Lola's Nick Langley was looking forward to going to Spa. The company's Formula 3000 project manager has had a rum year in Europe, where not one T93/50 chassis has been sold, and he went to Belgium hoping to drum up business for 1994.
When he got there, the first thing he learnt was that there will, FIA ratification pending, be a ban on new cars next season . . .
This did not make his weekend.
The proposal has come from the teams themselves, and you can sympathise with their reasoning, even if the timing might be considered unfortunate. For several seasons now, they have been fighting to cut costs, yet they have had to contend with annual five-figure price hikes from chassis manufacturers.
Now, the boot is on the other foot. Both Lola and Reynard have devoted time, money and resources to evolving 1994 chassis, but their European market has been taken away at a stroke, leaving them to pitch for sales in recession-hit Japan.
"If they'd announced this at the beginning of next year, after we'd introduced the new car, I'd have been all for it," said Adrian Reynard after emerging from a meeting with teams' representatives in Spa.
"This way, however, we're going to have to divert staff onto other programmes. We'll be fighting hard to increase our presence in the Japanese Championship, and we'll have to cut back our presence at European meetings. The teams say they want an update kit for the 1993 car, and we'll be happy to produce one. We're always happy to try and match customers' requirements. I just think that this is a bit of a late call. It causes problems for us we'll have to fragment our production process to build '94 cars and updated '93s and it causes even more for Lola. The way I see it, it effectively freezes them out of the market altogether."
Lola, of course, could supply 1993 cars if asked, but as nobody committed to the chassis last winter, one doubts that they will this. One of the greatest ironies, according to Lola, is that they would have been able to supply the 1994 car for less than they could the 1993: the new model was, of course, designed with last winter's cost-cutting measures (see Motor Sports passim) in mind. "We're not against the idea of change in itself," says Langley, "and we can see the need for cost-cutting measures. Fundamentally, however, there has to be rule stability if there's to be a long-term future. It's no good our investing time and money in new cars if they're going to change everything at the 11th hour. They should have let US introduce the new cars, as we proposed originally, and then frozen the specification.
"I can't understand some of the teams' attitude. We also proposed a small increase in the minimum weight limit, to keep manufacturing costs down, yet they didn't want that. I hope there's scope for negotiation, because we're committed to the formula, and we'd like to do Europe as well as Japan."
If the ban on new cars is confirmed, it will certainly put an end to Lola's intentions to run a works car for Jean-Marc Gounon in the final two rounds of this year's championship. The decision to freeze chassis specification was one of several things that emerged from a meeting at Spa between F3000 team representatives and Bernie Ecclestone. This, in turn, was the product of a new spirit of co-operation between teams. In the past, meetings between Ecclestone and the F3000 brigade have, allegedly, been rowdy and disorganised, as various team principals tried to chip in their twopenn'orth. This time, the teams got it right. They thrashed out a set of proposals that were acce table to everyone, and presented them, in civilised fashion, to Ecclestone in Belgium.
He was, apparently, receptive. Apart from the move to retain current chassis. other ideas awaiting ratification by the ext meeting of FISA's World Motor Sports Council, in October, include introduction of new cars for 1995 (the specification of which will be frozen for three seasons), an increased number of GP support aces and implementation of a 10-race calendar, with a minimum of two weeks between events. Teams are to keep in close contact with Ecclestone whenever technical changes propose agreed to help try and source technical support for the series. Other issues, which will have to be resolved mutually between teams and suppliers, include capping engine costs and reducing the price of Elf's control fuel, which, at £11-12 per gallon, is rather more than one pays at Toddington services . . .
If Cosworth and Zytek have to detune their engines to accept lower-grade fuel, so be it. How many paying punters are going to notice a couple of seconds' increase in lap times?
We would argue that there are other things which need doing, too. If only FOCA could be persuaded to 20 minutes of Formula 3000 TV highlights as part of the build-up to live Grand Prix coverage on Sunday afternoons, it would make the product more saleable, and also introduce some of its bright young stars to a wider audience.
With a little effort, Formula 3000 could become a truly promotable accessory to F1.
At present, four drivers are proving to be the class of the 1993 field. Olivier Panis, who scored his first win in the German GP support race at Hockenheim, hasn't been beaten since. At the Nurburgring, he controlled the race at his own pace. In Spa, he showed that he is also well-equipped to handle serious pressure, which he faced for the entire hour that the 29 laps took. His hat-trick of wins has shot him into the series lead, and with the final two races on French soil the DAMS pilot has emerged as a clear title favourite.
David Coulthard had an off-weekend at the 'Ring, making several uncharacteristic errors, but bounced back to finish third at Spa, only ceding second place to close friend and rival Gil de Ferran after a baulky gearbox caused him to snag a downchange.
De Ferran was happy to profit from his pal's lapse. It gave him second place for the second time in as many weekends, and kept him on the fringe of the championship contest. After four retirements in the first five races (he won the other), the Brazilian's season has at last regained momentum. The fourth member of the leading group is the most enigmatic. More often than not this year, Pedro Lamy has looked a likely race-winner, yet he is prone to errors of judgment redolent of the youthful Ayrton Senna. Remember how often the thrice world champion used to damage his F3 car when chasing Martin Brundle in Formula Three? A championship that could, and should, have been settled by August ran all the way to the final race, which Brundle entered with a one-point series lead, because of Senna's frequent refusal to accept second place.
If anything, Lamy's mistakes have been more disturbing. At Enna, we witnessed unsubtle tactics as he shoved Coulthard out of the lead. The Scot's eventual victory was poetic justice.
