Features - News Feature
FEBRUARY 15, 1998
Formula 1 Preview
BY JOE SAWARD
Formula 1 Preview: 1998
Managing Director: Frank Williams
Technical Director: Patrick Head
Chief designer (chassis): Gavin Fisher
Aerodynamics: Geoff Willis
Race engineers: Jock Clear, Craig Wilson
Team manager: Dickie Stanford
Test drivers: Juan-Pablo Montoya, Max Wilson
Jacques Villeneuve is the World Champion but he was not a very convincing winner last year - and he knows it. His aim this year is therefore to show that he truly is a match for Michael Schumacher, which many in F1 doubt. Jacques wants to prove them wrong. The Williams chassis is likely to be as strong as ever but there is a question mark this year on whether or not the Mecachrome engine will receive as much development as it did when it had a Renault badge on the top. Most F1 insiders reckon that it will be competitive for 1998 but will be in serious trouble in 1999. Williams is already working towards its planned relationship in the year 2000 with BMW and so the team will not be as strong this year as it has been in past years.
Williams must never be underestimated however. It is a remarkable organization and very often it has made its drivers look a lot better than they really are.
Even if Villeneuve wins another World Championship with Williams in 1998 - which is quite possible - he will never really convince the critics until he has been seen racing another car. This is convenient as he is expected to slip away from Williams at the end of the season to join up with the all-singing, all-dancing British American Racing/Reynard team for 1999. Frank Williams is clearly not expecting to keep Jacques and is already chatting with CART champion Alessandro Zanardi...
Villeneuve is a breath of fresh air in the F1 paddock as he is not bothered about who he upsets or what color his hair is on any given day. In a world dominated by anal-retentive Action Men this is a good thing. Jacques will probably improve his image this year as he will not be guarded this year by his manager Craig Pollock, who will be far too busy trying to set up British American Racing.
Everyone was very quick to write off Heinz-Harald last year after a difficult time at the start of the year. Villeneuve says that he expects his team-mate to be a very serious rival in 1998 and I agree. Towards the end of last year Frentzen looked a lot better and was definitely up with Villeneuve. At Jerez, for example, he sacrificed his race to give Jacques a helping hand towards the World Championship.
Heinz-Harald had always been a remarkably quick driver but until last year had never really had to apply himself as a driver like Michael Schumacher does. Working with Williams rang Frentzen's alarm bells, however, and he seemed to be putting a lot more effort and thought into the process and he emerged as a much better driver as a result. He also seems to be a great deal harder than he used to be - working with the granite-like Patrick Head is the best training in the world for a sloppy driver. One way or another the 1998 season is likely to be the make or break year for Frentzen because if he does not set the house on fire on Williams he may find himself out of work at the end of the year, although he can gain some consolation from the knowledge that Frank and Patrick would quite like to have a German driver with them when they start working with BMW.
In short, Heinz-Harald has the world at his feet and if he can grab it with both hands than he can become a big star in his own right. Frentzen is never going to be a fiery character like Villeneuve but he could be a big surprise...
Scuderia Ferrari (I)
Chairman: Luca di Montezemolo
Managing Director: Jean Todt
Technical Director: Ross Brawn
Chief designer (chassis): Rory Byrne
Chief designer (engines): Paolo Martinelli
Aerodynamics: Wilhem Toet
Race engineers: Ignazio Lunetta, Luca Balderisseri
Team manager: Stefano Domenicali
Team coordinator: Nigel Stepney
3 Michael Schumacher (D)Scuderia Ferrari
Michael Schumacher is a bundle of contradictions. On the one hand he is the cynical spoilt brat who tried to take Jacques Villeneuve out of the European Grand Prix at Jerez de la Frontera at the end of lasts eason and yet at the same time, away from the race tracks, he seems to be a fairly sensible and caring human being.
Whether one likes it or not, he is currently the only man in Formula 1 racing who has that special kind of magic which makes an uncompetitive Grand Prix car become a winner. Alain Prost had it, Ayrton Senna had it and so does Schumacher.
