F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
July 9, 2002
French Title For Schumi?
While Michael Schumacher can secure his fifth title crown at
the upcoming French Grand Prix, the feisty German is expecting
a tougher challenge at the Magny-Cours circuit.
In tricky, changeable conditions - and with superior
Bridgestone Intermediates - the scarlet juggernaut was
unbeatable at Silverstone International on the weekend.
'Naturally with the car we have, the package that we have, we
are feeling comfortable but then Magny-Cours is a very
particular circuit where tires, as we have seen, can play the
opposite effect and what we have seen so far is more like a
Canadian Grand Prix', he said.
In the hot, sunny Nevers region in Southern France, Schumacher
thinks the Williams-McLaren-Michelin challenge could be up to
speed. 'Things will be a bit more tight, especially if we have
very hot conditions', he adds.
'We can at least expect hotter conditions than Silverstone',
he said with a smile. 'So I'm looking forward to a very tight
race where still we have the opportunity and chance to win it,
but let's wait and see'.
While his eighth season victory would secure Juan Manuel
Fangio's record title haul, the 33-year-old is reluctant to
make competitive assumptions.
'First we have to do it', he quips.
Schumacher's first title for Benetton was secured in a
controversial collision in the Wakefield bends at the Adelaide
street circuit, in 1994. Falling off the course, Michael
closed the door when rival Damon Hill tried an inside move
before a collision put both men out of the race.
The next year, a dominant Rory Byrne-Ross Brawn Benetton 195
stormed to victory, the German securing the crown at the
Japanese Grand Prix.
For the next four Ferrari-clad years, championship glory
eluded Michael Schumacher. In '96, the car wasn't good enough.
In '97, he shamed himself with another controversial move;
this time on Jacques Villeneuve at Jerez.
'98, and the title went to Mika Hakkinen in another last-race
showdown. 1999 saw the great German break his leg - and his
championship chances - at the British Grand Prix.
Finally, Michael began his continuing role of title dominance
in 2000. In another duel with Mika Hakkinen, the scarlet
F1-2000 brought Ferrari their first triumph since 1979.
Last year, Schumacher wrapped up the championship with four
rounds to go; at the tight and twisty Hungaroring in Budapest.
Arrows 'Compelled' To Sell
Arrows chief Tom Walkinshaw says he is compelled to sell his
Leafield-based Formula 1 concern if 'the right offer' is made.
Under the terms of Morgan Grenfell's shareholder agreement
with the British outfit, the Scottish principal is obliged to
hand the team over if a potential deal would secure the future
of Arrows Grand Prix.
'We have to agree to do whatever we need to do, and as I said
if an offer comes in for the right value and you have to sell
everything then we are obliged to do so because that is the
terms of the shareholder agreement that there was initially
with Morgan Grenfell,' Walkinshaw explained.
Sale negotiations continue with energy-drink company Red Bull
and an American consortium, an injunction currently halting
progress as the rights to the Concorde Agreement are disputed.
An insider at Arrows reveals the substance of the dispute:
'The new owners were having the Concorde rights signed over to
them, which makes them solely entitled to all of its perks'.
Namely, the distribution of FIA revenue.
Morgan Grenfell, discovering the devalued future of their
Arrows stake, worked quickly to block the sale - and the loss
of Concorde revenue - in the London High Court. As the flow of
cash to Arrows stalled, so too did their ability to pay
Cosworth nearly $7 in unpaid debt.
While negotiations now resume after the team's troubled
British Grand Prix, Walkinshaw continues that 'three people'
are still vying to purchase the Arrows team.
'We probably had about 10 inquiries, of which we whittled down
to three people with real substance behind it.'
Ex-BAR boss, Craig Pollock, is thought involved in the
interested consortium, and would head the new management of
Arrows Grand Prix Limited.