In each of the last two events he has, if anything, been less responsible still. At the 'Ring, he spun off while chasing de Ferran and drove straight back on to the track, T-boning the innocent Paul Stewart. Later, he nerfed Coulthard off the track again, and while his recovery was startling in its efficiency he got as high as second before spinning off again, and finishing fourth people were beginning to think his methods unsavoury.
At Spa, he went over the top.
Chasing Panis, he spun off in an overambitious attempt to take the lead, which clearly angered his own Crypton team. "He doesn't need to drive like this," scowled patron Patrizio Cantu, frustrated at the unnecessary profligacy which is costing vital championship points. "He was the fastest man on the track, and he had plenty of time left to try and overtake." lithe initial manoeuvre was rash, it could be attributed to youthful misadventure. Lamy is younger, and less experienced, than his closest adversaries (both Coulthard and Panis are in their second seasons of F3000, while de Ferran had two competitive seasons in F3 to Lamy's one). What followed, however, was just plain stupid. Lamy attempted to rejoin, via means of a spinturn, in the face of oncoming traffic.
He missed de Ferran by a tyre-valve, but in regaining the circuit he actually blocked it. The next car along, Alessandro Zampedri's, was left with nowhere to go. The Italian, third at the Nurburgring and running much better since the Nordic team adopted a new, Nick Wasyliw-designed differential, jinked to the right, at which point Lamy simply accelerated into him. Once again, the Portuguese escaped with his car intact, while Zampedri, justifiably furious, was left to scramble from his crippled machine.
Thereafter, Pedro hauled his way up to fourth place by conventional means, but his actions earned him an interview with the race stewards . . . who proved to be as mild as Lamy was aggressive.
In the morning, they'd fined Paolo delle Piane $1000 for overtaking under yellow flags during the warm-up. Fair enough, that's a clear transgression of the rules. In his defence, however, delle Piane had overtaken team-mate Massimiliano Papis who, cruising back to the pits, had actually waved him through. Given the above information, it seems incredible that they should have allowed Lamy out of the office with no more than a slapped wrist. At a formative stage of his career such as this, he should surely have been given a sterner lesson? The original incidents with Coulthard at Enna could be overlooked. You get races like that, from time to time. But when he drives three other cars off the road in the space of six days. one can see a pattern emerging.
Make no mistake, Lamy is a major talent (who is presently pushing hard to find a spare GP seat in the forthcoming Portuguese Grand Prix).
It just happens to be flawed at present.
He has time on his side and he will mature, of course, but his current impetuosity needs to be addressed by the authorities, and urgently.
As things stand, he retains a realistic chance of the European F3000 title, lying just five points adrift of Panis, two clear of Coulthard and six ahead of de Ferran. It's hard to see the title escaping one of these four, although Olivier Beretta retains a mathematical chance of success. The latter has more or less given up the chase, however, judging by his reaction post-Spa, when his first question to approaching journalists was: "Have you worked out the championship points yet? How far am I off second place . . ?"
Though quick on his day, the pleasant Monegasque has only once, at Hockenheim, repeated anything like the form that brought him victory in the season-opener. At present, he exists in a sort of sub-class beneath the top four, wherein lurk others such as Vincenzo Sospiri la points-scorer in each of the last five races), Paul Stewart, Giampiero Simoni, Emmanuel Collard, Franck Lagorce. Michael Bartels, Jordi Gene, Jean-Christophe Bouillon, Massimiliano Papis, Paolo delle Plane, Yvan Muller, Jérome Policand and the aforementioned Zampedri who, confidence buoyed of late, has shown signs that he is capable of joining the elite.
In addition to controversies surrounding driving standards and future regulations, the past month or so has been marked by several other outbreaks of political intrigue and turmoil.
Sospiri and Simoni, like Omegaland duo Policand and Muller, arrived at the Nurburgring to find that traction control was banned forthwith. Both teams had been in transit when the news was announced, and Omegaland which had spent two days fine-tuning the system at Le Mans Bugatti, where Muller had lapped faster than Panis was particularly miffed to learn upon arrival that its efforts had been a waste of both time and money. Less publicly, it was also galling for the TWR team, which had secretly developed a system of its own in conjunction with F1 partner Benetton.
Whereas the Zytek-Judd KV engines of Mythos and Omegaland featured traction control as standard, Cosworth had long since made it plain that its AC was not designed to take such a system: as it transpired, Jordi Gene got no further than testing it at Snetterton on the very day that the ban was confirmed. Again, the ban drew conflicting views. Yes, traction control adds to the cost, but for a two-car team the cost of running Zytek-Judds with the system works out around £40,000 cheaper than running Cosworth ACs without.
While it is encouraging that teams are gradually filtering onto the same wavelength as each other, it is imperative that a compromise acceptable to both them and their suppliers is struck sooner rather than later.
The fate of once affluent title contender II Barone Rampante is a stark reminder of how quickly things can go wrong. The Italian team propelled Alessandro Zanardi to second place in the 1991 championship and Rubens Barrichello to third last season.
At the Nurburgring, Jan Lammers was forced to hire his race car back from lawyers acting for Reynard, who had impounded the team's equipment pending settlement of debts believed to total around £200,000. IBR had until Spa to make up the deficit but, having failed to do so, its assets were lodged with a Belgian court, where they remained at the time of writing. That alone should serve as a warning shot to all concerned that great as Formula 3000 might be technically, there are practical issues which require urgent attention. S A