This will be his third year at Ferrari and no matter how you look at it, this is the year in which he is supposed to win the World Championship for the famous Italian team. There can be no more excuses. Jean Todt and Luca di Montezemolo have spent an absolute fortune to turn Ferrari around, bringing in all the engineers Schumacher wanted and if the team cannot be successful in 1998, they might as well all give and go and play golf. Schumacher is under contract with Ferrari until the end of 1999 but F1 contracts are easily negotiated away and so Ferrari knows that thy need to do well this year because if Schumacher sees McLaren-Mercedes coming on strong he will be of to Woking in a flash - much to Ron Dennis's delight.
Schumacher's greatest strength has always been his mental strength but he looked decidedly rattled at the end of last year although his legendary self-confidence will probably keep everything under control.
This will be Eddie Irvine's third year at Ferrari and I doubt that there is another team in the paddock that would now take the erratic and opinionated Ulsterman. If he had what it took to beat Schumacher we would have seen it by now but it seems that Eddie is happy to play the second fiddle and collect his money. It is not a recipe which will make him very attractive to rival team bosses. If he looked as though he was learning from Schumacher it would help but every year Eddie makes the same mistakes and causes accidents - as he did in Melbourne last year. The worst thing one can say about him is that the other drivers do not feel comfortable fighting with him because they never know what he is going to do next.
But, you never know, perhaps he is a late developer. Perhaps this year he will suddenly begin to produce the results which have been so conspicuously absent for the last two seasons. I doubt it, but you can always hope.
Eddie is a quick driver and his anti-establishment ways do have a limited amount of charm but there are times when one cannot help but wonder if a little thought might come in handy.
Still, he would probably say that he is the man with the pile of money and the one having all the fun with his helicopters and the wild women. Perhaps he is. I hope it will last because I am not sure his F1 career will go on much longer unless we see some Schumacher-beating performances. The sad thing is that Eddie has probably reached the point at which he simply does not care. He has made enough...
Benetton Formula Ltd (GB)
Chairman: Alessandro Benetton
Managing Director: David Richards
Technical Director: Pat Symmonds
Chief designer (chassis): Nick Wirth
Aerodynamics: James Allison
Team manager: Joan Villadelprat
Team coordinator: Greg Field
Test drivers: To be announced
On the face of it Fisichella has all the signs of being a real star in the making. Young women all over the world fall into blubbering heaps when he wanders by, earing his chic sunglasses and grinning like a schoolboy. He is polite and professional but just occasionally you see the od flash of the Latin blood which is lurking somewhere in his veins. He has a lovely smooth and flowing style of driving but as he proved at Hockenheim last year he is not yet tough enough to keep his emotions under control at moments of pressure. He should have won the German race but made a mistake when Gerhard Berger appeared on his tail. A top Grand Prix driver cannot afford such things and often it takes a few years to hammer such weaknesses out of a driver.
If he starts to win races I am sure that Fisichella will become more and more confident. It will be interesting to see how he fares against the laid-back Wurz because Giancarlo did not win any emotional-stability awards for his relationship with Ralf Schumacher.
In many respects this will be a make-or-break year for him because being the up-and-coming hero can only last so long and then he has to become a winner. If not there is a danger that he will drift off into the world that Jean Alesi has inhabited throughout the 1990s.
They say that Frank Williams is rather keen on Fisichella for the future but if he is to get to the giddy heights of Grove, Giancarlo is going to have grab some trophies with Benetton.
Wurz had a brilliant season last year, standing in for the wounded Gerhard Berger. He made a big impression without doing anything really outstanding which is often the sign of an emerging ace. He made it look easy.
The performances - and his wage demands - meant that Wurz was an obvious choice for the team as it sought to rebuild itself after the departure of the old regime.
Wurz is now in an incredibly fortunate position. He is young and fast and he has a good car. His lack of real F1 experience means that if he makes mistakes this year he will be forgiven for having a few youthful moments of madness. Whatever he achieves in the way of results will be a bonus, which means that he is in the best of all possible situations. He cannot lose - so long as he is fast. After two years of flops no-one is expecting much from Benetton this year - except the Benetton staff - but I have a vague suspicion that the disappearance of Flavio Briatore will be a very real tonic for the team, which will now have a much more stable management which really cares about winning, which was not really the case with Flav. It may be that the new team boss David Richards needs a season or two to mould the team as he would like it to be, but he has always been a quick worker and I think Benetton may surprise a few people with its competitiveness this year.
