PF: Indeed, we've all dealt with blistered rubber in the past, and it certainly places an interesting slant on things. Wouldn't it be nice if it got better and better during a 30-lap stint? Oh, you're talking about tyres. Er, yeah.
RGC: Moving right along... they said the cars would be ugly this year but, with a few exceptions they're rather beautiful I think. I'm not sure about the aesthetics of the rather prominent "horns" on certain of the cars (the Stewart for example) caused by the oil-reserviors on the front suspension if I recall correctly. In fact, I'd say the '98 cars are the most beautiful ever. But on to the actual racing - is it going to be close and is there going to be more overtaking? I think that there will be more overtaking because with less grip it's easier to get it wrong. Look at some of the 70s racing and you can _see_ the cars getting really wide. These days you can only see it if someone has a really big moment. Watch Gilles Villeneuve and he was quite often all over the damn place. That meant that people could get past him when he slipped up and he could get past them when they did the same.
PF: I don't think they're favourites. I think the chassis will be brilliant, because the design team is basically unchanged apart from the loss of Newey, but I think it'll be hampered badly by running Goodyears and Mecachrome engines. I don't see much development going on on the engine front -- everyone else seems to be making high-revving, high-temperature engines with low centres of gravity. The Mecachrome is basically last year's Renault, and they've even lost Bernard Dudot. (Careless.). Incidentally, who "designed" that colour scheme? The ever- elegant Jacques, with a spray can, on the wall of the gents' at Silverstone, after a Jordan post-race party? It looks bloody AWFUL!
RGC: (Grin) As far as losing personnel goes, Mercedes have a big advantage. You couldn't loose Haug unless you were in a mountainous region. I disagree with you here tho'. Williams have traditionally dominated and I think they're the team to beat. The only way I can see them losing the constructors is if HHF has another lame duck year.
PF: It'd have to be a badly broken leg to get his foot in his mouth, but looking at JV he could probably get his bootlaces in there anyway as he never seems to fasten them. JV talks a big game, and most of the time can deliver. It's nice to see someone who isn't a corporate android in F1, and in some respects he reminds me more of James Hunt than of his father. JV will be generally fast, he'll make a couple of dumb mistakes, and he'll be bloody awful at Monaco. I don't approve of everything JV says or does, but he's a hell of a driver. Five or so wins, definitely.
RGC: Well, we've never seen Jacques at Monaco in the dry. Given his reputation as the Regenscheisse I think that makes all the difference. You have to remember that in Indycars if someone carries an umbrella into the stadium they're legally obliged to run the entire race under a full course yellow so Jacques isn't used to playing in the rain.
PF: Can't see it, somehow. I expect more from Williams drivers; I don't think he's got the total grasp of the sport that Jacques has. Seems a nice bloke, and is undoubtedly a very talented driver, but I think more than a couple of wins a year is beyond him. Very, very unlikely to mount a championship challenge, but should be good on most circuits and pick up a couple of wins.
RGC: I think he'll surprise you. In fact I'm willing to bet a Thai meal he'll have at least 3/4 of the points of Jacques by season's end.
PF: (cue Rocky and Bullwinkle voice) "This time, for sure". (rest of F1 field: "But that trick NEVER works!") If they were really confident about their car, though, they'd be running it in company with everyone else. Droning around Fiorano and Mugello proves seven-eighths of sod-all about the relative performance. To be honest, I think it's probably going to be a smashing car -- Byrne and Brawn don't design lemons, and the engine is good. Tyres could hold them back, I think, because Bridgestone will definitely be the rubber to have in '98. Ferrari seem to have rediscovered reliability (they were bulletproof in the Seventies) and their pit crew now no longer look like a bunch of layabouts round a Gaggia espresso machine. If Napoleon Todt reckons he's finally got it together, who are we to argue? Let's march on Moscow! Definite race winners, should be in there with a shot at the Constructor's title if McLaren muff it.
RGC: There has been something of the retreat from Moscow about Ferrari in recent years - massive resources squandered through poor planning and disorganisation. I'm trying to imagine what would happen if Byrne and Brawn did design lemons - you'd get an extremely pointy lemon that would chronically understeer on entry into the gin and tonic.
