Formula One Scene

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Worrying traits

There is little point is writing much about the F1 World Drivers’ Championship in this issue of Motor Sport, published on October 25, because even if you are reading it promptly the result might have already been settled at the Japanese Grand Prix, held at Suzuka on October 20. Even if the decision goes to the final race, in Australia on November 3, the best we can do is to review the outcome in our December issue, which to a lot of people heralds Christmas, but to me heralds the beginning of a new year.

Whichever way you look at it the Senna fans are going to be happy, and the Mansell fans unhappy, or vice-versa. If people did not have their own favourite driver the F1 scene would be very dull, just as it would if we were all fans of Williams and Renault or McLaren and Honda.

The unswerving ranks of Ferrari enthusiasts will want to forget 1991, just as they forgot 1948, 1950, 1954, 1957, 1959, 1960 and many more years through the ’70s and ’80s. It is strange how a myth has grown up that Ferrari is synonymous with winning, especially in Grand Prix racing, for the record book does not support this. When the opposition is weak Ferrari seems to win, but when the opposition is strong it is a different story. What we cannot ignore is the fact that Ferrari has been in World Championship Formula One racing since it was invented in 1950, and has always been a force to contend with. No-one else can lay claim to that fact.

Let us not forget that Ferrari was in Grand Prix racing before the World Championship series was dreamed up, but don’t tell the media men (or women) who think Grand Prix racing started in 1950.

The two races held on the Iberian Peninsula, reported in this issue of Motor Sport by DJT, one in Portugal and the other in Spain, ended the European season of Formula One racing and, apart from being a big boost for Renault in their battle against Honda on the engine front, provided some unusual happenings on the circuit. The Ferrari team was clearly down in third place, behind McLaren and Williams and while Senna and the McLaren-Honda were still a force to be reckoned with in qualifying trim, Mansell and Patrese were all-powerful under actual race conditions. The Benetton-Cosworth V8, especially the one driven by the young German Michael Schumacher, was the best of the rest and the German set new standards for anyone thinking of joining Formula One just as Nelson Piquet did when he first appeared at the Hockenheimring, Giles Villeneuve did when he appeared at Silverstone and Jean Alesi did when he appeared at Paul Ricard. Such natural talent must be very depressing for those drivers who have been working away for years to climb the F1 ladder, some of them being very good drivers by any normal standards, but the likes of Schumacher would appear to be abnormally gifted.

The Portuguese Grand Prix was held on the friendly little circuit just north of Estoril, on the way to Sintra. It is a circuit built in slightly hilly countryside that makes the most of the existing terrain and I don’t think there is anywhere on the circuit where you could leave a car in neutral with the handbrake off and not have it roll away, forwards or backwards. Unfortunately the television cameras, which is the view that most people see, do not show the real character of the circuit, but it is popular with most of the drivers as being an interesting circuit to drive on. The Spanish Grand Prix was held on a brand new circuit built some miles north of Barcelona and seems to have had a successful debut as a Formula One ‘facility’, the modern term for an autodromo, which is itself a modern term for circuit. We are lucky still to have the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium, which keeps everything in true perspective.

From a situation where McLaren-Honda dominated the scene, 1991 has seen the impressive rise of the Williams-Renault team, not to complete domination, but certainly to a position of being the team to beat and the overall performance of these two teams has left the rest of the field a bit out of breath.

Two teams who have failed to impress as much as was expected are Tyrrell and Benetton and both suffered from the same trouble. Promising new designs for the 1991 season were left high and dry by their designers’ handing in their respective notices before their jobs were completed. Ken Tyrrell, with the help of some of his friends, signed a contract with Honda to use its V10 engine, while Honda itself concentrated on the new V12 engine for McLaren.

Dr Harvey Postlethwaite designed the Tyrrell 020 to take the V10 Honda engine, and a very nice looking car it was, with immense potential. Hardly had it got under way than he left the Tyrrell team, almost without warning, and disappeared from the Formula One scene, leastways for the moment. Having taken up a position at Mercedes-Benz, he will very likely be back in the not-too-distant future. The Stuttgart giant has already made its presence felt, with its shrewd placement of driving proteges Schumacher at Benetton and — from Suzuka onwards — Karl Wendlinger at Leyton House.

The Tyrrell 020 was thus effectively stillborn, and with the best will in the world you cannot expect those members of the staff who are left to continue with design and development of the brainchild of someone who has gone, even if he has left behind copious drawings and notes. As the season progressed, the Tyrrell 020 never really got off the ground in the way that was expected, despite a front-row qualification at Monaco and second-place finish in Canada.

The Benetton crew has been in similar trouble. John Barnard designed the B191, brand new for this season, using the works Cosworth V8 experimental engines, and then before the season was halfway through he left the team, for entirely different reasons to those of Dr Postlethwaite, and others had to try and develop the B191 not really knowing the direction in which Barnard’s thinking was progressing.

While all this was going on the new Jordan team, using the production version of the latest Cosworth V8, in a car designed by Gary Anderson and masterminded by Irishman Eddie Jordan, was setting new standards for non-factory supported teams. . . and severely embarrassing Benetton.

As the season progressed Ford, who play a big part behind the scenes on behalf of Cosworth, made sure that Jordan had Cosworth HB engines that were extra good, and the Jordan team did more than justify the gesture. Before the European season ended Eddie Jordan announced his plans for next year, which involved a healthy tie-up with Yamaha of Japan. The V12 Yamaha engines have been supplied to the Brabham team for 1991 and — while not being spectacular — the engines have made steady progress and have caused a number of people to take a closer look.

Any day now an interim Jordan-Yamaha V12 will be out on test in preparation for 1992. It may be my imagination playing tricks, but since announcing the Jordan-Yamaha deal for next year, the emerald green cars have not performed as well as they were doing.

Could it be that Ford has taken the EXP label off the Cosworth V8s and replaced the HB labels? You couldn’t really blame them, because Formula One is not an arena for sportsmen (it never has been amongst the winners), it is a serious business of engineering.

On a disturbing note, a colleague keeps a list of people in the world of Formula One who are in prison, or are about to go into prison and it totals something like 11. There seems to be one a month at the moment, the last being Akira Akagi, the Japanese owner of the Leyton House team. For what reason is neither here or there, but it is a worrysome trend.

Drivers have always been chopping and changing teams in an unstable manner, recently we have had a lot of chopping and changing among designers, and now we seem to be having a spate of big finance team owners being put behind bars, or in some cases simply ‘disappearing’.

It is not a healthy situation for the future of Formula One, certainly among the “chorus” of the Grand Prix field. While Renault, Ferrari, Ford, Honda and Yamaha support the top end, Formula One looks stable and that situation could act as further stimulus for Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Toyota and Nissan to join in the game. — DSJ