Charge of the light brigade

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Less power, less down force, smaller fuel tanks and, potentially a broader range of winners. We present the face of Formula One, 1995-style

This issue of Motor Sport should be available just as the drivers are tying the laces of their racing boots, in preparation for the first official practise session of the year.

The information contained within our seasonal preview was correct at the time of going to press, though teams had the option of changing their nominated drivers until 18:00 on March 23! Domenico Schiattarella to start the season for Simtek, rather than Hideki Noda, and although Martin Brundle is likely to contest the vast majority of Grands Prix for Ligier, he may stand down for Aguri Suzuki in the opening race. Question marks remain over the identiy of the second drivers at Tyrrell, Pacific and Forti; in those cases, we have selected the most likely options.

The advent of the new 3.0-litre era brings with it renewed hope that there will be a greater variety of winners in Formula One racing. Since 1988, the remarkable statistic remains that only McLaren, Williams, Ferrari and Benetton have won Grands Prix; common wisdom suggests that Jordan and Sauber are ready to join the ranks of F1 winners, and that Tyrrell and Ligier have the capacity to reacquaint themselves with something that neither has experienced in over a decade.

Next month’s Motor Sport will incorporate reports of the opening two Grands Prix of the season, presented in a revised, and we believe more digestible, format.

Here, in the meantime, are some of the things we expect to see…

Tyrrell Yamaha
Ukyo Katayama / Mika Salo

Seldom has a racing driver’s reputation taken such a U-turn as Katayama’s did last year. From laughing stock to the best Japanese driver F2 has seen. Just like that. In fact, Ukyo’s change of fortune reflects Yamaha’s, to a degree. Since aligning with Tyrrell, the Japanese engine manufacturer has come a long, Iong way. The marriage between Yamaha and Harvey Postlethwaite’s straightforward chassis proved supremely effective in 1994. Katayama has now proved his potential; Mika Salo looked good in a Lotus late last year. He used to be a match for Hakkinen in F3. Enough said…

Benetton Renault
Michael Schumacher / Johnny Herbert

Despite all the controversies in 1994, Benetton won its first world drivers’ title. . . and now it has the same engine as the reigning champion constructor. The driver line-up is, on paper, more powerful, too. Unceremoniously dumped by the very same team in the summer of 1989, Johnny Herbert gets a second chance. His relative lack of pace alongside Schumacher in the final two Grands Prix of 1994 remains a mystery. In theory, the German now has a partner who should push him harder than ever before. If that proves to be the case, the world champion’s reaction will be interesting. Under pressure from Damon Hill in Adelaide, he proved that his veneer of infallibility can be breached, albeit infrequently.

Williams Renault
Damon Hill / David Coulthard

Whichever way you look at it, Damon Hill did a fantastic job in 1994. People tend to overlook the fact that it was only his second full season of F1. Yes, there were occasions when he was unable to hold a candle to Schumacher. But there wasn’t much to choose between them by the end of the year. Over the course of the season, the faster man took the title. But Damon simply got better and better, and there is no reason to assume that he has yet reached his peak. Coulthard was the sensible choice for the number two seat. Has yet to match Hill’s qualifying speed, but he is a peerless racer. He might even have a GP victory under his belt already, had he not been required to step down to make way for Nigel Mansell in the final three Grands Prix of ’94.

McLaren Mercedes-Benz
Mika Hakkinen / Nigel Mansell

And so one of the world’s more unlikely alliances has been cemented. Mansell and McLaren: who would have thought it, a couple of years ago? Now, a combination of circumstances and market forces have caused the twain to meet. Mansell was not a match for Damon Hill during his infrequent F1 appearances last year, but few doubt that regular mileage and his own infinite willpower will edge him closer to the pace. But will he be able to match Hakkinen? The Finn has explosive pace, though he is still prone to the odd error. The new MP4/10 incorporates innovative interpretations of the new F1 regulations. Even if initial testing has thrown up a few potential pitfalls, there is simply too much technical and financial muscle here for it to be anything other than competitive in the long-term.

Arrows Hart
Gianni Morbidelli / Taki Inoue

If ever there was firm evidence that talent is now an obviously inferior commodity to wealth, look no further than Taki Inoue, A capable, but not outstanding, F3000 racer, Inoue should really be entering a second year in the junior formula. A shame that Christian Fittipaldi has been forced to go to the States to make way. There can be no qualms about Morbidelli’s continued presence in F1, however. The tiny Italian is a feisty racer who would have scored rather more than three championship points last year, but for circumstances beyond his control.

Minardi Ford
Pier-Luigi Martini / Luca Badoer

One of the more homely and accessible F1 teams, Minardi was thrown into something of a mini-crisis when its proposed engine deal with Mugen-Honda fell through. Having scrapped the original CAD/CAM drawings, Aldo Costa’s team had to start again with a blank screen. Three months later, the M195 was unveiled. An impressive effort, but one wonders whether Minardi will ever be regarded as anything other than stout artisans while it remains a ‘customer’ engine team. A Mugen-Honda alliance would have been interesting. As far as the drivers go, has Pier-Luigi Martini been driving indifferent cars too long to keep his motivation up? One hopes not. To Luca Badoer, versed in the ways of 1993’s awful Lola T93/30, the M195 can only feel like a Williams. The 1992 F3000 champion’s true merit can at last be assessed.

Pacific Team Lotus Ford
Bertrand Gachot / Pedro Lamy (?)

