The Weekly Grapevine

By Tom Keeble, England
Atlas F1 Columnist

* FIA Court Controversy

If there is one thing that the modern Formula One circus is constantly fighting, it is the danger of earning the reputation for producing monotonous, boring events, with uninspiring characters for drivers and processional racing.

Michael SchumacherGoing into 2003, the state of play had become so worrying that the FIA made sweeping changes to the rules, obviously intending to spice things up. The thrust of the changes was supposed to ensure that despite being unable to change how competitive any individual team might be, the grids would be more shaken up, so there would be more on track action as the natural order was restored. Furthermore, there would be greater opportunity for varying strategy, so opening the door for teams to be more innovative in their approach to races.

There is a strong case for arguing that the changes worked: certainly, the opening races of the season brought more action than usual, and arguably not all due to inclement weather. However, things have been somewhat calmer since the Spanish Grand Prix, with something approaching the old order of things restored - even if Ferrari's dominant position had been eroded. The races were threatening a return to pure processions with teams looking for advantages through strategy to pass during pitstops. Worse, with reliability significantly improved, and most of the drivers getting on top of the single lap qualifying, excitement was threatening to come down to guessing how many places Justin Wilson could make up from the back row of the grid, or whether David Coulthard might make a pass on his way to recovering from poor qualifying.

Looking back at the events of the European Grand Prix, the weekend will be considered something of a success: after it threatened to be a processional exercise, Jacques Villeneuve and David Coulthard put in the kind of performances that can end careers, very well captured on camera. Montoya's challenge on Schumacher provided excitement at the front, and the arguments now raging over the rights and wrongs of the day will ensure the weekend is remembered.

Did Fernando Alonso brake-test Coulthard and Schumacher? The powers that be suspected it, but cleared him when the evidence did not prove conclusive: for the Coulthard incident, Alonso's telemetry back up his statement that he braked around ten meters earlier than the lap before, but he was consistent with the laps that followed. Similarly, they are certain he backed off going through the final corner of the race, forcing Schumacher to react behind him: in his defence, Alonso complained that the state of his tyres required it. Ultimately, neither case was deemed blatant enough to require action. Cynics are commenting that this conveniently means he could be in contention with both of his rivals again in France, gaining column inches and raising the profile of the sport.

Likewise, the efforts of Montoya to pass Schumacher received little more than the analysis in the stewards office: once it was decided that the Colombian left the Ferrari sufficient room - if barely - then the matter was closed. Should Schumacher have been allowed to continue racing after this push restart? Well, it revealed a neat loop in the letter of the law that left the public uncertain what should happen, but then again, the public discussion has done nothing other than raise the profile of the sport. The issue is contentious, but not damaging - making perfect copy for generating interest for the next couple of events.

There is some debate that the off-season will see a change to the push restart rules: namely, if any driver who spins out has kept his engine running, the marshals may attempt to push him to rejoin the race. The intention being to remove potential damaging controversy after decisions of what constitutes a 'dangerous' location. It also fits the current ethos of improving the spectacle, as drivers recovering after a spin have to work harder to regain lost positions.

Indeed, following the European Grand Prix, the FIA are not only well satisfied with the outcome, but seem to be of the opinion that provided life and limb are not put at risk, more of the same would do nothing but good for the sport.

* Bridgestone Turning the Corner

The last three races have been something of a puzzle to Bridgestone, who are becoming frustrated by what appears to be a Michelin edge. When the overall performance is examined, Bridgestone tyres would have seemed to be the ones to be on, yet, at race weekends, they have turned out to be off the pace. Finally, Bridgestone have decided that they are the architect of their own problems, and are setting out to resolve them.

A Bridgestone tyreProbably the most obvious problem Bridgestone have suffered is the tendency for their tyres to blister. This is generally caused by the tyre getting too hot beneath the surface, eventually leading to an eruption as the heat boils through to the surface of the tyre. The cause is simple enough - heat building up through insufficient cooling, or ability to dissipate through the tyre - but the solutions carry a penalty.

Michelin have produced a tyre that offers as much as half a second for the first flying lap, depending on how warm the track is. This gives partner teams an inherent edge in qualifying compared to their initial race pace. In order to minimise the gap to Michelin's qualifying pace, Bridgestone have been running the softest tyres possible. However, as track temperatures rise, the softest rubber easily gets too hot, leading to graining or blisters. Hardening the compound helps graining, but the underlying construction is even more important for resolving the blisters.

As it stands, the Bridgestone's constructions are optimised to the mechanical requirements of the Ferrari chassis: their tyre walls are a critical factor in the way the car handles kerbs, as well as how it handles through corners. Altering the construction to improve the heat transfer characteristics requires either a change in the basic idea behind the principle of the tyre, or additions to the heat conduction layers - adding to the mass, and directly affects the bump handling.

The next tests with Ferrari and Sauber will see a new batch being processed, quantifying the penalties from adding mass to improve the heat transfer, using harder compounds to reduce the heat buildup, and some combinations on the same theme. Provided it goes well, Silverstone could see the first step in Bridgestone's revival, with the direction set for development through to Hungary.

Beyond that, Bridgestone are already well advanced on developing tyres for their assault on the US and Japanese Grand Prix: these are the two biggest events in their calendar, and a strong showing there is vital.

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Volume 9, Issue 27
July 2nd 2003

Atlas F1 Special

David Coulthard: Never too Late
by Timothy Collings

Jordan vs. Vodafone: The Transcripts
by Pablo Elizalde

Tifosi IPO
by Thomas O'Keefe

European GP Review

2003 European GP Review
by Pablo Elizalde

Racing Between the Lines
by Karl Ludvigsen

Out of Whack
by Richard Barnes

Ann Bradshaw: View from the Paddock
by Ann Bradshaw

French GP Preview

2003 French GP Preview
by Craig Scarborough

Stats Center

Qualifying Differentials
by Marcel Borsboom

by David Wright

Charts Center
by Michele Lostia


Season Strokes
by Bruce Thomson

On the Road
by Garry Martin

Elsewhere in Racing
by David Wright & Mark Alan Jones

The Weekly Grapevine
by Tom Keeble

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