'98 Grand Prix Season Preview

RGC: It's shaping up to be an interesting season already and they haven't actually started racing yet. There's rules changes (skinny cars with grooved tyres), a tyre war (and we all know how exciting blistered rubber can be) and at least three teams thinking they're favorite to win.

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.

Williams-Renault

RGC: Well Pete, I guess we should get used to calling them Williams- Mechachrome now. Another boringly good season for them in '97 although they were looking a bit rocky at one point. What do you think to their chances this year? Another constructors championship for their trophy room? Despite claims of a dramatic McLaren resurgence, I think they've still got to be the favorites this year although I can imagine Frank Williams, in full Dr. Strangelove mode saying "Ve haf an aerodynamicz gap viz ze McLarens". I can only see the loss of Adrian Newey as a problem for them and of course, in the imortal words of Murray Walker during every race last season "There's a tyre war on." (and I don't think Williams have picked the winning side). I'm sure there's a good line about Patrick giving good Head but I'll leave that kind of smut to F1 Racing magazine.

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.

1) Jacques Villeneuve

RGC: Ah, love him or loathe him, you can't ignore him. I rather liked Jacques in his first year but in '97 he seemed to succumb to a near fatal bout of foot-in-mouth disease including classics like "It's only two broken legs, what's he complaining about" and "racing should be more dangerous". He did seem to make a meal of winning against a clearly inferior Ferrari. I found myself swearing at him a few times during last year and he seems to have a gob rather out of proporation with his body size. He drives on the edge. For sure.

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.

2) Heinz-Harald Frentzen

RGC: The enigmatic Heinz-Harald Frentzen - looking at my "Nomex anorak guide to '97" I see that he actually managed more fastest laps than JV last season despite hardly ever beating him in the race or in qualifying. So what's going on there? He's clearly capable of driving fast. I think he'll get it together this year and with both drivers scoring Williams should be hard to beat.

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.

Ferrari

RGC: We'd got used to Ferrari saying "Next year's car will challenge for the Championship" like li'l orphan Annie singing "Tomorrow". Now they're actually saying that '98 is their year and they will win this year and anything else will be failure. So, is it just hype or have they actually got it together to build a car which doesn't explode, shed wheels or emit smoke? A few years ago it looked like they were only fit to supply clown-cars ("Look Mr. Todt, we designed this one to have the gearbox fall out on the parade lap, it should have the crowd in stitches, are you sure the FIA won't let us spew custard out of the exhaust?"). So, can they win this year?

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.

3) Michael Schumacher

RGC: I suppose I'd better get it over with and talk about Jerez. He crashed into someone on purpose, the nasty man. (The particular move he used is known as the "Tony Blair" - a sudden and rather cyncial lurch to the right). Murray Walker spluttered with indignation. Jacques Villeneuve won the championship. Michael was disqualified from the championship, said he was very very sorry and it would never happen again and was forced to do a road safety campaign. ("Don't drive angry. Don't crash into people. Now over to my brother for advice on how not to overtake"). I get a bit fed up with the British press attitude to Michael Schumacher (he's German, and British tabloids see that as a synonym for arrogant and nasty). I supported him last year up to about half way through the Jerez race. I hope he does well again this year and I reckon he's learned his lesson.

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?

4) Eddie Irvine

RGC: Eddie seems quite content to play Igor to Schumi's Dr. Frankenstein. Good job too considering the comparative skills of the pair. He's quite a laugh but I'm not wholly convinced of his skills as a racing driver. Whenever I see him racing near another car I do feel an urge to shout "Careful, you'll have someone's eye out like that". I just wonder how good he really is?

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.

Benetton-Renault

RGC: Who says that high-fashion and top-quality motor-sport don't mix? It's all change at Benetton this year and some might say "not before time". While I grieve the loss of Gerhard Berger to Formula One (and not losing Jean Alesi is almost as bad) it does seem like it was time for a change in this team. Mind you, they've swapped both drivers, tyres, the team principle and a lot of their staff this year so what else can they possibly change? I know I'll miss you screaming "Put your hat on properly you fuckwit" at Flavio this year Pete. But will Benetton still be piss-poor on the circuits? I can't see any reason why they should improve. I was very optimistic about their chances last year but they screwed up majorly. In the words of Gerhard, "Vell, ze car voz shit". I don't see them changing that this year but I've been wrong before.

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.

5) Giancarlo Fisichella

RGC: "'E is veree 'appeee". I do like Giancarlo. He seems to genuinely enjoy his racing. I'm glad he's got an interpreter to do his post-race interviews too because it wasn't doing him any favours image-wise. I hope he can get his first win this year. I think he's a pretty talented driver and should do well. I wish that Jordan had managed to hold on to him tho.

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.

6) Alexander Wurz

RGC: Alexander Wurz, great driver, shame about everything else. He has the looks of Mr. Potato Head and not quite the personality. Still, I suppose we can't all be charismatic. I think he should do pretty well this year. It'll be interesting to see who's fastest between him and GF. My money is on Giancarlo who, after all, has a season and a bit extra experience.

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.

