Emergency Answers

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The winter months have been fairly quiet on the Formula One scene, which does not mean that nothing has been happening; far from it in fact, but much that has happened has been on the organising and management side of things. A major happening has been on the tyre front, much of it behind closed doors.

Last year Goodyear supplied tyres for sixteen cars and Pirelli supplied eleven, and the fact that Goodyear won all but one of the races was no surprise, because among their sixteen cars they had two Williams, two McLarens, two Lotuses and two Ferraris, while Pirelli’s only winning hopes were two Benettons and two Ligiers.

Before the end of the season Pirelli announced their withdrawal, to take effect from the end of 1986. With Michelin not prepared to return to Formula One and smaller firms like Avon, Bridgestone, Yokohama and M&H only interested in a small way, the teams which had been running on Pirelli tyres all turned to Goodyear. But the Akron giant blanched at the thought of providing tyres for all the cars.

Then the world of finance and share-control intervened and Goodyear had to fight off an enormous financial take-over bid, which saw them trimming their expenditure in all directions. Formula One was the first to get the chop, so all hope of the whole Formula One field being supported by Goodyear faded rapidly.

The big problem was that Goodyear had binding contracts with Ferrari, Lotus, McLaren and Williams, which involved continuous research and development on racing tyre design, the supply of tyres for all the Formula One races, and a considerable financial contribution to the funds of those four teams. If Goodyear had honoured those contracts for 1987, it would have meant that the rest of the Formula One field would be without tyres.

Teams, other than the four mentioned, who used Goodyear tyres in 1986 were not on a binding contract, so when it all came down to hard business facts, the most that Goodyear was bound to do was to support eight cars. With no other tyre company prepared to join Formula One, the situation was desperate, for eight cars could hardly constitute a field for a Grand Prix, by today’s accepted standards.

You could run a Grand Prix for eight cars, and with the right drivers in them it could be a good race, but it would not attact all the fringe activity of sponsorship, television coverage, media support and so on, and probably only 20,000 hard-core spectators would turn up at Silverstone, for example. The FISA/FOCA luminaries who connive to keep Formula One afloat on its artificial bubble were aghast at the thought of Formula One with only the four Goodyear supported teams.

The cold, unemotional alternative was to drop Formula One from the World Championship and substitute Formula 3000 or even Formula 3. It was the situation that pertained in 1952 when, for various reasons, Formula One could only field three Ferraris, two BRMs and one or two private owners with old cars. For 1952 and 1953 the World Championships were run for Formula Two in view of the paucity of Formula One entries. If a similar situation was to hold for 1987, Goodyear could opt out of their binding contracts with Ferrari, Lotus, McLaren and Williams, for the contracts were for F1.

Not wishing to be the direct cause of the killing of Formula One, however justified, Goodyear offered FISA/FOCA a package deal, to which there was only one reply and that was acceptance. The key factor behind whatever Goodyear decided to do was the simple fact that they had to reduce their overall expenditure in Formula One, and though Goodyear’s top man is honest and straightforward, saying “We do not discuss financial matters with those it doesn’t concern”, you can rest assured that their 1986 financial outlay was enormous. You cannot support sixteen races all over the world for peanuts. Everything operated from Akron Ohio, and everything had tube air-freighted to races from Australia, through Brazil to Austria and Hungary, while in addition there was a continuous programme of testing at all the circuits.

The Goodyear offer to FISA/FOCA was straightforward and demanded compromise from everyone concerned. The offer was to supply tyres to every car entered in the World Championship, but there would only be one type of tyre and everyone would have to use it, whether it suited their chassis or not. There would be no qualifying tyres and no free tyres or free transport; it would have to be paid for by the teams. Goodyear offered their knowledge and expertise of racing tyre design, to guarantee that the “control” tyres would be the best suited to each circuit in the light of their 1986 knowledge. It would be a simple case tyres being round and black and each would cost £x, with a fair and reasonable limit to the number that teams could buy. There would be no expensive test-sessions and racing-tyre design was being virtually frozen as of 1986.

This offer was made to FISA/FOCA as an emergency stop-gap answer to a critical situation for 1987. It was made quite clear that this offer had to be accepted by everyone in Formula One, or Goodyear would return to their binding contracts with Ferrari, Lotus, McLaren and Williams, and that wouId mean the end of Formula One.

For once, possibly the only time, there was complete agreement amongst the Formula One teams. They had no choice. It was a matter of accepting the Goodyear offer or signing their own death warrant. They all signed the Goodyear agreement to accept this compromise for 1987.

All this was signed and settled before mid-January, but even so it put Goodyear one month behind on their normal racing tyre production programme. Don’t overlook the fact that their CART/Indycar, IMSA, NASCAR, drag racing and other American racing activities are going ahead as normal.

The basis of the Goodyear Tyre and Rubber Company 1987 contract is that:

1. Every team will get the some specification tyre for each Grand Prix.

2. The specification for each event will be made by Goodyear, using their 1986 parameters.

3. Every team will be able to buy ten sets of “dry” tyres for each car entered for the event. How the team allocates their twenty sets to their two cars, or their T-cars, is their responsibility. If Peter Warr decides that Senna have eighteen sets of tyres, and Nakajima the remaining two sets, it is no concern of Goodyear.

