2000 Totally Biased Formula One Season Preview

Random mutterings about formula one by Richard Clegg (RGC) and Pete Fenelon (PF)

RGC: So, it's the year 2000 and time for more nonsense about Formula One and the assorted foolishness. It was, for my money, a classic year last year - the title going down to the wire (as usual these days) amid controversy (as usual these days) with Ferrari's driver coming second (as usual these days). This year, I can see it being another Ferrari versus MacLaren battle with occasional upsets from Jordan, Jaguar and even BAR.

PF: Bernie and Max will always do something to ensure the title goes down to the wire these days -- if they don't, who's going to get up at 3am for the fly-away races at the end of the season. However, '99 was a cracking season with most of the field showing some real promise, and leaving some interesting issues unresolved. I think the major upsets will come from Jordan this season, with the key scraps being Williams vs Jaguar and Prost vs Benetton. BAR will float between these two battles.

RGC: Hmm... they've not had to intervene _that_ much recently. Compared with 1994 when it looked like they were going to make Schumi race blindfold with one hand tied behind his back.

PF: Seriously, I think this is going to be a cracking season. Up top it's going to be all about McLaren and Ferrari, with Jordan occasionally poking their nose in. Jaguar and Williams will keep a nose ahead of the pack which should be really tight and could consist of a steady Sauber, a dramatically-improved Arrows, a rather downcast Prost with an improving BAR and a worsening Benetton. Alas for its legion of fans, Minardi will, I believe, prop up the table this year.

McLaren Mercedes

RGC: So, what can we say about the Big Mac that hasn't already been said 1000 times? Not a lot really. This year though, I think they might have it even tougher than last. The Ferrari's been as good in testing. On the other hand, I think they've learnt their lesson about designing "the amazing exploding car" as they did at the start of last year.

PF: The Newey Dynasty continues apace. They've put a lot of miles on the car, they've got the most stable technical team, they've got one of the best two engines... very difficult to see McLaren not carrying on where they left off. Difficult to get excited about the Woking tecnocrats but they are the class of the field.

RGC: I'm not so sure this year they will be the class of the field. We shall see, of course. I wonder if they'll be taking Ferrari style team orders if they realise they don't have a comfortable level of superiority any more.

PF: Of course they will, and poor Wavey is the guy who's going to have to bend over and take it from Ron and Big Norbie.

1) Mika Hakkinen

RGC: I wonder what it's like to be Mika Hakkinen. He's now worked for McLaren so long now that there's a danger he'll be promoted to management and have to drive along behind a desk. Last year he looked at some points unstoppable and at some points on the verge of a breakdown. After Malaysia he looked a broken man and then, as we know, went on to win it. In his position, would you even bother to win a third championship? It looked like so much work and, like Schumacher, he's taken a very long winter break. How hungry is Mika to win now? As far as I recall, nobody's won three in a row since Fangio... is that enough of an incentive to even try?

PF: I'm not sure what's driving Hakkinen. The chance to be the only guy since Fangio to win three consecutive titles must be a powerful motivator, though. Mika drives beautifully when it suits him, but his mistakes are sudden and catastrophic. Has to be a title favourite, but my head and heart both tell me that 2000 is Michael Schumacher's year.

RGC: But how much of a motivation is "just another world championship"? It wouldn't get me out of bed in the morning... I'd be tempted to say that two was fair enough.

PF: Three puts him up there with Senna, Brabham and Stewart and I don't think he's quite in their league. Mind you, Piquet's got three and I rate him somewhat lower than Tora Takagi.

2) David Coulthard

RGC: Dear old Davy. Takes a licking and keeps on ticking. I don't know by what dark magic he's kept a top-line drive this year. Surely another year like the last two and Ron Dennis must let David "move on to optimise other opportunities in a going-forward direction" even if (as I strongly suspect) Coulthard has some kind of triggered explosive wired to Ron's testicles.

PF: I admire and like David Coulthard, as a person. As a driver, I think he's a whinger and a second-rater, a natural Number Two with ideas above his station. Sure, he's a younger man than Mika, with less F1 experience -- but I don't ever see David rising to become a convincing team leader. I think he'll bumble along picking up a couple of wins a year until McLaren decide to call in one of the myriad of youngsters whose contracts they own -- wonder if Nick Heidfeld or Riccardo Zonta fit a Coulthard seat?

RGC: I think you're right - great guy (bit corporate) but not such a good driver. I confess I'm a bit mean to David, but it's hard not to be. He's had a top line drive for so long and he's done nothing with it. I've got so many articles titled "Move over Mika" or "This time for certain" about how, this year, Coulthard will obviously be faster than Mika that it's depressing. (Ah, the obviously unbiased British motor-racing press).

PF: Somehow Coulthard strikes me as a born Stewart driver and I suspect that's where he'll end up after Johnny retires or Eddie's caught in flagrante with someone important's daughter.

Scuderia Ferrari

RGC: Oh now come on. This has GOT to be Ferrari's season. They cannot in any way fail to win. There is surely no way that in a just universe Ferrari will not get both the drivers and constructors championship this year. I do believe in fairies.

PF: No, no, it's a rebuilding season and the real championship challenge is next year. Just like every year since 1980, in fact. This isn't a just universe though and I think the titles will go their separate ways this year -- with the Scuderia taking the driver's title and McLaren clinching the constructor's. Somehow Michael's reluctance to test seems to hint at a less-than-stellar car this year...