McLaren's Communication Breakdown
As the rain-fuelled chaos drenched Silverstone on the weekend,
McLaren duo David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen frantically
pressed their radio buttons for urgent consultation with the
Scot David Coulthard, on rapidly gripless grooved Michelins,
screamed into his helmet-mounted microphone. 'Do you want me
in?', he urged. 'Confirm you want me in to pit' the
As the Scot rounded another circuit of the ever-sodden 5.14
British layout, all Ron Dennis, Adrian Newey and co could hear
was French and German radio commentary of how David Coulthard
had bungled his Silverstone strategy.
'We had a serious problem because we had a jammed open channel
on our radio to the TV digital studios,' Team Principal Ron
Dennis explained. 'All we could hear were French and German
interviews and commentary.
'It was extremely disruptive.'
Out on the circuit, David Coulthard's gripless McLaren
continued to frustrate a driver desperate for treaded tires.
'It was difficult to communicate with the pits,' Coulthard
said. 'I was doing a fair bit of swearing into the radio!
Maybe I should have been a bit more forceful and just come in
Four pitstops, three compounds of Michelin tire and several
off-track excursions later, David reflected on his worst
career British Grand Prix.
'Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong,' he said.
Brawn Defends Silverstone
In the wake of Bernie Ecclestone's newest scathing attack on
Silverstone International, Ross Brawn has praised the
improvements to the Northamptonshire facility.
As the F1 supremo was forced to land his helicopter outside
Silverstone on Sunday morning due to fog, his chauffer
grappled with a lack of signage as he blindly made his way to
the circuit entrance.
'I have never been to an event as bad as this', Bernie fumed.
'They don't deserve a grand prix here. This is no more than a
country fair masquerading as a world championship event.'
According to Ferrari's technical director Ross Brawn, however,
Silverstone is not as bad as all that. Indeed, $20 million in
road access and parking improvements is a 'fantastic effort.'
'I think they've made a fantastic effort, if you look at the
work that's been done,' he said. 'It's a little unfair to
criticize them at this stage.
'It's also a very good racetrack, one where you can clearly
overtake, and maybe they need a bit of encouragement to finish
it off. Perhaps that's what Bernie is doing, but they have
made tremendous progress. It would be a shame to give them a
hard time with all the effort that has gone into it.
'When this is finished it will be comparable with any track in
Formula One. One or two of the modern tracks are a bit
processional, but to me Silverstone is of one of the true
'We saw some fantastic racing [this weekend] and that's when
you get these sort of tracks, so I would hate to see
Silverstone disappear off the schedule and I very much hope it
While Russia, China, Bahrain and company vie for one of the
seventeen annual Formula One dates, Ecclestone has made it
clear that 'three or four' existing Grands Prix will get the
Work on the next $48m stage to Silverstone International,
which will see a new Parabolic corner, pit facility and media
centre, will commence shortly.
Three Cars Per Team?
Bernie Ecclestone has given the strongest hint yet that
Formula One is about to be shaken up.
As Prost Grand Prix's ashes still haunt the pitlane, privateer
minnows Minardi and Arrows are also struggling for mere
survival in the cut-throat world of Formula One.
Should the backmarking duo join Alain Prost's team in the
great pitlane-in-the-sky, the F1 supremo has strongly
suggested that the grandee factory-supported teams will be
instructed to field three cars and drivers each.
'Instead of two it will be three,' confirmed the 71-year-old.
'It will probably be three drivers and three cars and probably
happen next year, but we'll have to wait and see.'
While the FIA, headed by Max Mosley, have ultimate control
over Formula One's regulations, Ecclestone's unbridled power
would no doubt be a motivating factor to new proposals to
boost the waning F1 grid.
'We need 18 to 20 cars,' added Bernie. 'Unfortunately we got
one down to 22, so if we lose Arrows, we'll have 20 and if we
lose Minardi we will have 18.
'I think in the end their fortunes will improve through the
While the Concorde Agreement - signed by all competing teams -
stipulates that the field needs to wane to 'under 16' before
three cars per team are introduced, a new FIA rule,
unanimously agreed, could insist that Williams, Ferrari and
McLaren introduce a third competitor from 2003.
A similar proposal is that FIA International Formula 3000
entrants are used to buoy the F1 grid.