4. Every team will be able to buy four sets of “rain” tyres per entered car. Unused tyres, “wet” or “dry”, may be returned for credit.

5. There will be no special qualifying tyres. All morning testing, afternoon qualifying, pre-race warm-up and the race itself will be on the specification tyre and from the specified allocation.

6. Goodyear race engineers and technicians will attend all events, but will not be assigned to individual teams as in the past.

7. All tyres will have clear identification and all tyres will be returned to the Goodyear paddock depot after each event.

Throughout the operation, Goodyear technicians will monitor the situation with particular regard for general safety and may change the specified tyre design without advanced warning if conditions demand it, in which case everyone will get a total change ot tyres at no extra cost.

The whole affair constitutes an emergency answer to a critical situation and Goodyear’s racing director Leo Mehl is relying on the support and confidence of everyone in Formula One to develop a workable code of practice to keep the situation stable.

McLaren International

The team underwent a major change at the end of last year when designer John Barnard left to join Ferrari. His very efficient and successful MP4 design, with Porsche power, remained behind and provided Alain Prost with his second Drivers World Championship. Barnard’s engineering programme was continued by Steve Nichols and Tim Wright, and during the winter Neil Oatley joined the staff from the defunct Haas/Mayer Formula One team. To complete the scene, Gordon Murray joined McLaren International from Brabham, so that the Woking-based team now have a very strong design team. Porsche’s Weissach Research & Development establishment will continue to develop the 80-degree V6 TAG financed engine.

A well-satisfied Alain Prost remains as number one driver, though he must be wondering if there is something wrong with his personality as his 1985 team mate, Niki Lauda, retired at the end of the season and then his 1986 team-mate, Keke Rosberg, retired at the end of his season! The new number two at McLaren looks like being Stefan Johansson, the friendly Swede.

Tyrrell Racing

After blowing off a lot of hot air about turbocharged engines, Ken Tyrrell had to face facts and climb down to join the power game, but too late in the day. Although his team used Renault turbocharged power last year they produced little in the way of results. Now that Renault engines are finished, Tyrrell has made a bold step and gone back to Cosworth V8 engines.

As FISA has legislated that turbocharged engines will be phased out over the next three years, Tyrrell intends to gain experience with a 3 1/2-litre version of the ubiquitous Cosworth DFV, now known as the DFZ, in readiness for the future. Let us hope for “Uncle” Ken’s sake that FISA does not change its mind at the end of 1987.

Brabham — Ecclestone

Some while after Jackie Stewart left Tyrell it became obvious that he had been the life-force of the team. Without Stewart, it became a shadow of its former self. It now looks as if Nelson Piquet was holding the Brabham team together, for since his departure the Chessington-based Ecclestone team have been in a wilderness, and now designer Gordon Murray has departed.

The immediate plans are to continue with the “laid-down” BMW 4-cylinder engine, with Sergio Rhineland in charge of design, having had experience with Dallara in Italy and with Williams. At the time of writing, only Riccardo Patrese has been signed on.

Williams

If stability is the secret of success, the Williams team looks set for another excellent season. As Frank Williams, now with a CBE after his name, continues to recover from his disability, he takes a more active part at the Didcot factory with his stolid engineering director Patrick Head and his efficient commercial director Sheridan Thynne. Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell need no encouragement to win races, and the Williams chassis and Honda V6 engine proved their ability last year.

The only question mark on the Williams horizon emanates from Norfolk in the shape of Ayrton Senna with equal Honda power in a new Lotus. The Honda Motor Company is supplying virtually unlimited numbers of engines to both Williams and Lotus this year, all engines being “equal’ (they say), though I cannot recall ever seeing two equal engines from one manufacturer once they have been removed from the test-beds!

Since joining forces with Williams Engineering the English-based Honda racing engine department has been in an adjoining factory at Didcot, but now it has been moved to the new Honda factory and test-track at Swindon.

Team Lotus

In my book a Lotus has always been a Lotus, regardless of the sponsorship tag hung on the front or back, such as John Player Special, Martini, Essex, or Olympus. Somehow a Lotus painted black with gold lining looked absolutely right, but 1987 sees a major change, in that John Player cigarettes has withdrawn, a sure sign that the Government is tightening up on tobacco advertising, as has been done in Germany for some time now. We shall miss those giant posters featuring a Lotus-Renault and I hope someone somewhere has the space to keep a set of them.

Also gone from Team Lotus is Renault. The engine supply for the new 99T is coming from Tokyo and it will be interesting to watch Ayrton Senna with all that “grunt” available. Let us hope Gerard Ducarouge’s new chassis design can contain it all for a minimum of two hours, because if the pressure is really on, Senna is one driver who can keep at maximum effort for two hours without straining himself.