RGC: I disagree. I think Schumi didn't want to test because he fancied a break. The car seems brilliant. It's been faster than the Big Mac at Barcelona. It's broken (nay shattered) lap records at Mugello. Michael has described it as "boring" because it's so reliable and easy to drive.

PF: I want Schumacher and Ferrari to win the championships because it's good for the sport -- but I get this niggling feeling it just won't happen.

3) Michael Schumacher

RGC: I think he'd have been champion last year were it not for the crash. Furthermore, he managed to avoid almost all of the "incidents" which have dogged his career. His comeback drive in Malaysia was awesome. However, believe it or not, there are questions about the superman's fitness. Apparently he had some kind of neck problems on his first day back at testing and Rubinho had to take over. Like Hakkinen, I wonder about Schumi's motivation. He's also got little left to prove and has taken an extra long winter break and fallen from peak fitness. Though his peak fitness was more of a peak than most I admit.

PF: Indeed, last year Michael really did look invincible when he was "on form". His performances at the end of the season were truly astonishing and gave the lie to the old saw about drivers never being quite the same after leg injuries. As for motivation? Michael has catalysed the Ferrari revival, and I can't see him leaving until he's got at least one more title from them. In the early nineties I thought Schumacher might be the man to beat Fangio's record of five titles, and to be honest if he carries on I can still see him doing it.

RGC: I think if he'd not been tempted by the lure of Ferrari he could have simply stayed and clocked up the championships at Benneton. He might even be at five by now.

PF: Michael's said he'll go on for at least another four years, which seems to actually imply he's got unfinished business in F1. It's not like he needs the money, is it?

4) Rubens Barrichello

RGC2: Well, for the first time since we started writing these, I really don't know how Barrichello will do this year. Against Magnussen, Verstappen and Herbert, I was pretty confident he'd be the lead guy. Against Schumacher though, well, I don't think he'll be in front. (Although Jody Scheckter has said that Barrichello might beat Schumi this year). We know that Rubens can be psychologically "fragile" (read "go to pieces if he isn't winning") but that was a long time ago now. His claim is that he's "not a number 2 driver but more like a 1b". Schumi is claiming that they get on really well and have a lot in common.... I just don't know whether Rubens will turn out to be the best partner Schumi has ever had or just go to pieces completely. Should be fascinating to watch. The testing times have been encouraging and Rubens has been on the pace on tracks that Schumi knows much better in cars that Schumi knows much better.

PF: Ah, an epic of Clegg angst about Rubinho again. Schumacher has claimed that he "gets on" with most of his number twos in the past -- Brundle, Irvine, you name 'em, he can sink a Bitburger or two with them. And then destroys them on the track. Rubens was walking inches taller last season as Stewart became genuine contenders, and I hope this maturity and confidence will continue at Ferrari. But I fear it won't: it's always been a difficult, politicised environment and it's Michael's team. I'm not doubting Rubens' driving skill -- I think behind Hakkinen, Schumacher and Villeneuve he's one of the best guys out there, up with Frentzen and Coulthard certainly -- I'm doubting whether he has the grit and maturity to get on with the job and perform to the limit of his ability all the time.

RGC: Hmm... I'm usually angsty about him getting a good drive. This year he has a good drive and I'm angsty about him being compared with his team mate. I think that so far he's closer to Schumi than any team mate has been - but it's only in qualifying that it counts.

PF: Angsty about Rubens keeping it maybe? If Schumacher does make him look a pratt I wonder how it would affect his career and motivation?

Jordan Mugen Honda

RGC: Apparently this years car is the "EJ10" in celebration of 10 years of Mr. Jordan's formula one time. I do like "EJ" - but I wonder if he's not getting a little carried away here. It can't be long before he kicks HHF off the podium to receive the driver's trophy himself. Certainly the most charismatic of the team owners. (Then again, competing with the likes of Ron Dennis, Peter Sauber and Frank Williams, many swamp dwelling reptiles would win a charisma contest). I reckon (I hope) that the EJ10 will be even closer to the big two this year. I'm not certain though. Frentzen's wins last year, while richly deserved, were more by luck than judgement in some ways. (He deserved to win but had to have some guys crash out before it could happen).

PF: Everyone's favourite team, surely? EJ10 was actually the team's idea, not his. It seems that Jordan have comprehensively replaced Benetton as "team most likely to challenge the hierarchy" and they look comfortable there. Mike Gascoyne is often believed to have an ego almost as big as Eddie's but he's clearly turned the technical side of the team around. My main problem with Jordan is the continuation of the customer engine deal -- how they'll match up to the works Hondas at BAR...

RGC: Well this whole works Honda vs Mugen-Honda thing is peculiar to me. Why on earth is "real" Honda with team Bullshit and "fake" Honda with the more successful team? Surely it's going to be embarrasing for Honda for the customer time to blow away the works team? And I can't see it happening the other way round.

PF: Could it just be Honda hedging their bets in case BAR does turn out to be a real 24-carat clunker? Possibly very clever of them.

5) Heinz-Harald Frentzen

RGC:I've said before that H2F looks like agent Mulder. Certainly being kidnapped by aliens would explain his performances in '97 and '98. So what happened this year to make things right? Frentzen had a blinding season - he hardly put a foot wrong, had a little bit of luck to help him. With more of a following wind he could have been champion (now _that_ would have been an unusual result). I think Trulli will provide tougher competition for him than Hill did. You've got to admire the way that Frentzen won the team over. I remember at the start of the year you got the impression that the mechanics thought they'd been saddled with a second rate plodder.