PF: Schumi was clearly listening to Pink Floyd (did you see the article about drivers' musical tastes? Jesus, most of them are awful!)... namely, "A Momentary Lapse Of Reason". It's sad that we never saw Schumacher vs Senna at their relative peaks, because I think Senna's the only driver of the recent era in the same class as him. I suspect you'd get 16, 17 "incidents" a year between them though. Schumi has probably been sitting in his Wolf's Lair or Eagle's Nest or wherever the British press think he lives planning an invasion of Canada if things go wrong. Actually, I think he made a stupid move, which he clearly regrets, and he *knows* he got off lightly for it. (Had JV gone off and MS won the title, Lord only knows what would've happened... forced to pick up Flavio Briatore's cigarette butts?). Schumacher will be incredibly quick, hard and focussed, and only a fool (or an unreliable Ferrari) would discount him as a potential title winner.
RGC: Somebody (I forget who) pointed out that Senna had as many "incidents" but people forgave him because he was portrayed as a flamboyant latin- american but Schumi, who is sold as a calculating Teuton is obviously being cold-blooded. I think that's why Schumi attracts more hatred than Senna ever did. I also disagree that he got off lightly. He was stripped of last years points - which is fair. To penalise him for this year would be to make this year's contest unfair. I wouldn't have been pleased to see him starting the season with a one or two race ban and I don't think other drivers would either. Who'd want to be WC solely because a main rival was banned?
PF: Eddie certainly does live life to the full, and actually thinks there is existence outside F1. 1998 may be the year where he has to think about it. This is the last year of his Ferrari contract and if he doesn't start winning races (team orders permitting) I think we'll've seen the last of him in F1 -- I can't see him wanting to pootle around in midfield in a Sauber or whatever; he'll probably go off to become a diamond smuggler or a mercenary or a lion tamer for a couple of years if F1 goes sour. We know Eddie is very fast (cf Argentina, Japan) but he is susceptible to red mists occasionally and has definite mental blocks when near some drivers (Alesi in particular). Put me down for one or two wins for Eddie, and a one-year extension to his contract.
RGC: I think if Eddie does get wins it will be in races of attrition. Japan last year was his moment of glory. Other times he seemed lacklustre. I think he could have won Japan if he hadn't been told to come in.
PF: Well, MC Flava Flav has gone and to be honest I'm not crying into my bacon butties. He didn't love motor sport, and at least on my part I reciprocated. Made Berger's final season even more of a misery than it needed to be, The probability of a pitlane inferno has declined now Briatore's chainsmoking isn't going on there any more. The car looks cute, something no Benetton since '88 has done. Nick Wirth talks a good car, but I'm not 100% convinced of this one. Dave Richards is one of the cleverest blokes in motorsport; you don't take an almost unheard-of Japanese manufacturer to the top in rallying without a fair degree of smarts. He knows how to build winning teams. Last-moment switch to Bridgestones may be his masterstroke. Getting rid of the "old guard" of Alesi and Berger might be a good move; it sort-of worked for Jordan last year. The biggest set of question marks over any team.... your guess is as good as mine.
RGC: Well, good in rallying is one thing, good in F1 is another. I mean if Fissssi throws his car into the scenery, he can't just persuade the crowd to set it upright and head off again.
PF: I am cheesed off, I met Giancarlo at the Motor Show and got a signed piccy, which I lost. He had a nice jumper on and looked ver' 'appee. Drives fast, cleanly and cleverly, doesn't make dumb mistakes. Will win races at some point, and if this year's Benetton is anywhere near the pace should be well in the running.
RGC: I'm not sure if the Benetton will be up to the task this year. I hope he can get his first win. He's earned it.
PF: Lacks experience. There's a lot of uncharismatic drivers out there but at least Wurz has an interesting helmet and wears odd-coloured boots (probably so he can tell left from right). I think Wurz will be stunningly quick from time to time but lack of experience will tell and he won't sustain a consistent level of achievement all season -- watch for him in '99 when he knows the circuits. On the other hand, he's less "polluted" by old-style F1 cars and might find it easier to adapt to the New Deal...
RGC: I think the odd-coloured boots thing is just a ploy to ensure there are less pictures of his face.
PF: No, no. Glory Days are here again.We're hearing "optimal maximisation of potential achievement actualisation attainment targetisation" Ronspeak the like of which has not been heard since about 1990, the car looks beautiful, the engines are right, and the tyres are fashionable. This is McLaren's chance to seize the day/year/decade/ millenium. Getting Newey is just the icing on the cake. Strongest pairing of drivers out there, probably the best car, should be Constructor's champions.
RGC: Hmm... Well, I'd like to see someone other than Williams win. Perhaps this could be McLaren's year but I don't think so. Beautiful example of Dennisperanto you gave there Pete.
