Formula one, 2001 season British Grand Prix at Silverstone: Away from the track the jpoc report

When Michael Schumacher signed an extension to his contract, it ran until the end of the 2004 season and this conincided with the newly agreed deals that saw Jean Todt, Rory Byrne and Ross Brawn, the team's three top men agree to stay until the same time. At the French GP, the team's Sporting Director, Jean Todt announced that he would not be staying in the post beyond that date.

From the middle of the 2001 season, the end of 2004 looked to be a long way away and a more imminent situation concerned the future of Jarno Trulli. Trulli's Jordan contract tied him to the team until the end of 2001 but he was under a longer term contract with Benetton-Renault boss Flavio Briatore. Speculation over the future of Jenson Button was such that Briatore had already been forced to announce that the British driver would stay with the team in 2002. That seemed to leave no place there for Trulli and who might want to take him for 2002 when the prospect of his driving for Benetton in 2003 was quite high? By speaking to journalists in France and reminding them that he was free at the end of 2001 and by saying that he was finding it hard to be motivated at Jordan, Jarno was effectively putting himself in play in the driver market.

Jean Todt was keeping himself busy with preparations for the 2002 season. The main focus of attention being the team's tyre choice. Ferrari appeared to be delaying a commitment to renew their deal with Bridgestone. Perhaps because the team is considering a switch to Michelin or perhaps because they want to encourage Bridgestone to redouble their efforts for 2002. Even if Ferrari have already decided to use Michelin tyres for 2002, it would be in their interests to avoid confirming this to Bridgestone. Such a confirmation would lead to Bridgestone distancing Ferrari from their tyre development process.

Bridgestone themselves made clear their intention to remain in the sport despite the rumoured arrival of Goodyear and the possibility that the presence of two other companies could tempt both of their top teams away.

McLaren suffered another blow in their design department. Although Adrian Newey had decided not to move the Jaguar, he had agreed with Ron Dennis that he would no longer be working on McLaren's F1 activities. In the wake of that, it became necessary for the team to start to look for a replacement for the star designer. Ron Dennis was keen to sign Sauber man Stephen Taylor. Taylor had worked for McLaren before and had established a good reputation both there and at Sauber. McLaren were beaten in the contest to attract Taylor though as Jordan announced that he would join them in an immediate move from Switzerland to Silverstone.

Another problem for McLaren was that they had still to sign Mika Hakkinen for the 2002 season. Their most likely option to replace him appeared to fade as BAR announced that they hoped to agree terms with both of their drivers for the 2002 season. Villeneuve spoke up and said that he was happy to stay at BAR which left just Panis who was keeping quiet. Perhaps Olivier was waiting to hear Hakkinen's decision especially as the wider motorsport press had started to take up the Hakkinen out, Panis in story. Mika energetically denied the retirement stories but admitted that he had not actually agreed to drive yet. McLaren issued a statement from the team boss but it was all Ronspeak which is syntacticly indistinguishable from English but devoid of any firm comment or commitment.

As soon as he said that he was happy for 2002, Villeneuve started to drop hints about 2003. Indeed, all parties admitted that the driver had been in discussion with Jaguar chief Niki Lauda. Jaguar of course had already committed to Irvine and de la Rosa for 2002 so the public admission of the talks can have done little for the team but to add to its recent discomfort.

They did at least have something positive to report in the stability stakes. Long term sponsor HSBC agreed to a three year continuation of the deal that had been on the cars since the team first appeared as Stewart-Ford. HSBC was a stalwart supporter of the team through all of its early F1 years. Even when the Asian financial markets were seemingly close to meltdown the company stood by its commitment to Jackie Stewart's team. In a future that might well be bereft of the currently plentiful tobacco dollars, HSBC appeared to be just the kind of sponsor to answer F1's prayers.

While the eleven teams racing in 2001 were all busy racing and testing for the Grands Prix, 2002 newcomers-to-be Toyota were keeping themselves occupied testing at Imola, Paul Ricard, Monza and Barcelona. Normally, when a new team enters the sport, it struggles in its first year as it is unfamiliar with the circuits and also with the workload of competing, testing, developing one car and designing another for the following year. Toyota's activity in 2001 certainly looked to be a good preparation for the team's debut in 2002. A lot was made of Toyota's pace in these tests. Some five or six seconds off the pace for Monza as an example. In reality, it is not possible to draw any conclusions at all. The cars that Toyota used for those times were not subject to normal F1 rule compliance checks. Perhaps Toyota were in big trouble and they set those times on a car that was 80kg below the weight limit and had a four litre engine fitted. Or perhaps they were sandbagging and set the times in a car with a low rev limit and 80kg of extra Tungsten ballast aboard. Perhaps some of the F1 insiders who were making the snide remarks were secretly resentful of the fact that Toyota's arrival had upped the salaries of key team personnel.

Amidst all of this testing, Toyota did manage to find time to announce that they had agreed a sponsorship deal for the 2002 season, their first as a GP racing team. The Japanese electronics giant Panasonic agreed terms to be the teams title sponsor.

Another "designer on the move-or not" story centered around Benetton's Mike Gascoyne. He spent the days immediately after the French race denying reports that he was about to join the European Minardi outfit.

Another character from the Benetton squad who was rumoured to be about to travel elsewhere was team boss Flavio Briatore. This time, the rumours concentrated on Prost, the sport's other cash strapped outfit. Flavio managed to stay away from the press so he was not called upon to deny reports that he would buy out Alain Prost's stake in the team and bring with him a supply of Renault customer engines. If that did happen, fellow Prost shareholder and team boss wannabe Pedro Diniz and AMT, the team's prospective engine supplier for 2002 would both be expected to be found sitting in the "nose out of joint" corner having a sulk.

There were simply far too many Benetton related variables on the staffing front to keep track of them all. After the Briatore rumours surfaced, Benetton announced that they had taken up their option on the services of Mark Webber their 2001 test driver. Factor in the two current drivers add Webber and Trulli and the Benetton-Briatore axis appeared to have four drivers under contract for 2002. No doubt hours of fun and paranoia for all concerned.

Some odd snippits to finish up:

Dutch Grand Prix anyone? The operators of the old GP circuit at Zandvoort would like to have another go. Good news for anyone living in (say) Kerpen. Just a couple of hours drive from four GP circuits if that happens.

Honda to follw the Renault lead and go for wide angle engine which would benefit from a lower centre of gravity? Could they avoid the reliability problems that have have hampered the down on power Renault unit?

Kimi Raikkonen announced a move to Ferrari but, sadly for the Finn, it was (so far at least) only in his dreams.

We were not going to forget the tussle between the big car manufacturers and F1 sporting rights holder Ecclestone were we? Just in case, FIAT-Ferrari man Luca di Montezemolo tried to keep the pressure on by repeating the team's threat to quit F1 and form their own series if they are not given a bigger slice of pie. Bernie however, who has the Eccles cake and wants to eat it is stone faced.

Finally, was it the silly season, was it April the first or was the story about an F1 nightime race in Malaysia for real?


The whole 2001 season All the races and the behind the scenes games
British GP at Silverstone July 15th Setting the scene
British GP at Silverstone July 15th Practice and qualifying
British GP at Silverstone July 15th The starting grid
British GP at Silverstone July 15th Race report
British GP at Silverstone July 15th Results
British GP at Silverstone July 15th Championship standings after the race
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