PF: In true X-Files style you could imagine Frentzen psychically vampirising Damon Hill, sucking the self confidence from him. Certainly at the point where Schumacher was out and Hakkinen was psychologically self-destructing I would've put a few quid on H2F for Champion. Then sanity prevailed. Obviously a driver who thrives in a less clinical environment than Williams or Sauber; I think the team leader slot at Jordan (I definitely see Trulli as number two at least for the 2000 season) is allowing him to really develop as a driver. I'd expect to see him contending for poles and wins on all kinds of circuit this year.

RGC: Ick... what with all those Brundle comments about Frentzen blowing Hill off and now you talking about him sucking things out of Hill I've got a really warped vision of the nature of teamwork at Jordan.

PF: No wonder H2F wears that peculiar facial expression that reminds me of that scene in the first Police Academy movie.

6) Jarno Trulli

RGC: Well, it's nice to see the lad get a decent car under him. Last season was hard to judge. Was Trulli brilliant against a slightly less brilliant Panis in a dreadful car or was Trulli average against a demotivated Panis in a merely piss-poor car? I think he'll do well but HHF knows the team, is popular and will be a hard man to beat.

PF: About time. Remember Austria a couple of years back where he got the Prost to the front of the field? The kid has class. This is really a learning year for Jarno -- settling down into an established team (Prost are really still in transition) where he's expected to score consistently and match up to an established GP winner and possible outside title contender.

RGC: Hmm... remember that Magnussen had some good performances in his McLaren races and then was putrid for Stewart. One swallow doesn't make a summer and one good performance in Austria doesn't make a GP driver.

PF: No, but cleverer people than us have kept watching over Trulli and seem to believe he's got a future. Magnussen was written off after being hugely over-hyped from all quarters, and to be honest the only hype about Trulli is coming from EJ (mind you, if I passed a driving test tomorrow and got a Jordan contract, I'd be "an incredible prospect for the future" according to him). Trulli's been learning his trade nice and quietly, and I think he'll be the surprise of the season.

Jaguar Racing

RGC: Well I for one mourn the passing of the Stewart name from GP racing. I know Jagwah is dreadfully romantic and all that... but they don't have an F1 tradition whereas Stewart certainly does. Still, the car looks great (though I hear there are reliability worries). I for one would question the strength of their driver line up compared to the teams near them in performance. I also expect a hideous amount of misplaced patriotism with the "two british drivers in a british team" thing. I hope that JYS will still be putting time in with the team. I'm not sure how well the Ford mega-bucks will help them. After all, in rallying and british touring cars, Ford are sinking a lot of cash for a little return.

PF: It's difficult to imagine that Ford didn't plan this right from the start. Long term, Ford needs to re-establish itself in racing -- it's doing badly in touring cars, it's being trashed in NASCAR, in CART, and it's only going to pick up crumbs behind Subaru, Mitsubishi and now Peugeot in rallying. A title deal in F1 makes a lot of sense if it can deliver results. I think the combination of the enthusiasm of the Stewart team and the massive resources of Ford should let them develop into consistent contenders -- though probably not with the current driver lineup. I do wonder if the Jaguar fans from Le Mans will get behind the team... which would be fun. Alas, the car keeps destroying itself in testing and I don't think this will be Jaguar's season. Watch for them battling with BMW-Williams for who runs the most laps.

RGC: I've heard a lot of dodgy things about the testing. Shame because the last year as Stewart was excellent - particularly early season but, as Barichello said, they didn't have the cash to develop the car throughout the season as McLaren and Ferrari did. I'd like to see Jagwah do well but I wish that Stewart had stayed.

PF: Yeah, it's a bit cynical. Got to admit, the car looks awesome however it performs -- Ford and Jag have managed a wonderful PR coup. It could've been worse -- can you imagine Volvo in F1? (Actually, Jordan tried to get Volvo or Rover backing for the old Hart V10 way back).

7) Eddie Irvine

RGC:Eddie Irvine, you've got to love him... well, so he thinks anyway. Personally, I think he's a bit of a waste of spacee. This season has not increased my respect for young Edmund. After 3 1/2 seasons of playing Ernie Wise to Michael's Eric Morecambe, he finally had his chance to go solo. He spent half of it saying how great it was that Michael was away and the rest of it saying that he could win if Michael would help him. While I wanted a Ferrari WC, I wanted a _different_ Ferrari WC. Even little Mika Salo would have been better. It'll be interesting to see how good Irvine actually is. After years of studying with the very best, he didn't get that much closer to Michael and he seems to be slower than Herbert in testing.

PF: Eddie's currency is a bit artificially inflated at the moment. (Are you saying he has short fat hairy legs, incidentally?) To paraphrase something lawyer and F1 backmarker Andrea de Adamich said to Max Mosley (lawyer and director of March) in the 70s... if the world championship was for talking, he'd win it hands down. Eddie talks a big game, and to be frank I found some of his mouthing-off a bit distasteful last season. I get the impression Eddie gets confidence by talk rather than by performances -- and yes, he's a good driver, but he's not that good.

RGC: Actually, from all the worries about Irvine's fitness, he probably does have short fat hairy legs. His gatling-gob is sometimes good entertainment but more usually merely annoying. I do enjoy his occasional spat with Coulthard though.

PF: Coulthard vs Irvine is really a clash between a rich kid and a self-made man who loves his maker.