PF: Best starter in the game (it's funny, I found an old article from his days in Formula Three and he was a great starter even then!), and if he feels like winning he often can, but seems to get befuddled just a little too easily. Unlucky not to have won more races in '97. I think Wavy may think about things just a little too deeply, and may be just a tad too perfectionist. Then again, there appears to be nothing wrong with this year's McLaren. The only things stopping Coulthard from winning the driver's championship this year are Schumacher, Villeneuve and Hakkinen.
RGC: Yeah, David's starts are terrific although Alesi, on his day, was as good. Irvine can usually make up a few places on the start before piling into someone.
PF: Mika was awesome throughout the last half of the season. McLaren have worshipped him since 1993; I always felt he was fast but reckless. I do wonder how long his accident at the end of '95 damaged his performance for.... But '97 demonstrated that he was fast but unlucky. He could've won about four races (as could Coulthard, to be honest), and admittedly he was "given" his one win, but it will be far from his last. My tip for the title.
RGC: I don't favour Mika to win anything but a head-butting contest. He's fast but I don't see him as a thinking driver really. He's more a "Mika make car go fast, why car not go?"
PF: It's a widespread claim that "some people at Jordan want to make money and others want to win races". I think Eddie possibly thought he could do both, whilst simultaneously saving the world from the Martians. I hope they've now settled on trying to win races, and although this year's car hasn't got off to a brilliant start, I think they'll develop it onto the pace before too long. Not a championship season, especially with a new engine deal (if the Mugen engine and the Jordan chassis are any good, I'd expect it to become a works Honda for 2000 or so and then we'll definitely see the team take the next step) but if Damon doesn't win a race I'll be very, very disappointed. I've admired Jordan since they came into F1 and now they've served their apprenticeship it's time for them to deliver the goods.
RGC: Don't get me wrong, I think Jordan have done damn well. It's difficult to be a new team but it's even more difficult to move from new team to established team. I think Jordan have several advantages: they have a large fan base, now that may not seem like much of an advantage but if you're a sponsor, who would you prefer to stick your name on "Worthy but dull Williams" or the exciting and well-liked Jordan team? They have the test and design facilities in place and almost enough workers. What I think they need is to have a good test/development driver for long enough. They had it (but lost it) with Brundle and they really should keep Hill if they can.
PF: Try as I might I find it difficult to warm to Ralf. I like Michael; his so-called "arrogance" is merely knowledge of just how good he is. Ralf over-drove last season, and needs to calm down and run steadily. Although he's officially not number two, being partnered by a World Champion might calm him down. Should have a few good races and clock up a podium or three if the car shakes down well and he gets his head together.
RGC: I think he may give Damon a surprise or two.
PF: This is Damon's last shot at F1, I reckon. If a couple of years at Jordan don't land him some more race wins, I think he's out of the game. He's not getting any younger. I argue with the claim that he just went there for the money -- if he was in it for that he'd be at Sauber. Slightly puzzled at his failure to go to Prost; is he scared that Panis is near to his level and also French? Damon's a brilliant test and development driver and a level-headed racer, so if there's any potential in the Jordan he'll get it to the front and keep it there. Couple of race wins?
RGC: Hmm... as with Benetton, I think Jordan will only win a race of attrition. If there's circuits which suit the Goodyear tyres then he has a chance.
PF: The Prost nose jokes again. Sigh. I think their car is beautiful (actually, every car this season looks good apart from the Minardi and the Jordan). The engine we know is good. They've got Bernard Dudot (ex-Renault) in as techie director, and everyone reckons Loic Bigois is one of the best designers out there. Bridgestone tyres. Lots of money. Panis back and eager to go. All the ingredients are there for Prost to establish themselves this season, but the team's on the move and has expanded its staff massively -- maybe they'll all need a while to settle down.
RGC: If you can't laugh at Alain Prost's nose then what can you laugh at. It is beautiful tho (the car, not his nose) - and especially, ironically, the long straight tapering nose. I've heard that they've floundered in testing though.
PF: "The Perfect Panis in the Parisian Prost Peugeot"? Olivier is a terrible qualifier and a brilliant racer, as I've said before. Very unlucky not to have scored a couple of wins last season, I think. Has the attitude and professionalism to do the business, fits in well with the team, and should be in with a chance of race wins (Lord, I'm saying that quite a lot this year). Success couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
RGC: Hmm... yes, I noticed that you were handing out a lot of "couple of race wins". Which bodes well for the season. It's nice to see new faces on the podium.
PF: This is the season where the Big Teams start looking at Jarno with serious intent and/or money. Had a couple of awesome races last season, but, let's be fair here, Nakano was faster than him a couple of times. Watch for signs of needle between Trulli and Fisichella -- Italy hasn't had two "potential future world champions" since the late Fifties; read about Castelotti and Musso...
