an aerodynamic problem when we first tried to run the car (at Valencia)," said McLaren Managing Director Martin Whitmarsh, "and we were trying to analyze why were having some different results when we ran on the circuit to that which we would expect in the wind tunnel.

"We didn't detect certain elements of what the front wing design was doing to the rest of the car and we had to work hard to evolve a front wing which was more sympathetic to the rest of the car package.

"By the time we got to the fifth race we felt we were probably where we ought to have been at the start and from that point on we were into the normal race-to-race improvements with smaller aerodynamic increments."

Next year Mercedes will have an all-new 90-degree V10 which promises much enhanced power output. McLaren will have a brand new chassis, also much improved. Coulthard will be partnered by Kimi Raikkonen and the team will also be in the throes of its move into its new technology center, Paragon.

Anybody discounting any one of these three teams for 2002 is making a severe mistake. Trouble is, Ferrari, McLaren and Williams will carve up those 17 race wins exclusively between themselves. With this high quality material at the front of the field, there will be no room for anybody else to have a look-in.

Sorry BAR, Benetton, Jordan, Jaguar, Sauber and the rest. But that's reality for you.