8) Johnny Herbert

RGC:Cheeky cheery Johnny Herbert had another Herbert year. Outqualified and outraced constantly by his team mate - hugely over-defended by his fans saying "oh yes, but he didn't get equal equipment" or "ah but in the crucial beginning/end/middle/last-but-one-month he clearly got the better of his team-mate and was the moral victor". I hope he does well against Irvine though. That victory for Stewart will have raised his morale.

PF: Well I for one was chuffed when Johnny drove a perfect race to win at the Neue Nurburgring. It's a pity we never got to see the real Johnny Herbert in F1 -- had he not had his accident in '88 I think he'd have a couple of titles behind him now. I've always admired Johnny's quiet determination and unwillingness to rubbish anyone or anything and I hope he shows up well against the overhyped Irvine (and maybe teaches him something about dignity and grace).

RGC: Plenty of other children deserved to win that race more. Ralf Schumacher for one who did not put a foot wrong and would have been the clear victor were it not for the tyre blow out (which he controlled marvellously).

PF: A lot of people can deserve to win a race, but the guy who wins is often the one who's taken the least risks and kept out of harm's way. Sure, Ralf deserved it too, but Johnny drove flawlessly.

Williams BMW

RGC:Who'd have thought we'd see the car down here in fifth a few seasons ago? The once unassailable Williams have really lost the plot and I can't see them getting back on track that soon. The BMW engine isn't going to be the class of the field. In fact it's going to be very average for a long time IMHO.

PF: Williams have now got an engine (that will be excellent in 2001 and will probably struggle this season), a choice of three drivers and all the money they need. What they haven't got is a decent design team -- they've lost their way since Newey jumped ship. Head is clearly no longer taking an active part in the design process; they need a star or two in the drawing office. Williams will be back soon, and they'll be a force to be reckoned with.

RGC: Perhaps they will be back soon. The thing is that nobody has ever supported Williams. I've met McLaren fans and Ferrari fans but I've never met a Williams fan - only Mansell fans, Prost fans and Hill fans. Now why would a company sponsor Williams nowadays? If you want to sponsor and you can't afford Ferrari or McLaren then Jagwah or Jordan would seem to have more glamour surely?

PF: True, you have to admire Williams but, considering how soulless McLaren are perceived to be it's surprising that they have more fans. I must admit to having liked Williams in the Frank/Ratprick/Jones era because they were very well-balanced blokes -- they had chips on both shoulders, and they didn't give a rat's arse for anyone or anything else in F1. Gotta get themselves some good design staff though.

9) Ralf Schumacher

RGC:What a great season for the boy Ralf. Blew away an experienced team mate (even if it was experience in a putrid US series). Lots of good, consistent steady performances and, if it wasn't for his puncture, he'd have had his first race win at the Nurburgring.

PF: Driver of the season for me, after Frentzen. Ralf seemed to mature as both driver and person last season -- a lot of his arrogance seemed to go away as he proved himself a real thinker and racer on the track. Difficult to see Williams letting go of him, as he really established himself as the kind of ballsy, unflappable team leader they used to like. If I were Montoya I'd be looking at Button's seat and not Schumacher's. No, I don't think he's as good as his brother, but I think he's 95% of the way there, and I think he's probably easier to work with. Superstar in waiting.

RGC: It'd be nice to see what he can do with a good car. The Williams wasn't the car that the Jordan was so he's bound to suffer in comparison with Frentzen. I'd love to see bros. Schumi in equal equipment.

PF: that'd be marvellous; maybe Willi Weber could arrange some ludicrous pay-per-view spectacle with them both in some nutter sports cars or something. Going to be very interesting watching Ralf as the de facto team leader -- does he have the gravitas to cope?

10) Jenson Button

RGC:Itty-bitty teeny-weeny Jenson Button - youngest British F1 race driver in history. I'm not sure what to make of this one. I don't think I ever saw him in F3 - wasn't he only in there for one year. There are plenty of more deserving drivers that Williams could have taken. Some of the F3000 graduates. Frank seems to be getting into the idea of gambling on drivers. Ralf and Jenson must be the youngest driver pairing to be in a top team for a while. (Though I suppose Fisico and Schumi were comparable).

PF: Gambling on a driver during a transitional season is a good move. If Button is as crap as Zanardi was it'll go fairly unnoticed if the car's no good either. If he is, good luck to Williams. I can think of several people with a stronger claim to the seat -- Bruno Junqueira, Max Wilson, Kenny Brack, Jorg Muller (remember him?!)... However, Button seems to be pretty untroubled by his rapid promotion and doesn't seem to be doing too badly in testing. He's been carefully groomed for stardom and I'd be surprised if he disappointed too badly this season. I expect a few silly mistakes, and a few absolutely terrible performances early in the season -- but as he gets used to F1 and builds up confidence and experience I expect to see him starting to score regularly. Maybe not a regular visitor to the podium this season -- but he will be. Done wonders for the profile of the British F3 championship which had been in a bit of an F1 decline -- I hope to see Pizzonia in F1 soon.

RGC: Except that it seems to be best to not quite win the F3 championship for your career prospects. I think Pizzonia will walk the F3 this year and we'll be seeing him in F1 before too long. But then I'm terrible at predicting things. Incidentally, our friend Tam apparently went to school with young Jenson in darkest Frome (in Zummmerzett). So hopefully he'll have an amusing west country accent for press conferences. "The car be very fast my loverrr."

