Formula One scene

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Ready for Rio!

On April 3 the 1988 Grand Prix season opens with the running of the Brazilian Grand Prix in Rio de Janeiro, on the very flat circuit on the edge of the city.

The major teams have already spent a fair bit of time thrashing round the circuit testing their new cars, new engines or new drivers, and some of them will have flown back for further testing at Imola. When they all turn up on parade for the first practice session for the Brazilian Grand Prix most of them should be in good trim and not many drivers should have to learn the circuit.

The entry for this year’s Formula One Championship events is there in quantity if not in quality, and can be divided into three categories. Those who have, those who have not, and those who never will.

There are those with the last of the turbocharged cars, screwed down to 2.5-bar absolute, with a maximum fuel load of 150 litres; there are those with new 31/2-litre normally-aspirated engines which are not limited to a fuel capacity, though 150 litres should see them through comfortably; and there are those with “long in the tooth” Cosworth DFZ engines. The first group will be racing with turbocharged engines for the last season, as next year they are banned; the second group have, in effect, next year’s cars, so are on a learning curve; and the last group can hope for little more than reliability and a gain in experience.

The designers of new cars for this season, whether turbocharged or not, have discovered that they can make smaller and neater cars. With turbo power screwed down to around 750 horsepower, a lot of components can be smaller than those required to cope with 1000 horsepower, and the fuel-tank can be significantly smaller. In testing some of the drivers have found these lower-powered cars easier to drive, and in consequence have recorded faster lap times than expected.

The designers using new 31/2-litre engines without turbocharging have found they have great areas of space to play with— there being no intercoolers, no intake manifolding and pipework, no turbocharger units to accommodate— and with little more than half the power of two years ago, radiators, oil coolers, air ducts and heat extraction present none of the problems of the past.

All this suggests that the 1988-89 cars will be a lot neater, smaller and relatively uncomplicated. They have had to look closely into weight distribution in order to maintain the handling standards they are used to, and already Rory Byrne (in his Benetton B188) and Patrick Head (in his Williams FW12) have moved the gearbox unit ahead of the final drive, instead of sticking out the back as before. From all accounts we can expect some interesting gearbox developments, along the lines of automatic gear-changing, Ferrari already being well advanced with such a system.

By winning the Driver’s World Championship last year, Nelson Piquet takes over the racing number 1 from Alain Prost, and his move from Williams to Lotus for this season means that he takes number 1 with him. This is just another unsatisfactory part of the FIA rules controlling the World Championships.

In 1987 the Williams team enabled Piquet to win the World Champion Driver title, and themselves won the Manufacturer’s Championship handsomely. Under normal simple conditions this would have meant that the Williams team would have taken over numbers 1 and 2 for this year, with Piquet as number 1 and Nigel Mansell as number 2. With Piquet leaving the team, it is left with nothing to show for its splendid efforts in 1987: it still has numbers 5 and 6.

Team Lotus can hold its head high this year as regards its new car, for it is officially Lotus Type number 100T, which is a landmark in anyone’s book; but don’t tell Porsche, which has Type number 1000 in the offing ! Sadly we shall not see the Stuttgart firm involved in Formula One Grand Prix racing this year, as its involvement with McLaren through the TAG financial tie-up has come to an end, and McLaren has joined forces with Honda.

The new Lotus is not the revolutionary and controversial thing Colin Chapman would have produced, but is a logical development of the previous cars. Honda’s latest V6 engine using 2.5-bar tubocharging is still the driving force, and the monocoque has been built to the forthcoming rules which require the driver’s feet to be behind the centre-line passing through the front wheel-hubs — in other words, further back than before.

Suspension is by normal steel coil springs rather than the sophisticated computer-controlled air system used last year, and the whole car is neater and smaller and generally more efficient than last year’s car. With Camel cigarettes still their main sponsor, the cars are still yellow, and Japanese driver Satoru Nakajima is number two to Nelson Piquet.