Part of the Honda deal with Lotus is that they should take the Japanese driver Satoru Nakajima as their number two, which they readily did and dumped Johnny Dumfries. The Japanese lad is not likely to upset the established stars, but what a pity FISA World Championship rules do not allow a driver to change cars. Just think back to Monza last year when Senna’s clutch failed at the start. Radio communication, which all the top teams use these days, could have brought Dumfries in at the end of the opening lap, and Senna could have gone off with a lap-and-a-half handicap. We would have seen some “tiger” then, and some breathtaking Grand Prix driving. I don’t say Senna would have won the Italian Grand Prix, but I bet he would have been third. Nakajima sounds just the chap to keep the second car nicely on the boil.

Benetton

When the Toleman team changed its colours to those of the Benetton family last winter, it also acquired the 4-cylinder BMW turbocharged engine and Gerhard Berger, the forceful Austrian driver. At the end of 1984 they had come as close to victory as the Hart engine could provide, with Senna as the driver, and 1985 was a case of trying to maintain the standard. 1986, with the new owners, new engine and new driver, saw Rory Byrne’s team forge ahead into the elite group at the top, with the inevitable victory before the end of the season.

With Ferrari luring Gerhard Berger away, Benetton attracted the Belgian driver Thierry Boutsen, and his progress in 1987 is going to be interesting to watch. He will be a strong second to resident driver Teo Fabi. However, the most interesting change in the Benetton team is the engine. BMW have ended their development work on the upright 4-cylinder, and Brabham have a monopoly on the “lying-down” version, so Benetton was only too pleased to accept Ford’s offer of their Cosworth-inspired neat little wide-angle V6 engine. The Ford V6 had a troublesome debut season in 1986 with the rather uncompetitive Haas/Mayer Lola car, but there were flashes of hope and for a brand new design it showed good promise. In Rory Byme’s Benetton car it could spring a few surprises in the forthcoming season.

While the Benetton family continue to open their up-to-the-minute knit-wear shops in every High Street, the Oxfordshire-based team will carry their colours at the forefront of the Formula One scene. With any luck they will not be plagued by PR over-kill as the short-lived Haas team was.

Ferrari

No matter what happens, Ferrari can only get better. 1986 saw the Scuderia at rock bottom, with no Grand Prix win and only a few uninspired placings. If everthing is going well, Michele Alboreto can match most people on driving, but last year he had little opportunity. Stefan Johansson did his best, in spite of lots of things being beyond his control, but it wasn’t good enough for “Zio” Enzo, and he was shown the door and Gerhard Berger invited in.

It is interesting that Niki Lauda persuaded Berger to accept the offer, in spite of all the upsets he had with Ferrari when he drove for the team. Berger didn’t need much persuasion, but it must be satisfying to have Lauda’s wise counsel supporting you.

Already a new V6 engine has been out on test, this being a 90-degree vee in place of the 120-degree used previously, and undoubtedly if Ferrari thinks the naturally aspirated 1988 rules are the way to go, he will have a 3 1/2-litre V12 or V8 on test fairly soon. Meanwhile, everyone is watching Maranello with great interest to see how soon the John Barnard influence can be detected in the red cars. It would seem Dr Harvey Postlethwaite has retreated into the newly-built Ferrari wind-tunnel at Maranello to study air-flow, and let us hope not too much of it is hot.

Ligier-Alfa Romeo

During its last season with the Renault turbocharged engine the Ligier team won some good placings, their satisfactory seasonal improvement only being marred by the bad accident to Jacques Laffite at Brands Hatch. Happily he is recovering well, and meanwhile work has progressed on the JS29 which is powered by a new engine from Alfa Romeo. This is a turbocharged 4-cylinder, following the design trends of Hart, BMW and Zakspeed, and much of Ligier’s fortunes will depend on this engine. One of the pleasant surprises of 1986 was the way Rene Arnoux got straight onto the pace after his season-long lay off in 1985. If the new Alfa Romeo engine provides worthwhile “little Rene” will make the most of it.

The Rest

Of the remainder of the regular Formula One teams, the Carl Haas team has been disbanded; the Arrows team has been re-grouped with a sponsor who is planning to continue development of the “upright” BMW engine; the Zakspeed team will continue to try to run two cars; the Osella and Minardi teams will scratch along as before and one or two new teams are hoping to join the un-turbocharged part of the “circus”.

New FISA rules specify that turbocharged engines will continue to be limited to 195 litres of fuel for each race but will be fitted with a mandatory standardized boost-control valve pre-set by FISA to boost pressure to 4 bar (58.8 psi). Engines without turbocharging can be used in Formula One, and are limited to 3500cc.

It is all a bit of a joke really, as two years ago everyone agreed that there was no way of applying an “equivalency formula” to turbo and non-turbo engines. Now it is law, except that the 3500cc-engined cars will be competing for their own championship this year and next. In 1988 boost will be restricted to 2.5 bar (36 3/4 psi) and banned altogether in 1989. At the moment it looks as if Formula One could die a death in 1989 but no doubt things will change during 1987. F1 never remains stable for long.

It all starts up again on April 12 in Brazil with the normal two days of testing and qualifying on April 10 and 11. DSJ