PF: Sauber generally start off well, 'cos they usually get their car out early. They then always go backwards because they lack the money to develop and test the car, and employ rock apes like Fontana as test driver. Michael Schumacher had a go in one over the winter (Ferrari engine links...) and said it wasn't bad. Peter Sauber has sacked his team manager and is taking more control, like he did when he ran Mercedes' sports car team. I've always perceived Sauber as being a competent and thoroughly professional team, but lacking what it takes to get right to the front in F1, and nothing convinces me that it's going to change.
RGC: I quite like Red Bull tho'. Gets me going in the morning.
PF: Much as I think Jean drove cretinously a few times last season, he was otherwise quite consistent in a car that wasn't brilliant. Hasn't been a favourite of mine since he left Tyrrell, apart from a few good days at Ferrari. Sauber aren't going to win races and Jean isn't going to either, but if he can keep out of the way of Eddie Irvine, can keep thinking straight, and doesn't get bored, angry, politicised or demoralised, I'd imagine a fair few points and maybe a podium or two coming his way. He's never going to get another top team drive, this is his curtain call.
RGC: I would rephrease your top sentence as "Jean drove quite compitently a few times last season but was otherwise quite cretinous."
PF: I would agree, It's funny to think of Johnny as one of the "elder statesmen" of F1, but he is these days. Seems to have settled in very well at Sauber and looks very comfortable there. Makes few mistakes, drives to the limit of the car's ability and not beyond. Much as I'd like to see Johnny score a couple more wins I can't see it happening, but he's got a few good years of competition ahead of him and I expect him to have the advantage over Alesi this season.
PF: I think it was... I like the car, it's tiny and cute. The Arrows/Hart/TWR engine sounds like a rush job, but the Yamaha had difficulty pulling the skin off a rice pudding. This is not a serious challenge season; the ingredients (Barnard, own engine, TWR) are only just beginning to pull together. '97 must've been bruising for a success-driven ego like Walkinshaw. If Good Things don't start to happen in the next year or two I think Tom will turn his back on F1.
RGC: I think F1 wil turn its back on Tom to be quite honest.
PF: I've had to warm a little to Pedro over the last year. Ok, he cost me a bet (that he'd never outqualify Hill), but then again I won another one on Hill (that he'd score less than 30 points), so I'm about even. He managed to outperform Damon a couple of times (ok, admittedly Damon wasn't necessarily concentrating as hard as he might all the time), and he didn't make many silly mistakes. I don't think Pedro would've got into F1 without his money, but I think he's demonstrated that he's no worse than a lot of people who got in on flash-in-the-pan talent. Good and steady, might pick up a few points.
RGC: I think that he could move to a better team next year if he continues to perform consistently.
PF: Out of the frying pan, into the fire. Was as good as Hakkinen when they were F3 rivals (contemporaries of Wavy Davy), but has really only showed true pace a couple of times -- in the wet in a one-off for a near-bankrupt Lotus in '94 and a couple of early-95 races for Tyrrell. Possibly a late bloomer, but if he really was the driver some think he is he would've been picked up by the big teams by now. Will have good races, won't make daft mistakes, and will come about seventh most of the time if the car holds together.
RGC: Seventh is good in an Arrows - better than Damon could manage last year for most of the season.
PF: Lousy engine reliability was the only thing that stopped Stewart from being the best new team since Jordan. A very professional outfit, but that Ford kept letting the magic smoke out too often. (The guy on the Ford stand at this year's Motor Show was not pleased when I kept looking for holes in the block of the V10 they had on display there). Max and Bernie might be a bit concerned as to where Jackie's next $25m is coming from, but he's a wily old bugger and I don't for a moment believe that the team is underfunded. Last year's chassis had superb grip -- it had to, it needed to run with tiny wings because of the gutless engine -- and looked excellent from time to time. Big query this year is the carbon gearbox, presumably made out of deposits from last year's broken engines :) -- has been limiting their test mileage. I think they'll perform better this year than last year, but they're a team for next century. Wins are beyond them, just, at present, but I'd expect to see them round the 20-30 point mark this season.
RGC: I think there was a lot of politics involved when Bernie asked JYS for "evidence" that he had enough money this year. Bernie was looking to embarrass Jackie as Jackie had embarrased him by talking frankly about a series of FIA cock-ups. Jackie never has been afraid to fight his corner. Stewart have more money this year than last and are not likely to over- commit in the way that (for example) Lola did.