PF: He's not as yokel as say Jamie Davies -- in fact he sounds fairly well-spoken. Pity. There should be more regional accents in F1. Don't think we've ever had a proper scouser nicking the wheels from the cars, though Alan Jenkins the Prost designer is from my part of the world.

Benetton Supertec

RGC: Ho hum... and so the plummet continues. I can see no respite for the Benetton boys. Losing Dave Richards was a mistake.

PF: They've lost Nick Wirth too, who I rated. For a team with the resources Benetton has their recent performance has been an utter disgrace. It really was Schumacher/Byrne/Brawn getting the results, evidently. Unless the team gets a head transplant in the near future it's going to lose what few shreds of credibility it still has. Now rumoured to be on the market anyway, with Renault considering buying them as a future works team.

RGC: At least the new designer put barge boards on it instead of those stupid running boards that Nick Wirth seemed to be fond of. I wonder if Wirth's desire to make his car "different" (FTT, wavy rear wing, odd looking nose, no barge boards) was one of the reasons for its decline.

PF: Possibly some weird directive from on high that the car should be "distinctive"? I no longer regard Benetton as a serious F1 team and I'm sure someone will end up buying it.

11) Giancarlo Fisichella

RGC:After a great start in F1, Fisico had little chance to prove himself last season in a slow and unreliable car. I hope it _is_ the car that's the problem not the drivers.

PF: Difficult to tell. I like Fisichella and he seems to be keeping his head while the team disintegrates, but shouldn't he be looking to get out? I wonder if he's not too much of a nice guy to stand his ground and declare his true worth.

RGC: It's hard to judge his true worth though. He needs a change of scene and to be compared against someone other than Wurz otherwise there's a danger that his career will sink with the team?

PF: Definitely make or break season for Fissi. If he can't get out of Benetton this season he's damaged goods.

12) Alexander Wurz

RGC: What I said about Fisico applies doubly to Wurz. He's becoming more known for his spectacular offs than his spectacular drives. A shame because there's undoubtedly a lot of talent there but, as ever in F1, there is more talent than there is seats for the talent to sit in.

PF: I think Wurz is in big trouble from a career point of view. There are a lot of drivers backed-up in GTs, CART, F3000... and Wurz is most notable for being a big bloke who crashes a lot. Made the bad mistake of not standing in the door over the fact that the B200 is too small for him and is causing him physical discomfort -- that ruined a season for Berger in the past. Got to do something to convince F1 he deserves a permanent place this season or it's that downhill slide to number two at Sauber I can see beckoning him. Pity, he deserved better.

RGC: I've heard it said that it would be good for Wurz's career if he broke both legs since he could have some operation to make his legs smaller. (By the same token, presumably Mansell's career would have been helped if he broke both buttocks).

PF: Gerhard Berger used to joke in the 80s about a team with automatic transmission paying a driver to have one leg off so they could build a smaller cockpit... who knows... Really, Alex has to at least look consistent this season if he thinks he has a future.

Prost Peugeot

RGC: Well, Alain's intro to the world of F1 isn't going as smoothly as Jackie's. The Prost doesn't seem to have been a great car and I can't see it getting much better.

PF: Probably Peugeot's last season with the team (who deserve some praise for landing sponsorship from Internet giant Yahoo). Chassis looks good and is setting decent times, but this could be because Prost are always one of the first teams to start testing new bits and everyone else soon catches up with them. I don't know how long Alain thought it'd take his team to become an established contender but he's looking pretty disgruntled most of the time now.

RGC: Yeah... I think he had this expectation that intelligence and technical knowledge were enough. (Note how nobly I resisted the "nose out of joint" gag).

PF: Apparently they've fixed some of the worse problems with the car but Alain is still in a strop with Peugeot over their lousy engines. (This year's is apparently 40bhp stronger at 0 Celsius. So expect Prost to stomp the entire field at Silverstone in April! (Only joking, folks).

14) Jean Alesi

RGC: Oh dear... who'd have thought it would end here. Jean still dreams of that phone-call from Ferrari and it's really not going to happen. A shame because I think he's a nice guy who genuinely enjoys racing. It's good to have a few characters in the F1 field. I think Nick Heidfeld will prove a nasty shock for him.

PF: Never the sharpest tool in the box, Jean is an old-school racer with probably the finest car control on the grid -- and, as you say, he really does seem to enjoy being a racing driver more than almost anyone else on the grid. But a mixture of bad luck, political ineptitude, and possibly a lack of application has prevented him from becoming the phenomenon those of us who saw him when he came into F1 expected. One GP win in over a decade is no reward for his talents -- and I don't see him adding to that total at Prost this year. Jean's still quite young and this may not be his last front-line drive, but I think the curtains are closing... I hope some of Alain's calm and analytical approach will rub off on Jean and that he at least has a steady season where he can get some points on the board in a stable environment -- to hope for more would be unrealistic.

RGC: Never the sharpest tool in the box and it's a box of spanners specially bluntened for extra safety. Jean's not still young. He's the oldest driver out there. I think, more than ever, F1 is a young man's game. The Fangio days of being competetive into your 50s are long gone - you can't expect to be racing top-line F1 at 40 these days.

PF: Jean is of comparable age to Irvine and Herbert -- they're all 35/36. It's just that Jean got into F1 at what was (then) a young-ish age and has stayed there forever. Schumacher seems to think you can go on until that sort of age; Prost finished at 38. I think that's about as long as you can realistically keep going.