McLaren International Ltd (GB)
Chairman: Ron Dennis
Managing Director: Martin Whitmarsh
Technical Director: Adrian Newey
Chief designer (chassis): Matthew Jeffreys
Aerodynamics: Henri Durand
Team manager: David Ryan
Team coordinator: Jo Ramirez
Test drivers: Ricardo Zonta, Nick Heidfeld
This will be Mika Hakkinen's sixth season with the McLaren team and it is getting to the point at which one has to say that unless the winning machine gets back on the rails soon Mika's career will have been entirely wasted. Much will now depend on just how good the new McLaren chassis really is. If Adrian Newey has produced a good car Mika will fly. There has never been any doubt about his speed although his ability to analyse situations has always been a little bit suspect.
After his accident at Adelaide he was not the same man at all but in the course of last year he began to seem a lot more like his old self again. He regained the Hakkinen smile which had been missing for two years.
It remains a mystery as to why the McLaren management forced David Coulthard to allow Mika Hakkinen ahead at the European Grand Prix in Jerez. The move allowed Hakkinen to win his first Grand Prix after a ridiculous amount of time trying. They say that a victory makes all the difference but I doubt it. You would have to be a complete idiot to believe that the victory was deserved and when you accept that it was not, you ask the question "Why did they do it?".
Mika may not care about such complex issues. A win is a win. He's in a record book somewhere which is more than can be said for every other Finn in world history except Keke Rosberg.
David Coulthard is Britain's big hope for Grand Prix success as Damon Hill's star fades gradually and the other British F1 drivers get a little older with each passing year. The Scotsman is still only 26 years old but has had three and a half years in Grand Prix racing and has won three races: one with Williams in 1995 and two with McLaren last year. If given the right car he has been ready for some time to win a lot more.
His outright speed has never been quite that of Hakkinen but his remarkable ability to make blistering starts and his controlled aggression in races have always given him the upper hand over the Finn in the races. It was, therefore, rather surprising that McLaren chose to order Coulthard to move over at Jerez last year to allow Hakkinen to win the race. It cannot have done anything to ease David's sometimes prickly relationship with the team. Everyone is very diplomatic about the business in Jerez but if I was David I would have been very angry indeed.
Oddly enough David also felt rather constricted when he was driving for Williams but he may now regret trying to run off to join McLaren at the end of 1994 just because Frank and Patrick would not pay him what he was worth.
Having said all that Coulthard is smart enough to know that you can put up with a lot if your team can give you a car which is capable of winning races. McLaren has talked a good game since the start of the relationship with Mercedes-Benz back in 1995 but has been unable to produce a consistent winning car for three consecutive seasons. The team may now finally be getting its act together and if that is the case I would expect David to be a very strong challenger for the World Championship.
Jordan Grand Prix Ltd (GB)
Chairman: Eddie Jordan
Managing Director: Eddie Jordan
Technical Director: Gary Anderson
Chief designer (chassis): Gary Anderson
Aerodynamics: Gary Anderson
Race engineers: Sam Michaels, Dino Toso
Team manager: Jim Vale
Team coordinator: Trevor Foster
Test drivers: Pedro de la Rosa
After a less than convincing season with Arrows Damon Hill joins Jordan for one last chance to prove that he can win races in a car other than a Williams. He nearly did for Arrows in Hungary last year but in Formula 1 "nearly" is not good enough.
On paper the Jordan package is a good one with plenty of money and new Mugen Honda engines. The only problem is that it is hard to imagine how Gary Anderson's style of technical management will meld with the more regimented approach of the Japanese. There are also question marks over the team's electronics as they have had to start from scratch in recent months because previously all the electronics was done by Peugeot. However testing has seen the cars prove to be very reliable and with Ralf Schumacher as a motivating force, Damon is likely to be right on the ball, which was perhaps not really the case last year when Pedro Diniz was not really stretching Damon to the full - or at least should not have been.
Damon says he is hungrier than ever and gives all the signs that this is true but sometimes after winning titles racing drivers lose the edge. We will have to see if this is the case.