The Gulf Continues To Grow
While the future of Arrows Grand Prix hangs in the balance,
rival Formula One outfits have admitted that a crisis
currently grips the sport.
In the wake of Alain Prost's Guyencourt team demise early this
year, Paul Stoddart ominously declared just weeks ago that the
Minardi team were teetering on the brink of insolvency.
And, in Friday Free Practice at the most recent Grand Prix of
Britain, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Enrique Bernoldi's orange
A23 contenders sat stationary. Team principal Tom Walkinshaw
frenzied negotiations with engine partners Cosworth over
'The small teams have always worked a bit hand to mouth,' BAR
boss David Richards revealed. 'Year to year on small contracts
that tend to be the surplus in companies' marketing budgets.
'That has dried up,' he stated.
While director of Jordan's business affairs, Ian Phillips,
concurs that the gulf between Formula One's haves and
have-nots is 'nothing new', he does reveal that teams'
required budgets 'Are getting bigger.'
With their 'modest' budget of somewhere in the realm of $60 -
$80m just a shadow of the race winners' financial portfolio,
the Brit admits that Formula One success is not possible while
the relentless cash continues to flow from Ferrari, McLaren,
Williams & co.
'We want to win races,' says Phillips. 'But we have to accept
that operating at our level has its restrictions.'
Jordan last won a race in 1999, with Heinz-Harald Frentzen at
the wheel. For the past three seasons of racing, Ferrari,
Williams and McLaren have dominated the F1 podium.
And even Ferrari, continues David Richards, cannot sustain
their phone-number style budget. 'Under proper scrutiny, the
sort of investment that has been going in there is not
sustainable,' says Richards.
'Everything eventually finds its level.' Especially, as Fiat
have announced, if the Scuderia is owned by public
Silverstone Chief Resigns
The CEO in charge of promoting the British Grand Prix, Rob
Bain, has called it quits just days after the 2002 Silverstone
With millions of pounds of circuit improvements having debuted
at the Northamptonshire track on the weekend, the head of
Octagon UK has 'disappointed' the worldwide company chief with
his shock decision.
'We are disappointed that Rob has made this decision,' said
Les Delano, CEO, Octagon Worldwide.
As Bernie Ecclestone's scathing criticism of the revised
Silverstone circuit continue to echo in Formula One headlines,
many pundits suggest that pressure from the F1 supremo edged
Bain into his resignation.
'I have never been to an event as bad as this', Bernie fumed
as he experienced the track chaos first-hand on route to the
circuit. 'They don't deserve a grand prix here.'
24-hours later, Rob Bain has stepped down before the radical
part-two of circuit improvements commence.
'I have had a tremendous few years and I am very proud of the
Grand Prix that we staged this weekend', he said in a
'It is disheartening still to hear gratuitous outside comments
about the event, and I do not wish them to overshadow what the
team has achieved.'
In spite of Ecclestone's disdain for Silverstone, Ferrari tech
chief Ross Brawn praised the 'fantastic' efforts to improve
the host circuit for the British Grand Prix.
Silverstone International staged the first-ever modern world
championship event in 1950. 'Nothing much has changed', Bernie
Having attended the event and surveyed the access improvements
at Dadford road and new hard-parking, we can confirm that 2002
was a notable improvement over the British Grand Prix of last
As the tenth 2002 Grand Prix, however, access to the open,
agricultural facility was significantly less orderly and
elementary than any other circuit yet attended.
Jean Todt Confident
The characteristically nervous and pessimistic Jean Todt is
surveying Michael Schumacher's commanding championship lead
with a wry smile.
Overseeing the Scuderia's rise since 1993, the little
Frenchman has admitted that nothing barring a miracle can deny
the German his fifth title crown; 'But it could happen', he
Another win in the upcoming French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours
would basically seal the record-equaling feat; and Todt is
allowing himself a smidgen of confidence.
'To be champion, Michael needs to score 15 points in seven
races,' explained Todt. 'If another driver, close behind
Michael, should win the next seven races, it would be possible
for him to beat Michael, but it would be quite difficult.