Results can only get better for Keith Wiggins, but 1994 was not as bleak as the string of non-qualifications suggests. Look at it this way: the team arrived in F1, turned up for every race and was one of only four teams to get through the campaign without a single driver change. The PR01’s propensity for propping up the field also saved the team money, for fuel, tyres and engine mileage were seldom used up on Sundays. Investors will expect more than mere survival this year, however; fresh capital from Japan means that the PR02 will be an altogether more serious effort. Gachot will need to respond accordingly; he hasn’t sat in a decent car since he drove for Jordan in the first part of 1991. Despite the team’s new handle, the racing division is far more Pacific than Lotus. The commercial skills of the latter’s MD David Hunt may bear fruit in the longer term, however.

Sauber Ford
Heinz-Harald Frentzen / Karl Wendlinger

Such was Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s optimism that the Sauber-Ford alliance would bear fruit that he is said to have turned down the offer of a McLaren seat. Although it looked promising at times last year, Sauber has yet truly to convince the world of its front-running potential. In Frentzen, it has a star of the future. The German is fast, but still raw. In former days, he was thought to be as fast, perhaps faster, than compatriot Schumacher; he just lacked the new world champion’s political nous. Switching from Mercedes-Benz to Ford gives Peter Sauber another strong technical partner, though it disrupts continuity. Doubts remain about Wendlinger’s fitness. Early testing suggested that he is not yet back in the swing of things after his Monaco shunt. Hardly surprising, but given F1 ‘s capacity for sentiment he’ll need to up the ante pretty smartly if he is to keep his seat.

Forti Ford
Pedro Diniz / Andrea Montermini

What Forti needs is an experienced racer to help the team find its feet in F1. A blistering F3000 record helps. Ask Eddie Jordan. But it is no guarantee of prosperity. Ask Pacific. Or DAMS. Or Mike Earle. Andrea Montermini is a quick and likeable racer, but he has limited F1 experience. He could do a good job, but he’d be better off if he had an experienced teammate to help him. At least he has a fistful of F3000 victories in his favour, albeit back in 1992. Diniz, who has sourced most of the financial support, will struggle. He never truly got to grips with F3000, and has shown no sign that he is ready for this.

Simtek Ford
Jos Verstappen / Hideki Noda / Domenico Schiattarella

The S951 chassis was late being finished, and was unlikely to complete more than a bare minimum shakedown before being freighted to Brazil. Simtek emerges from a difficult baptism in 1994. There was never much money to play with, there was a stream of driver changes and, the biggest psychological blow, Roland Ratzenberger crashed fatally at Imola. We hadn’t seen the new car as we closed for press, and there remain question marks, despite the recruitment of Benetton’s test driver Jos Verstappen. Although he had some good races in the latter part of 1994, Verstappen was thrown into the ring too early by Benetton. It might even have done his career irreparable harm. Had he been in this situation last year, he would have been better off, for no one would have expected results. Noda, an improving F3000 racer, and Schiattarella, who was quick in F3 a few years back, will share the second car.

Jordan Peugeot
Eddie Irvine / Rubens Barrichello

McLaren’s loss could just be Jordan’s gain, and a massive gain at that. Peugeot’s results last year weren’t that bad for a first season. Jean-Pierre Jabouille was reluctant to admit that a mid-season succession of bonfires (always behind the drivers’ shoulders) were necessarily ‘engine problems’, when visual evidence suggested otherwise, but Peugeot has the resources to iron out the bugs. While McLaren might not have been able to afford the perceived risk of a second year without a victory, the emergent Jordan would be happy with a string of podium finishes. Add a very strong driver pairing, and the fact that Gary Anderson’s chassis are habitually up to the task, and you have the ingredients for a happy marriage.

Larrousse Ford
Christophe Bouchut / Eric Bernard

Team Compromise. A winter of discontent left Larrousse’s participation in the opening two Grands Prix of the season in some doubt. If it travels, it will be taking last year’s cars and a hacksaw, with the intention of producing a pukka 1995 racer in time for Imola. The late financial intervention of Junior Team partners Jean Messaoudi and Laurent Barlesi, whose own plans to launch an F1 team floundered, has given Larrousse a slender lifeline, but the auguries do not look too good. Bouchut was French F3 champion in 1991, but hasn’t raced single-seaters since. He did win Le Mans in ’93, though. Bernard has never looked the same driver since breaking his legs at Suzuka in 1991.

Ferrari
Jean Alesi / Gerhard Berger

In most people’s eyes, Gerhard Berger was the outstanding performer of 1994. Closer to Ayrton Senna than any other driver, and developing a friendship with Roland Ratzenberger, he had more cause to grieve than most. He overcame his angst in remarkable fashion. Last year’s Ferrari was no match for the Williams or the Benetton, yet Berger managed to be both fast and consistent. His victory at Hockenheim, the Scuderia’s first since Jerez 1990, was one of the season’s more gratifying moments. The Austrian has seldom, if ever, performed better. Alesi’s quickest drive was apparently that from Monza to his Monte-Carlo base, after his T1’s transmission gave out when he pitted while leading the Italian GP. Thinking back to his Tyrrell days, it seems inconceivable that he should now have started 85 Grands Prix without having won one. There’s time yet, but perhaps not much now that there’s a solid new wave of youngsters filtering through.

Ligier Mugen-Honda
Olivier Panis / Martin Brundle / Aguri Suzuki

Unsurprisingly, the new Ligier: prop F Briatore) looks more like a Benetton than any other member of the high-nose generation. The Magny-Cours team hasn’t won a GP since Canada 1991. It may just come closer this year than it has done at any time since. Olivier Panis performed superbly last year in what was little more than a modified antique. Martin Brundle, who will certainly get to contest more races than Suzuki, has a similar capacity for reaching the finish, and remains an expert racer. And Honda, which didn’t have too happy a time with Lotus last season, is not known for tolerating failure. On paper, this looks like a very, very good package.

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