PF: Got his head back together after being very depressed at Jordan, and when he didn't blow up he drove very well. From time to time we saw the Rubens we knew and respected in his debut season; if he can sustain the momentum and the car hangs together I can see podiums beckoning semi- regularly too.
RGC: Well, I hope so. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
PF: Jan had a lot of unlearning to do, what with having done the heavyweight 4WD German touring cars, and a bit of Indycar. JYS still thinks he's the best thing since sliced bread, or Senna, but there's no way Magnussen justified these claims last year. Yes, it must've been demoralising to be in such an unreliable car; Magnussen was one or two races away from being fired, though, and that did seem to act as a catalyst. Really HAS to re-establish his reputation this season and that means getting some points on the board and staying on the road. If he doesn't, that's the end of his F1 career -- off to Indycar or sports cars again.
RGC: Tragic really - Indycars, like the elephants graveyard for formula one drivers who get too old or slow to go to die.
PF: Well, Ken and Bob Tyrrell walked out over the choice of number two driver and I think they're not wrong. However, I think this year's Tyrrell might be one of the best for a long time; it's turning in good test times with a crappy customer Ford V10. Tyrrell never really recovered after JYS retired; they were good for a couple of years after, but have not been a name to conjure with for over 20 years, apart from some brief and unfulfilled potential circa 89-90. I think they'll do reasonably well this season (where this means "better than Minardi and Arrows"). The 1999 BAR/Reynard will be something entirely other.
RGC: Actually, since Uncle Ken has left due to Craig Pollock's decision to hire Rosset not Jos, I guess we shouldn't call them Tyrells any more. I favour the name Pollocks - it won't be that much of a change for us to say that the Tyrells are Pollocks.
PF: He's also been putting a lot of test miles on in 026 and seems to be doing quite well. It's usual to describe each newcomer from the land of Rising Sun as "the best Japanese driver yet", but to be honest I've not seen a lot to pick between any of them. Takagi will probably get a few points in races of attrition, and might qualify well a few times.
RGC: "The best Japanese driver" is one of those prizes akin to "Most likable Tory MP" or "greatest English ski-jumper"
PF: Wasn't bad in F3000, but F1 seems to be a bit beyond him. I must say, the Tyrrells got into a fair old strop because of him, and I don't think Jos da Boss is that much better. A bit petulant on the part of Uncle Ken there, I think. Not going to be a points scorer, I don't think. Sad.
PF: Some people said the '98 cars would all be ugly. The Minardi manages to be ugly enough for all of them. Customer Ford "power", so it won't be challenging the quick boys. Probably moderately reliable, if the mechanics aren't spending too much time playing with the pasta cutter or the coffee machine, but unlikely to score points on merit. Minardi are F1 enthusiasts, and it's nice that they're there, but they're rather outclassed...
PF: Looks in his mirrors a lot, doesn't cause silly accidents, and occasionally managed to go faster than Trulli when Trulli was having off days. Probably immensely popular in Japan, where just being in F1 seems to be a big thing. Backmarker, I'm afraid.
PF: Yes, teenager Esteban (now 19; I saw him racing F3 in Monaco when he was 17) has been pedalling the Minardi round for enough hours to get his ticket. Hasn't impressed in any other category, probably won't in F1, but he's got a few years to show his skills or lack thereof. Isn't likely to do much this season.
RGC: Pedalling is probably the right idea. Given the reliability of those old Ford V10s he'll have to to a lot of pedalling.
PF: Total professional who had a rotten season; his final win at Hockenheim was magnificent. A pity to see him going, but I think he's more likely to become a driver coach/adviser or maybe a team manager in the long term. Will be sadly missed.
RGC: Hmm... professional is not the word that springs to my mind. But a damn fine driver. Someone like Jordan or Benetton would do well to snap him up as a test driver/developer/advisor.
PF: Well, with any luck rec.autos.sport.f1 will be a bit quieter. The Dutch fans obviously consume a lot of products from Amsterdam coffee shops before watching the races.... maaaaaan.... wooooow, it's.... like.... spinnnnning.... The room obviously spins fast enough in the same direction as Jos so he looks like he's going in a straight line. A talent who initially flattered to deceive.
PF: Probably the best Japanese driver ever (hang on, they always say that). Very popular though, nobody seems to have a word against him. There's always going to be Japanese drivers with big pots of Yen in F1, but Ukyo was quite a character.
RGC: Well, I shall miss him. Apparently he was very popular - but I suppose it's easy to like someone who never gets in the way and never beats you.
PF: and not before fucking time, either.