15) Nick Heidfeld

RGC: Could this man be the next Schumacher? Or will he just be the next Stephano Modena? Well, whatever, I think he's going to be damn good. I'm not sure the prost is a car he'll be able to prove it in. But part of this year's bet is that Heidfeld will outqualify Alesi this year. I'm pretty confident.

PF: He's another guy who's been groomed for stardom -- McLaren actually own him, and I think he's part of a masterplan to turn Prost into the Mercedes Junior Team in the near future. I saw Nick in F3 at Monaco a few years back and in F3000 at Silvertsone more recently and he seemed to be fast, tidy and mature. He hasn't really set the world on fire but he comes across as a less aggressive character than Schumacher.

RGC: I'm not sure - I saw the same Silverstone F3000 race (in fact I drove you there) and I thought it was a dominant performance against a strong field. Sure, F3000 isn't F1 but I'm hoping that Heidfeld will be very good.

PF: I expect he will be very good, but is that going to be very good on a Frentzen level, say, or on a Schumacher level? I tend towards the former at the moment.

Sauber Petronas

RGC: Sauber is a distinctively Swiss F1 team I think. Distinctively competent but not thrilling for years. This year should be more of the same. The partnership with Ferrari is a good one and being able to buy your engine from the only engine supplier who'll never leave F1 is a smart move. I just don't think Sauber will ever advance into the big 'n' teams (where 'n' used to be four but seems to move about a lot at the moment).

PF: Sauber will never become one of the "big" teams; I think they're too parochial. You need to be in Britain or Italy to do it (Toyota will have problems because they're basing themselves in Germany). They're the definitive midfield F1 team -- providing either apprenticeship or rest-home for drivers and technical personnel and largely there because Peter Sauber likes running a team.

RGC: Strange thing really... I think motor racing is actually still illegal in Switzerland. Rather prosaic to allow them to site a team there for an activity which is illegal in the country. Rather like Britain having a huge dope making factory I suppose.

PF: It is; it's been banned since the Le Mans disaster in '55. And you know that company I used to work for a few years back....?

16) Mika Salo

RGC: Little Mika had a mixed time in the Ferrari. I think he proved that he _has_ talent but I don't see him getting the car to prove it this late in his career. Being partnered against Diniz isn't going to help him either. Blow his team mate away and it's only Diniz. Equal his team mate and it proves he's not so good. Lose to his team mate and it's career over and time to move to Minardi, Arrows or Prost.

PF: Definitely a holding season for Mika -- if he performs well (gets on the podium a couple of times, avoids any trouble) he might be able to put himself in contention for a top seat, if he doesn't I can't see there being much space for him in F1. He's getting no younger and has never been able to re-establish himself at the sharp end. Alas I think F1 has passed him by.

RGC: Well, I think he has this season to be really special. But I think it's going to prove hard in a mid-field car against a mid-field team mate.

PF: Just don't see it somehow. If he did get it all sorted it'd be interesting, because he and Hakkinen can't stand each other's guts. (Worse than the Schumacher/Frentzen girlfriend thing).

17) Pedro Diniz

RGC: Pedro has finally shed the pay-driver image I think but he's still, basically not that fast. Can't see him doing much this year.

PF: Fair's fair. Diniz used to be one of my betes noires but these days he keeps out of trouble and occasionally shows a turn of speed. Will probably get a few points, might upset Salo a few times in qualifying but that's about it. He's found his level - midfield.

Arrows Supertec

RGC:I read an interview with Jackie Oliver from '97. He said that people had come to think of Arrows as a perennial mid-field team and that Tom Walkinshaw would change all that. He wasn't wrong. I predict they'll continue to be a perennial back-of-the-field team this year. Admittedly they've shown astounding form in testing. But what piss-poor team wanting funds hasn't shown form in testing at some point?

PF: Arrows has been in F1 since 1978 and has only ever once looked like actually winning a race. (Sure, there were a couple of impressive performances in the very early days and Derek Warwick and Eddie Cheever made the A11 look quick on some of the twistier circuits, but you know what I mean). This year's chassis looks neat and quick, but we have no idea how far underweight it's running and we don't know what manner of jungle juice fuel and gumball tyres they're running on in an attempt to snare sponsors. Then again, we could all be wrong. Stranger things have happened. But not many.

RGC: The new orange and black colour scheme is exquisitely hideous too. Fortunately, I don't think it'll be troubling the viewing public except perhaps while being lapped. But I've been wrong before (and often).

PF: That's my sodding mobile bill paying for those colours. Sigh. I think Arrows will be up there with Sauber, Benetton, BAR and Prost this season.

18) Pedro de la Rosa

RGC: One of the new wave of back-of-the-field spanish drivers in whom I have no interest.

PF: Was actually quite good in FRenault in about '91 but... well, gone off the boil rather since. The word "unobtrusive" could've been coined to describe his F1 career. Nice chap, hope he likes the idea of GT racing because I think he'll be doing it soon.

RGC: Heh... Well it adds glamour to GT to have all those ex F1 drivers I think. Maybe he could team up with Pedro Lamy for an all Pedro assault on Le Mans?

PF: Wouldn't be a bad idea too. The Portuguese-speaking Pedros. I like it.

19) Jos Verstappen

RGC:Why? For godsakes why? There's no need for this. Jos' formula one career is the best argument for euthanasia I've ever seen. It's being kept alive artificially, it's clearly suffering and it needs Kervokianising.