There is no doubt that Damon's knowledge and experience will help the Jordan team to get closer to winning races. There are very few people in the paddock who would not be happy to see a Jordan win a race and there would be many who would delight in a little extra success for Damon, simply because he always behaved with great dignity when faced with Michael Schumacher's less-than-sporting behavior back in 1994.
Ralf Schumacher got a long way by riding on the shirt-tails of his brother. These things help in the junior formulae but as one rises to the front rank of the sport one has to deliver the goods to survive.
If Ralf Schumacher does not deliver something in 1998 it is hard to imagine that we will be seeing a great deal more of him in the future. He has had a year learning about F1 in a very competitive car and while he was able to keep up with Giancarlo Fisichella in the early part of the season, he gradually began to slip behind the Italian and made more and more mistakes as he became frustrated. This year he is up against Damon Hill. If he betas the former World Champion it will be good but if Damon sees him off - and Hill should never be underestimated, particularly when there are Schumachers involved - it will be very difficult for him to maintain much credibility as a serious young hope for the future. Ralf's advantage is that he is young and has an important name in Germany and perhaps there will be people willing to pay for him to keep his place in Grand Prix racing but the days when people talk of Ralf being a match of Michael - as was the case at the start of last year - will be long gone.
The year in F1 may have helped him calm down a little so that we can see him in more of a relaxed state, rather than as the arrogant upstart he was last year. People will forgive many things from a winner but to be difficult and to not win is a very bad combination.
Prost Grand Prix (F)
Chairman: Alain Prost
Managing Director: Jean-Luc Gripond
Technical Director: Bernard Dudot
Chief designer (chassis): Loic Bigois
Aerodynamics: Loic Bigois
Race engineers: Humphrey Corbett, Jacky Eeckelaert
Team manager: Cesare Fiorio
Team coordinator: Eric Vuillemin
Test driver: To be announced
One has to feel a little bit sorry for poor old Olivier Panis. Last year he found himself with a car and tyre package which was clearly capable of winning races but just when it looked as though he was on the verge of a breakthrough he crashed in Montreal and broke both his legs. Along came a new hero Jarno Trulli and looked mightily impressive in Olivier's car.
Panis made a sensible comeback at the end of the season and goes into the years ahead with what should be a good package. He is going to have to work very hard to keep Trulli under control and it should be remembered that the last time Panis was put under pressure by a team-mate (by Martin Brundle in 1995) he did not react very well, becoming rather sullen and withdrawn. he is older now and will probably be better able to cope with such things. He is also likely to be a lot tougher from a mental point of view having had to fight back from his injury. Everything seems to be fine from a physical point of view but we have yet to see if the crash really did leave no effect at all.
The change of engine from Honda to Peugeot is likely to be disruption and the fact that McLaren and Benetton are now both running Bridgestone tyres may mean that the Prost team is not as competitive as it was last year, although there is a lot of pressure from within Peugeot for the all-French operation to be successful as quickly as possible.
12 Jarno Trulli
There are many people in the Formula 1 paddock who feel that Jarno Trulli may be the man who will eventually challenge Michael Schumacher for the title of being the best driver in F1, just as Schumacher once challenged Senna and Senna once challenged Prost. It is too early to be sure. Trulli is a very unItalian Italian. He has about him a remarkable feeling of calmness. He knows where he is going and everything he does is aiming for the long-term goal. There is no bluster and no arrogance, just a quiet confidence. He respects the top drivers but thinks he can beat them and he does not let things get on top of him and seems to be relaxed come what may.
There will probably be a tendency for people to judge him a little harshly, forgetting that he has been in F1 for a short period and in that time has driven for two different teams, but the most important thing will be how he copes with Olivier Panis. The first thing any driver must do is to beat his own team-mate. This will not be an easy task as Prost is very much Panis's team. There have been changes since Prost took over Ligier but the mechanics are almost all the same men who were there when Panis first arrived at Ligier back in 1994. They love him because he won for them at Monaco in 1995. That will not be an easy situation to overcome but if anyone can do it one gets the feeling that Trulli is the man.