McLaren is the other Honda-powered team, Gordon Murray and his team having to design a completely new car to take full advantage of the change in engine. Last year’s McLaren with Porsche power was in reality the final development of the original John Barnard design; the 1988 McLaren, designated MP4/4, is the first totally non-Barnard influenced design and, with Murray’s previous track-record with Brabham cars, the new McLaren is hardly likely to be found wanting.

With Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna driving, the team should be capable of dominating the scene this year, sharing the spoils between the drivers, but if they do they will have to play the “points game” carefully or they could both finish up second in the championship at the end of the year!

As always in the Grand Prix racing game there is the Red Card in the shape of Ferrari, and life would be very dull without it. Old man Ferrari has recently passed his 90th birthday, and the team ended last season on a splendid high. Gerhard Berger is the man of the moment in Maranello, and with good reason, for he really matured last season. His team-leader Michele Alboreto is no mean driver, and is a great one for rising to the occasion once the racing gets serious.

Ferrari will be starting the season with a development of the 1987 turbocharged car, while John Barnard puts the finishing touches to the new 31/2-litre V12 in readiness for 1989. Do not be surprised if the Ferrari team changes to the new car part-way through the season, which the rules allow it to do. But equally, do not be surprised if Ferrari cocks the whole thing up. It seems to have a penchant for suddenly going completely to pieces, almost before your very eyes, and it is never easy to see why.

Other teams still in the turbocharged category are Arrows and Zakspeed, both with developments of the cars they have been racing in the past without much success. Arrows will retain its four-cylinder BMW engines, maintained and developed by Heini Mader’s Swiss-based firm, with Megatron backing. The drivers are as last year, Eddie Cheever and Derek Warwick, and while they cannot hope to form any serious challenge to Honda and Ferrari they will not be able to relax, for the new 31/2-litre normally-aspirated cars will be hard on their heels, if not in front of them.

Erich Zakowski and his small Zakspeed team will continue as before with their own turbocharged four-cylinder car, and are piruling their hopes on a new young German driver, Bernd Schneider.

The rest of the entry are in the non-turbo category; all will be out to beat the Honda and Ferrari-powered turbo engines, but whether they are racing for their own awards this year has not been made clear by the FIA.

Last year the FIA awarded the Colin Chapman Cup to the best normally-aspirated powered team and the Jim Clark Cup to their best driver, but it was all rather low key and the only people to get excited about it were the winners, Team Tyrrell and Jonathan Palmer. With their Cosworth DFZ-powered Tyrrell 016 cars, Palmer and Streiff did not have too much opposition, only singleton entries from March and Lola posing any real problems. This year is going to be very different.

As a good honest Brit (he couldn’t masquerade as anything else, could he?) Uncle Ken Tyrrell is fielding an all-British team with cars using Cosworth engines, prepared and developed by Brian Hart’s firm as Hertfordshire, with British drivers, Jonathan Palmer and Julian Bailey.

The new Tyrrell car, which is much smaller and neater-looking than last year’s car, is designated 017, and it makes you think a bit when you realise how long ago it was that Jackie Stewart put the first Tyrrell named car, 001, on the starting grid.

The normally-aspirated cars everyone will be watching this season are undoubtedly those of Frank Williams’ Didcot-based team. Once his deal with Honda had ended, Frank lost no time in moving into the future and preparing for the new formula of 1989.

The new Patrick Head-designed FW12 is powered by a Judd V8 engine, and is a neat and compact design redolent of the first car Patrick designed for the team. It is small, light, neat and nimble and even if the Judd engine is 100 bhp down on 2.5-bar turbo engines, the car could well spring some surprises and cause a lot of embarrassment to others this season.

Nigel Mansell stays with the team, and can be regarded as number one, as he can now concentrate all his efforts on driving and racing, without the need to whine and whinge about his team-mate or team politics. He really does have a clear run in front of him this season. Second driver in the team is Riccardo Patrese, who Bernie Ecclestone kindly released before he wound up the Brabham team. The rather moody Italian, with a lot of experience but not much success, will no doubt quietly get on with the job.