PF: Agreed. Jos is a professional blind date, the best spinner in F1 since Olivier Grouillard and why on Earth do teams pick him? (The answer's simple -- Arrows are tarting for sponsorship from the Netherlands).

RGC: Like what? Spin as much as Jos with Dutch dope? Royal Dutch Airlines, as unreliable as Verstappen but doesn't crash as often? Jos Verstappen says: "Take it real slooooooow with a relaxing holiday in Amsterdam."

PF: I think I've finally run out of anything derogatory to say about Jos. I may have to start saying nasty things about Huub Rothengatter instead.

Minardi Ford

RGC: Am I right in thinking that Minardi are using the Ford engine this year? I think so. Hope it helps. Sempre Minardi. I really hope they beat arrows this year.

PF: You're right. 1998 Fords rebadged as "Fondmetal" (after team owner Gabriele Rumi's company). Bit of turmoil as the team may/may not be bought by major sponsor Telefonica and moved to F1-mecca (I exaggerate) Spain. If they go there that's the end of them -- Spaniards are interested in bikes, not cars. Nice yellow livery; it's been years since a Minardi looked that good. (The M189 was the cutest car of the year, I thought).

RGC: What are they thinking going to Spain at the whim of a telephone company. I thought that Giancarlo Minardi had said he'd never leave their Italian location because the team was the only source of employment in town? Imagine that: "It was a desolate no hope town, the only way out was to be good at football or to be an engineer for Minardi".

PF: Remember that Spanish film about the bloke who gets trapped in the phone box? Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.......

20) Mark Gene

RGC: See Pedro de la Rosa (except with more eyebrow).

PF: To be fair I think Gene did very well for a bloke with so little experience -- 1999 was only his second season as a full-time professional racing driver. A "polite driver", but he didn't make many mistakes either and did pretty well with a shed of a car. I don't necessarily see him as the next superstar but I think he could be a solid midfielder who might surprise.

RGC: I should say that he's also an extremely ugly driver. With Mazzacaine who's also no great looker, I think that Minardi win my vote for "team most likely to obtain extra money by having drivers threaten to beat people up in the pitlane." I can well see Gene and Mazzacaine as the stupid but big kids shaking down Heidfeld and Button for lunch money. "Hand over that sponsorship money Heidfeld or I'll ram my fist so far down your throat that you'll scream like a McLaren Mercedes."

21) Gaston Mazzacane

RGC: Mazzacane is it:

a) A pain-killer used by dentists
b) A cocktail involving grenadine
c) A chicane with multiple exits in which drivers get lost
d) Another pay-driver in a Minardi
Answers on a postcard to the usual address. I've no idea who this man is and I don't care.

PF: Mazzacane for the soul? Only there because Telefonica wanted an Argentinian driver and cowardly pet-hate of mine Norberto ("Please let me out of the car Mr Sauber, I don't want to play any more") Fontana presumably whimpered too much. Was crap in F3000 and I don't see him being any better in F1.

BAR Honda

RGC: I predicted they'd win races last year. Ah, my salad days when I was green in my judgement. Their start-up year was positively farcical. How we laughed. The word Schadenfreude was invented for moments like this. (But I wish it were easier to spell). So, Craig Bollocks, remind us again of your Tradition of Excellence. Starter for 10, "Is this year's BAR team motto":

a) A tradition of Exothermy
b) A tradition of Excrement
c) A tradition of Exce(BANG...phut...phut...phut)
Unfortunately, they should be more competetive and less amusing this year. The real honda engine isn't going to the right team.

PF: Team bullshit. Team bullshit. Team bullshit. I grew to loathe BAR over the 1999 season, for their pathetic livery, for their silly squabbles with the FIA, and for Craig Bollocks' corporate shite. Please, Adrian Reynard, get rid of them and run it as a Reynard-Honda works team? Please? Pretty please? Sadly, JV made a complaint that Reynard was barely there all year -- which oddly enough parallels a quote of Reynard's when he was an engineer for the RAM-March GP team in the early 80s and Robin Herd was too big and famous to bother turning up... As ye sow, so shall ye reap?

Fortunately, this year's car seems to be reliable but slow -- possibly better than intermittently quick but kamikaze-capable. Is it a waste of the works Honda engine and will we see some form of swap with Jordan if it continues to be all pear-shaped?

RGC: I'd like to see that. Mr. Honda waking up going "Doh... what do you mean you sent the good engine to the bozos and the bad engine to that nice man with the sideburns. Hang your head in shame."

PF: See my comments on Jordan for the "cunning plan" aspect of this. Just notice that Rick Gorne has had a tiff with Adrian Reynard -- he's left Reynard completely now and has thrown his lot in entirely with BAR. Which is kind of appropriate, because Gorne has a fairly fluent line in the sort of talk that makes Craig Pollock sound straightforward. Sigh. I do respect Adrian Reynard, honest.

22) Jacques Villeneuve

RGC:That "team villeneuve" thing just doesn't work. If it doesn't go well this year it's time for our Jacques to sell his shares in BAR and move on to better and brighter things because he deserves a better car than this. I know that the team manager is his bezzie mate and all... but in the words of Free Willy "How far would you go for a friend." In my opinion, wasting your career driving the amazing exploding car slowly is a bit further.

PF: I'd like to see JV back where he belongs ("on the edge, yeah, man" -- no, seriously, at the front of the grid) because he's got the balls and the talent to do it. I want him out of Team Bullshit and back into a proper car ASAP because F1 needs stars and charisma is one thing JV doesn't lack.