Red Bull Sauber AG (CH)
Chairman: Peter Sauber
Managing Director: Peter Sauber
Technical Director: Leo Ress
Chief designer (chassis): Leo Ress
Aerodynamics: Rene Hilorst, Mike Jennings
Race engineers: Gabriele Dellicolli, Tim Preston, Andy Tilley
Team manager: Peter Sauber
Team coordinator: Beat Zehnder
Test driver: Jorg Muller
14 Jean Alesi
One cannot but feel that Jean Alesi is on the slippery slope down from the glory days of Ferrari and Benetton. He, of course, will not agree and will argue that his presence at Sauber can only help the team to continue its gradual climb to the top.
The worry is that when things start to go wrong that Jean will become frustrated as he did at Benetton. If that happens Jean needs a steady hard to control him and without the recently-deposed team manager Max Welti, Sauber may find that a difficult thing to do. What Jean really needs is a quick win to get him flying but it is hard to imagine that Sauber is going to manage that with a development of 1996 Ferrari V10 engines.
The interesting thing will be how Jean matches Johnny Herbert. The Englishman has been underrated ever since his traumatic season alongside Michael Schumacher at Benetton in 1995 but he has driven some really superb races for Sauber. It will be a lively fight between the pair of them.
At 33 Jean is still a relative youngster in Grand Prix terms, despite the fact that he has been active in F1 since the middle of 1989. In that time he has one only once - and that was a fluke in Canada. There were other times when he should have won but was let down by his machinery.
If handled correctly with a good car Jean could be a World Champion, but it is doubtful that is going to happen with Sauber.
Johnny Herbert is in a similar situation to Alesi. They are the same age to within a few days and Johnny's only wins have come in races when those ahead of him retired. He has been unlucky but has had the inner strength not to let it get to him no matter how bad the frustration. This is the difference between the pair and ultimately will make Herbert a better bet for success because he will take the rough and the smooth without one affecting the other.
The departure of Welti - and his influence in the team should not be understated - will have a big effect. Max was a man capable of mixing the different nations together with a seamless blend. Peter Sauber, for all his skills and charm, does not have that same ability and the team will probably suffer from it as a result. The only good news for Johnny is that he will be joined this year by Andy Tilley, an old friend from Lotus days, who will no doubt help keep up the humour in what is sometimes rather a dour organization.
Herbert, however, is likely to be with Sauber for the long-term, going through the hard times now in the hope that when the team starts to built its won engines at some point in the future, he will be able to profit from his loyalty to the operation.
Arrows Grand Prix International Ltd (GB)
Chairman: Tom Walkinshaw
Managing-Director: Tom Walkinshaw
Technical Director: John Barnard
Chief designer (chassis): Mike Coughlan
Aerodynamics: Simon Jennings
Race engineers: Vincent Gaillardot
Team manager: John Walton
Team coordinator: Gordon Message
Test driver: Emmanuel Collard
16 Pedro Diniz
Pedro is a lovely guy and will one day make a great catch for a pouting starlet but as an absolute top-line Grand Prix star he is not totally convincing. Make no mistake he is good and there is some talent there but it is not in the same league as the big guys and one has to say that there is no doubt that the Arrows team probably knows that. As an all-round package, however, Pedro is too good to be true. How many drivers with talent can bring that much money to a team? No wonder Tom Walkinshaw has already got Pedro under contract for 1998 and 1999.
I would not expect Diniz to be in the same league as Mika Salo and I doubt that the Finn will suffer from the same kind of motivational problems that plagued Damon Hill last year. Salo come to Arrows after three years at Tyrrell so he knows all about having to keep up the motivation through bad times.
17 Mika Salo
There was a time when Jean Todt of Ferrari tried a lot to get his hands on Mika Salo. Mika would probably have been a better choice than the driver Todt eventually signed because Mika seems to be motivated come what may. After three long years with Tyrrell he needed to get out and find a new challenge and Arrows will probably provide that. Much will depend on the new Yamaha V10 engine. The chassis will be good and the Bridgestone tyres will be competitive and so the big question mark will be the engine and with Brian Hart having designed it, the engine will probably be quite useful. If all the elements fit together as they should - as Tom Walkinshaw hopes they will - Salo may be worth watching as the season progresses.