Losing the title chase at the final hurdle between 1997 and
1999 inclusively, however, means that Jean Todt is keeping his
champagne corked until glory is mathematically sealed. 'But it
can happen so we have to be concentrated', he continues.
'In the Manufacturers' championship, it's still more open,
even if we are in a good situation.'
While a title celebration at his home Grand Prix is a distinct
possibility, the Ferrari chief admits that this
record-breaking feat was never a game-plan for the Scuderia.
'It would be very presumptuous and very disrespectful of the
other teams to say 'yes, that's what we are planning.'
'Still, to be in a position to win the championship is
fantastic. Now it seems we are in quite a strong position to
achieve the Drivers' championship with Michael.
'We will see when it happens, if it happens.'
While a home-town would be satisfying, Jean Todt says that so
long as Michael wraps up his title before Suzuka, it doesn't
matter where or when. 'As long as we win, that's the only
thing that matters.
Whether it is in France or in Germany or in Budapest, it
doesn't matter. It's important to win before Suzuka, I don't
want to leave it to the last race. We've already had some bad
experiences and we must not forget that.'
Indeed; in the '97, '98 and '99 title showdowns, Ferrari
stumbled at the final hurdle. With 2002 all-but in the bag,
however, the Italian marque's focus is already turning to next
'There are still seven races to go,' continues Todt.
'Concentrating on 2002 helps us for 2003, so we have already
started on the 2003 car and engine.'
As soon as Ferrari seal the 2002 deal, the scarlet racers will
'begin to experiment' with future championship-winning
approaches to Formula One racing.
F1 News In Brief
- The insolvent Kirch Media Group's 75% stake in Formula One's
commercial rights will be transferred to three of its
creditors this week. Bayern LB, JP Morgan and Lehman brothers,
who loaned nearly $2b for SLEC's sale to Kirch, will take over
the sought-after stake from the German company's
administrators imminently, and reportedly plan to 'sell them
on' in the short term future. ACEA, Formula One's manufacturer
group, or a consortium of the British F1 teams, are favourites
to wind up with the asset.
- Despite Paul Stoddart's winning campaign for Prost Grand
Prix's $12m of 2001 prize money, the little Faenza team is up
for sale. Having already partially sold their F3000 operation,
Saudi Prince Khaled Al-Waleed and Irish horse-racing mogul
Brian McGuinness are thought interested in a possible whole
sale of the Anglo-Italian team. Al-Waleed made a bid for the
now defunct Prost team late last year, his offer rejected by
the French team's boss.
- Whilst star-gazing at the British Grand Prix on the weekend,
Indian cricket great Sachin Tendulkar, royal Prince Andrew and
football ace Ryan Giggs were among those spotted at the
- F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has once again fended off
speculation that he drove a getaway car in the famous 1963
Great Train Robbery. The 71-year-old explains his connection
to the fabled crime. According to the Briton, one of the
getaway drivers was a friend of English great Graham Hill.
'Graham knew this guy Roy James who drove one of the getaways
cars,' says Bernie. 'And when he was in prison he used to
write to Graham. And when James came out of prison he came to
see if he could drive for us as well'.
On This F1 Day...
On the ninth of July, 13 years ago, the now defunct Leyton
House March Racing Team netted their first fastest lap with
Brazilian Mauricio Gugelmin at the 1989 French Grand Prix.
Gugelmin never lived up to his promise in a Grand Prix car,
but had some success as an IndyCar driver after he crossed the
Atlantic in the early nineties.
On this very same Grand Prix in July, fiesty Frenchman Jean
Alesi made his points-scoring Formula One debut. He finished
an eye-opening fourth, and moved to Scuderia Ferrari in 1991.
Eric Bernard, Martin Donnelly and Emanuele Pirro also debuted
on July 8, 1989.
Winning just one race in his long career, 38-year-old Alesi
retired from Formula One in the EJ11 Jordan just last year.
Alain Prost's pole position at that race was his 20th, while
Arrows netted their 350th race entry and Roberto Moreno his
For the record, Prost went on to win the 1989 Grand Prix of
France; McLaren Marlboro McLaren's twentieth such triumph.
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