RGC: A decent razor and an ability to realise when you have to be slow to be fast are two things that JV does lack.

PF: He's nobbing Dannii Minogue. Which reminds me of something Mrs Merton once said to Debbie McGee. "So, Debbie McGee, why are you attracted to dwarfish multi-millionaire Paul Daniels?"
No JV paragraph would be complete without the following: For sure. On the edge.

RGC: Feel I had to add a quote from F1 Racing Comic from 1997 about Villeneuve's management team (especially the golden bollocks of Craig Pollock) "distracting him with irrelevancies":
"What planet are these people on? He would leave Williams and drive what... a Reynard?"

23) Ricardo Zonta

RGC: I don't remember him doing anything more than crashing heavily at Eau Rouge last year. I think he was pretty much behind Jacques all year. I don't expect much different.

PF: Zonta kept his head down and didn't complain about his predicament which I think shows maturity and dignity. Must be a bit mindful of the logjam of drivers poised outside the top seats and needs to give it a bit of the loud pedal this season if he's not to be overtaken on the career path by the likes of Heidfeld. (Zonta is also "owned" by McLaren...)

RGC: Why do McLaren own so many drivers then? Seems a bit unfair. And if they own so many why are they lumbered with Wavy Davy in the second car?

PF:Maybe he's got incriminating photos of Ron and Norbert. Or maybe they've got incriminating photos of him. Anyway, all these retained drivers are probably dirt-cheap and if they do turn out to be any use at least McLaren have a good hold over them.

Goodbye and Adieu and Farewell

Damon Hill

RGC: Hmm... when I compiled this list of important drivers leaving F1 this year I forgot Hill. For me, that sums up his year. He didn't actually retire mid-season but he might as well have. Tooled around at the back and picked up his cheque gaining the respect of nobody in the process. The father raced for too long because he enjoyed racing. The son raced for too long because he didn't like the racing but enjoyed the pay cheque. OK, that's a little too harsh but if I was Eddie Jordan I wouldn't be so restrained in commenting on a driver who decides that it's not worth continuing a race because it's too dangerous and they're not doing so well anyway.

PF: Should've had the grace to leave after France, because he was sod-all use to anyone for the rest of the season. Hill's an intelligent, sensitive bloke who should've stopped the moment he stopped enjoying his racing. Sure, he was taken apart by Frentzen and he should've seen that as a sign to get out while he still could do so with dignity. I don't want to be too harsh on Damon but his last half-season just left me thinking he had no business being there. Cheapens the memory of a great career.

Olivier Panis

RGC: Poor Ollie. 4 years ago he looked like his time would come. Now he's hoping that Mika H or DC will break a leg to give him a play in the car. (Some chance, Mika doesn't go off that much and David's constructed from some kind of unbreakable Carbon-Rubber composite to survive his many crashes). End of a career I think unless something remarkable happens. He hasn't looked that interested since breaking his leg.

PF: I'd still rather see him in that number two McLaren than Coulthard, because I think he could still spring a few surprises. Maybe he's being kept warm for Prost-Mercedes but somehow I doubt it. Keeping a brave face on it and presumably you have to keep believing that you're going to get a race drive but it must be awfully difficult for him knowing that Heidfeld and Zonta are far more likely to get the drive if something bad happens; I can only see Panis getting shunted off to replace them...

Alessandro 'Alex' Zanardi

RGC: So what happened here then? Another victim of Williams and Head driver psychology 101? Another refugee from that crap US series shown up as unable to cut it in a real car? A nice guy who didn't have equal equipment with his team mate? I simply don't understand what went on or why. All we can say with certainty is that Williams are prepared to pay a two times CART champion a considerable wage NOT to race in their car.

PF: We'll never know what went wrong there. Back when Zanardi was still "Sandro" rather than "Alex" he looked special. He looked special in CART. He was, let's not pull punches, shit in F1 and an embarrassment to himself and his team. I just can't see how he failed that badly -- it'll be one of the all-time mysteries of the sport because Zanardi is a quiet and dignified bloke and I don't think he'll ever talk about it. A real shame to see a great driver so utterly destroyed.

RGC: Incidentally, Frank and Ratprick (anag) have already started Williams tender loving care on Button when quoted as saying "He'd better be good coz we have another excellent driver (Montoya) that we could get next year anyway."

PF: Montoya is apparently regarded as a bit arrogant in CART circles, so he might make a good Williams driver in the old style. Rumours floating around that Zanardi might do some late season races in Mo Nunn's new CART team -- apparently he's not interested in playing on ovals any more but he might do some road races.

The all important BET

RGC: OK.. I lost the traditional annual "buy you a meal" F1 bet last year when I bet that Schumi would have won the WDC (and I would have gotten away with it if it hadn't been for that meddling tyre barrier). This year we've got a complex three part bet:

a) For a meal at the Blue Bicycle restaurant in York I bet that Heidfeld's average qualifying position is better than Alesi's.

b) For the drinks with said meal I bet that Williams doesn't win a race this year

c) For the service tip for the meal I bet that Rubinho finishes in the top three of the driver's championship

I've got to say that I'm feeling pretty confident for meal, drinks and tip this year Pete. Is there any hope you're going to win any of that?

PF: I may end up buying the drinks. I'm certainly not paying the tip. As for the food itself... we shall see.

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