The opening round of the FIA Formula One World Championship at Interlagos in Brazil On Sunday 26 March should provide the perfect insight into the battles that lie ahead in the 16 round grand prix season. Indications from pre-season testing...
The opening round of the FIA Formula One World Championship at Interlagos in Brazil On Sunday 26 March should provide the perfect insight into the battles that lie ahead in the 16 round grand prix season. Indications from pre-season testing show that the new technical regulations look certain to provide closer and even more exciting racing. The engine capacity of the cars has been reduced from 3.5 to three litres while the downforce effect has been considerably reduced.
The Rothmans Williams Renault duo of Damon Hill and David Coulthard have been busy testing the new FW17 Williams car at both Estoril in Portugal and Barcelona in Spain in preparation for the opening round of the Championship around the 4.325 kms (2.68 miles) Interlagos circuit on the outskirts of San Paulo. Hill finished second to World Champion Michael Schumacher in the race last year on only his second appearance at the demanding circuit.
"Interlagos is an enjoyable circuit which always requires plenty of horsepower and so we should go well with the Renault engine," said Hill during 11 days of testing at Estoril. "Our car has also shown good balance and good mechanical grip which will also be an advantage there where it's often very hot. This year there is less ultimate downforce in the cars and they are less what we call 'pitch sensitive' so the ride height of the car is not so critical, making the car more comfortable to drive and a little less tiring over a grand prix distance."
For Coulthard it will be his first ever visit to the Interlagos circuit on only his ninth grand prix appearance.
"Although I've never been to Interlagos I have watched the racing there many times on television and I know it's a demanding circuit," explained the 23 year old Scotsman. "It's a track that appears very much dependant on grip as there are not that many fast corners. Our new car seems to work particularly will in that type of corner and that gives me confidence that I can hopefully get a good result when I'm out there." Both Hill and Coulthard have been pleased with the performance of the new FW17 car that was only launched three weeks ago revealing a revised cockpit layout and a high nose.
"The car has been working well during the testing and I think it should prove very competitive," explained Hill, who finished runner-up to Schumacher in last year's Championship by a single point. "Generally I'm very pleased and if testing is any indication we are in for a humdinger of a season and it could be very close by the end of the year. In my first full season of grand prix racing I finished third, in my second, last year, I was second and so there is only one way to go this year. I am both totally focused and motivated to win that title."
Coulthard finished eighth in the Championship last year, despite only driving in eight grands prix. He starts his first full season of Formula One racing full of optimism.
"I am just so excited about the forthcoming season which I'm starting as a contracted driver to the top team in Formula One," said Coulthard, who started last season as the Williams test driver. "My aim is to repay the faith put in me by Frank Williams and the team by winning some grands prix for them. I learned so much last season in such a short space of time. In some ways I am more relaxed for the very reason that you build up with the car from its earliest stage on the drawing board, to it being built, right through to actually seeing it on the circuit. I have enjoyed the experience of actually developing a brand new car, rather than driving a car that has been developed by somebody else. The car has gone well in testing and the balance was good. It was interesting to compare the FW17, incorporating the new technical regulations, to last year's car. The high speed stuff is where you lose a little in comparison to last year. You don't have the same grip but you are not hugely aware of it in the cockpit."
Enormous interest will focus on Schumacher and his new permanent Benetton team-mate Johnny Herbert in Brazil. Last year Schumacher won his title using Ford power. This season Benetton will be using the same Renault engines that power the Williams which will make life even more interesting for both teams. McLaren will use Mercedes engines this year with Jordan being powered by Peugeot who supplied McLaren last year. Sauber will use Ford engines while Ligier will be powered by the V-10 Mugen Honda engines that were with Lotus last year. The Lotus name has been saved from extinction and they join forces with Pacific while the Italian based Forti Corse team are new to Formula One.
The major switch in driver line-ups comes with former Formula One and Indy car World Champion Nigel Mansell joining Finnish driver Mika Hakkinen at McLaren. Last year Mansell drove four races for the Rothmans Williams Renault team and won the final round of the Championship at Adelaide in Australia. He replaces Martin Brundle who joins Olivier Panis at Ligier although Panis will move aside to allow japanese driver Aguri Suzuki at least three appearances during the season. Ukyo Katayama looks likely to be joined by Finnish driver Mika Salo at Tyrrell Yamaha although Pedro Lamy tested the car last week and could still join the team.
Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi continue at Ferrari and there is also no change at Jordan where Rubens Barrichello and Eddie Irvine retain their place. Gianni Morbidelli and Japanese driver Taki Inoue will drive the new Arrows FA16 which was unveiled this week, while Pierluigi Martini and Luca Badoer have started testing the new Minardi. Austrian Karl Wendlinger makes a welcome return to the track to partner the impressive Heinz-Harald Frentzen in the Sauber Ford team while Jos Verstappen, Mimmo Schiattarella and Hideki Noda will share drives at Simtek. Other teams have not completed their line-ups.
Bertrand Gachot still awaits a team-mate in the Pacific Team Lotus while Pedro Diniz will be one of the drivers in the new Forti Corse team. Eric Bernard, Eric Helary and Christophe Bouchut fight for a place in the Larrousse team.
The teams can wait until 18:00 on Thursday 23 March before announcing their final line-ups for the 71 lap Brazilian race which should tell us so much about the next eight months of grand prix racing throughout the world.
Courtesy ICN - Media relations for Rothmans Williams Renault.
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