McLaren-Mercedes

RGC: While obviously improving hugely during last season (according to all the commentators), McLaren managed to finish fourth as usual. Apparently this year they will be the team to beat having the best engine, car and tyres. Somehow I think they'll contrive to end up fourth again but god knows how. They should win (they have all the ingredients) but they probably won't.

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.

7) David Coulthard

RGC: Wavy Davy - he wasn't as funny this year. Stalling in the pits is pretty weak as a gag compared with actually crashing into them like he used to. I do like David Coulthard (and I have his autograph) and I can see him picking up another couple of wins this year. It's just that sometimes I can't help thinking of him as a cliched Scottish cartoon character. Wee Davy Coulthard - he gets into amusing scrapes. "Jings I've bashed my car, what will I tell Mr. Dennis if I cannae get it fixed before the pitstop?"

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.

8) Mika Hakkinen

RGC: Who says Mika can't win? I think that this year put paid to all the critics. At Jerez, he showed us that he was easily capable of winning - if the leaders crash into each other, his team mate lets him go past and the guy at the front slows up for him. I would also like to make it clear that I have never seen him scratching his (or anyone else's) testicles on or with the podium.

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?"

Jordan-Mugen-Honda

RGC: Aparently, this is the year that Jordan "Get serious" about Formula One. (Are we supposed to understand that previous years were merely a joke that nobody got? Was Bertrand Gachot merely a prank that went wrong?) They actually had a wind-tunnel for the design of this year's car whereas previously they improvised by building a 2/3 model, putting it in front of Eddie Jordan and asking him about the team's "Young Driver" policy. They have, inexplicably chosen to replace last years snake graphic with a mildly irritating buzzing insect. Hmm... could that sybolise another year occasionally depriving big teams of the odd lower podium position? I fear so. I love Jordan but I don't think that this will be their year.

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.

9) Ralf Schumacher

RGC: Apparently the running joke at Jordan last year was "What's the difference between God and Ralf Schumacher?" "God knows he's not Ralf Schumacher". Actually tho', while not as good as his team mate, Ralf didn't do badly - and let's not forget that Giancarlo managed to collide with his team-mate TWICE in his first year (but it was in a Minardi so nobody noticed). I hope that Ralf manages to do better this season. I think he's capable of being a good driver. Unfortunately he's also capable of being a good advert for car insurance.

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.

10) Damon Hill

RGC: Oh dear, oh dear Damon. After last year's excursion to Arrows this year you picked Jordan instead of McLaren. What next? Turning down Ferrari for the tempting financial package at Minardi? You'd have thought Hill's obviously shrewd knowledge of Grand Prix would tell him that the cars toward the FRONT of the grid are the faster ones. I think that Damon will just about beat Ralf on points but that will be the crowning achievement of his season. The signing of Hill continues Jordan's traditional "Old and needs the money" driver policy.

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.

Prost-Peugeot

RGC: Look at the lovely aerodynamic profile of that nose. They had a damn good season last year and I think it'll go similarly this year. I can see them finishing in the top six again. If you think about it, last year they finished twelve points behind Jordan with a Japanese pay driver and Panis injured for a few races. Quite a remarkable achievement.

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.

11) Olivier Panis

RGC: Panis in the Prost Peugeot - I'm looking forward to Murray describing him pulling into the pits. He would have had a superb season last year if it hadn't been for the crash at Canada. I wish him luck this year.

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.

12) Jarno Trulli

RGC: Trulli got a good break last year (due to Panis getting two good breaks -- sorry, couldn't resist) and really impressed me with the job he did for Prost. Should be interesting to see how he does driving a full season for the same team.

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...

Sauber-Petronas

RGC: Oh dear, oh dear. What happened to Sauber last year? It seems like they forgot to develop the car. They started off well and... um... made rapid strides backwards. Add to that the fact that they seemed to be running a "Win a chance to be second driver in a mid-field F1 team" competition with a new winner every race. Larini, Morbidelli and Fontana were... much of a muchness really. I liked Fontana best because he tried to get out of the car part way through the race. And was it Larini or Morbidelli who kept driving through the pits by mistake at one race? It's just a shame that the three stooges don't have a Superlicence.

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.

14) Jean Alesi

RGC: I think Jean's getting past his sell-by date now and maybe should have had the dignity to retire like Berger did. I hear that Sauber are going to make sure that he has a more professional attitude to racing - they're making him carry an empty fuel can so that he can jog back to the pits and fill up in case of a repeat of Australia last year.

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."

15) Johnny Herbert

RGC: I do like Johnny Herbert and I can't help thinking he'll outpace Alesi this year. I hope he has a better season than last year. The most common shot of him last year was standing behind a chain link fence looking mournful - like one of those kid's puzzle page games "Can you help Johnny Herbert back to the pits?"

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.

Arrows-Um... Arrows I suppose

RGC: Tom Walkinshaw has decided to build his own engine this year. (The decision was prompted by everyone else deciding not to sell him one). Stories of him dashing into WHSmiths shouting "Twelve dozen of your thickest elastic bands and hurry" are not to be taken seriously. Apparently Arrows are running in an all black livery this year. (Wasn't "The Black Arrow" an Errol Flynn film?) Rumours that they simply couldn't afford the paint are being strenuously denied.