The Judd V8 engine is a totally unknown quantity in its 31/2-litre form. It stems from the 3-litre Honda V8 which John Judd maintained and developed along with Honda for Formula 3000. While it was a match for the F3000 Cosworth engines, it did not dominate them, so its progress will be watched closely.

Another team to be using the Judd V8 engine is Guy Ligier’s turbulent team from France. The new JS31 carrying the French blue has been designed around the engine, unlike last year’s car which had to be rehashed for an alternative engine just as the season began. Rene Arnoux leads the team and he is joined by the ever-popular Stefan Johansson.

Something of a joker in the pack, but never to be ignored, is the Benetton team. This organisation is backed by the Italian Benetton family who are into woollen and sports-wear in a big way, and they wisely leave all the “nuts and bolts” to Rory Byrne.

Benetton has strong backing from Ford on the engine front, last year showing that the turbocharged Ford V6 had potential as a winner in the Benetton B187 chassis (anyone who was at Monza and saw Thierry Boutsen leading the Italian Grand Prix must have been impressed). In readiness for 1989 the team has now switched to Cosworth’s latest V8 Ford engine, which is effectively a new version of the ubiquitous DFV and an interim design before a new 1989 Ford-supported Cosworth engine.

This well-knit team now has Alessandro Nannini in the second car, alongside the talented and oh-so-smooth Thierry Boutsen, so although the Williams team may get the lion’s share of normally-aspirated media hot-air, it could well be that the colours of Benetton are actually ahead. . .

Both the Leyton House March team and the Larrousse-Calmels Lola team are running new-car efforts this year, using normally-aspirated power. Though small and limited compared with Williams, for example, both teams ran tidy and efficient operations last year and are well set to progress this year. Pinning all their hopes on Cosworth DFZ power-units prepared by the busy Heini Mader factory are newcomers to the scene from Germany, Switzerland and Italy.

From Switzerland comes Walter Brun (who seems to make a fortune from slotmachines) with the EuroBrun ER188 cars. His two-car team will comprise Oscar Larrauri and Stefano Modena, and the car is a modern version of what we used to call a Grand Prix “kit-car” in the 1970s. From Germany, Gunther Schmidt of ATS fame is returning with a Cosworth-powered car for Andrea de Cesaris, and in Italy Beppe Lucchini has launched his Scuderia Italia with a DFZ-powered car designed by Gianpaulo Dallara for Alessandro Caffi to drive.

After struggling valiantly with Carlo Chiti’s turbocharged Motori Moderni V6 engines, the Minardi team has opted out and joined the DFZ brigade, with its M188 designed by Giacomo Caliri. It should be able to actually finish races this season, but has lost its star driver Alessandro Nannini, and now has an all-Spanish driver pairing of Adrian Campos and Luis Sala.

Finally, two teams which were at the back of the scene last year will no doubt be hoping to move up a bit. These are the AGS and Coloni teams, the former from France and the latter from Italy. Both continue with Cosworth power, and Philippe Streiff has joined the AGS team in place of Pascal Fabre, which should improve its position.

AGS also has ambitious plans with a new 12-cylinder engine formed in inverted-broadarrow layout, with three banks of four cylinders. I cannot wait to hear this running. Clearly there is no lack of support for Formula One racing, but before it all begins it looks as though there is going to be a wide spread of performance and ability.

With starting grids limited to 26 can, qualifying sessions are going to be as fraught as ever and the pole-position contenders are going to fall over those who are desperately trying to be 26th, or, more precisely, are desperately trying not to be 27th. If a driver is about to be elbowed out of the race, and is on a flying lap giving all he has got to try to retain 26th place, can you honestly expect him to lift off and give way to Senna, Prost, Berger, Piquet or Mansell while they are out for pole-position?

Qualifying is long overdue for some close scrutiny by FISA, but unfortunately FISA is obsessed with other things. If a FISA official was out there trying to qualify for a race, the rules would soon be changed and more satisfactory arrangements would be forthcoming. Suggesting an Indianapolis-style qualifying system, of four laps on your own, is too simple. DSJ

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