Stewart Grand Prix Ltd (GB)
Chairman: Jackie Stewart
Managing-Director: Paul Stewart
Technical Director: Alan Jenkins
Chief designer (chassis): Alan Jenkins
Aerodynamics: Egbahl Hamidy
Race engineers: Malcolm Tierney, Andy Le Fleming
Team manager: David Stubbs
Team coordinator: Andy Miller
Test driver: To be announced
Rubens Barrichello is really a very fortunate young man. Not only is he still 25 years of age but he now has five full seasons of Formula 1 experience behind him. A couple of years ago he was an emotional yo-yo - growing up in the sport does that to the stars sometimes - and so has not delivered the results which perhaps he is capable of producing but he is in a nice steady situation with Stewart. He has a long-term contract and is clearly the team's number one driver. His self-confidence is back after having suffered quite a lot in the final year at Jordan and everything is ready for Rubens to develop - if the car and engine package is up to the job. That is the big question mark and if testing is anything to go by Stewart are going to be struggling a little this year... in which case Rubens is going to be back where he was last year.
One has to wonder whether or not Jan Magnussen was given enough support in his first F1 season last year. For most of the year his performances left everyone perplexed as to why there had been such enthusiasm about him in the junior formulae. He did absolutely nothing of any note. This may have had a lot to do with the fact that in pre-season testing he suffered a whole string of suspension failures, one of which stuck a suspension part through the back of his leg. That cannot have done anything for his confidence. Towards the end of the season there were signs of an improvement but he will need to do a lot more of the same this year if he is to convince the F1 jury. Having said that, he is under a long-term contract with the team and so may survive without the jury intervening for a while longer.
Tyrrell Racing Organization Ltd (GB)
Chairman: Ken Tyrrell
Managing Director: Bob Tyrrell
Technical Director: Harvey Postlethwaite
Chief designer (chassis): Mike Gascoyne
Aerodynamics: Mike Gascoyne
Race engineers: Alex Varnava, David Brown
Team manager: Steve Nielsen
Team coordinator: Katie Aspinall
Test driver: To be announced.
The only real indication most people in F1 have had of Takagi's talent were a few wild races last year in the Porsche Cup, which supports a number of European GPs each year. It was not very comforting because they all seemed to end up with Takagi hitting something or someone. There is clearly a modicum of talent involved but that was true of Satoru Nakajima, Aguri Suzuki and Ukyo Katayama and none of them made it in F1. Ken Tyrrell seems to rate the young Japanese driver very highly - but one cannot be sure whether that it because of his talent or because there is a hell of a big budget behind him...
Rosset had the great misfortune in life no to start his arcing career until he was too old to make the most of it. On the other side he was fortunate that his family has no shortage of money which enabled him to rise quickly through the junior formulae. He did nothing to impress greatly until Formula 3000 when he finished runner-up to Vincenzo Sospiri in the European title. This helped him get to Arrows in 1996 but it was not a good period for the team and so his talent was largely wasted. At Lola in 1997 his talent was completely wasted. One has to say that with Tyrrell closing down at the end of the 1998 there is a strong possibility that Rosset's talent may once again be well hidden as the season progresses.
Minardi Team SpA (I)
Chairman: Giancarlo Minardi
Deputy Chairman: Gabriele Rumi
Managing Director: Giancarlo Minardi
Technical Director: Gabriele Tredozi
Chief designer (chassis): Mauro Gennari
Aerodynamics: Mariano Alperin
Race engineers: Marco Calavolo
Team manager: Frederic Dhainaut
Team coordinator: Michel Adreani
Test driver: Laurent Redon
The cynical members of the Formula 1 fraternity might be forgiven for thinking that signing a 19-year-old Argentine driver without much success in his past record might in some way be related to a large sum of money which the youngster could bring to a team. There is no doubt that Tuero's millions will be very useful for Minardi as the team seeks to restructure and build itself up for the future. It remains to be seen whether Tuero will be a top name in the future.
The cynical members of the Formula 1 fraternity might be forgiven for thinking that signing a 25-year-old Japanese driver without much success in his past record might in some way be related... to good connections in Japan and a busload of money. Nakano showed little sign of vast talent last year with Prost. Admittedly the team did not want him and he was given little emotional support in his first season in F1 - but it seems to me that the greats never do need that kind of help...