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.

16) Pedro Diniz

RGC: The good thing about being Pedro Diniz is that you can afford a decent tip to the course marshal on the motorbike who drives you back to the pits from your car after it breaks down again. And that's how I see his '98 season working out. To be fair, Diniz impressed me greatly this year and outpaced Hill at times. Given the amount of sponsorship that he comes with, Arrows were lucky to hang onto him.

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.

17) Mika Salo

RGC: I feel a bit sorry for Mika Salo. He's clearly pretty fast but it seems like it's too late for him to be a promising newcomer. He's stuck as "been in the game for years and drives for crap teams" now.

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.

Stewart-Ford

RGC: Forza Stewart. I was the person who bought the official Stewart Ford cap. I read the "Racing Stewart" pull out eight times. I said "That Jackie Stewart is a shrewd business man" when he got a massive sponsorship deal from Malaysia (how was he to know the economy would collapse). In short, this is the team I support and I spent all last year acting surprised and disappointed when their engines blew up again. (For Stewart-Ford there's certainly a causal link between Formula One and smoking). I even believe them when they say they will finish in the top six this year. Although, I think they'll be number six.

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.

18) Rubens Barichello

RGC: Forza Rubinho. What a storming drive at Monaco this year! I was leaping off the sofa screaming when Shumi had his little excursion down Ste Devote. Um... shame about the rest of the season. Rubinho usually did bloody well in qualifying with an engine significantly down on power. But there's not a lot you can do when you only finish two races in the season and suffer 13 mechanical failures (and two failures due to driver error admittedly). I think that Ford will get it together this year and we should see Rubinho on the podium three or four times.

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.

19) Jan Magnussen

RGC: I was cursing Magnussen for the early part of last season when he drove like a Brazillian pay-driver but wasn't actually paying. Just as he seemed about to win the "Taki Inoue prize for tooling round at the back getting in the way" he raised his game and was up with Rubinho towards the end. This season will be interesting for him - I think he's got the potential to be very good indeed.

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.

Tyrell-Ford

RGC: Uncle Ken's last year I believe and I don't think there's much danger of him going out in a blaze of glory. Tyrell have consistently been one of the most innovative teams in F1. Six wheeled cars, aerodynamic wishbones, single strut front wings and last years bizarre X wings for extra downforce. Unfortunately, they've recently been one of the most consistently useless teams in F1. Next year they're going to be BAR - this year they're going to be CRAP.

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.

20) Tora Takagi

RGC: In the continuing tradition of rubbish Japanese pay drivers we bring you Takagi. He's Japanese. He has lots of money. He has a seat in a low end Formula One team. End of story as far as I'm concerned.

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"

21) Ricardo Rosset

RGC: In the continuing tradition of rubbish Brazillian pay drivers.... His performace with Lola last year was easily enough to guarantee... um... that the Lola team pulled out of Formula One instantly. Actually, Arrows changed their boss after Rosset raced for them and so will Tyrell. Is there some kind of Jonah effect going on here?

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.

Minardi-Ford

RGC: For a Formula One team apparently they make very good coffee. It's nice that Minardi turn up. I hope they get a point this year because there's too few cars on the grid already.

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...

22) Shinji Nakano

RGC: Yerssss (as Jeremy Paxman sneers). Rusty Mechano (as Pete is wont to call him) took up a seat in the Prost that could have been given to poor children. I think he's found his place at Minardi - and his place is tooling round at the back of the pack doing fuck all. If he stays with Formula One I can see him being designated as a "Polite Driver" by Murray Walker as in "He's a very polite driver Nakano, he's been in Formula One ten years now and he never holds the leaders up when they lap him."

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.

23) Esteban Tuero

RGC: Esteban... um... no, doesn't ring any bells. Oh, hold on, wasn't he the kid who could control the weather in the cartoon "Mysterious Cities of Gold". Apparently, he hasn't driven enough to actually have a Superlicence yet and Minardi are desperately giving him test miles in order that he can get one. I know how he feels. It took me five goes to get my licence.

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.

Goodbye and Adieu and Farewell

Some great (and not so great) names leave Formula One this year:

Gerhard "Vell, ze car voz shit" Berger

RGC: Will be sadly missed but will probably end up hanging around the pitlane trying to pick up girls anyway. May even end up becoming a test driver in order to pull.

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.

Jos "Turnabout" Verstappen

RGC: I was given a tank of ornamental glass fish for valentines day this year and I named them after F1 drivers. Three of them bob from the top of the tank - the fat one is Mansell, the loud coloured one with the blonde fins is Jacques and my favorite one is Rubens. One of them is anchored to the floor amongst the gravel and that's called Jos. He might drive in F1 again. Maybe even this year if someone runs short of money.

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.

Ukyo "The Tiny Warrior" Katayama

RGC: Apparently he intends to climb mountains without oxygen. It can only be easier than doing well in a Minardi.

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.

Flavio "Put that fucking hat the right way round" Briatore

RGC: Leaving to work on his tan.

PF: and not before fucking time, either.


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