UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX AT INDIANAPOLIS NOTEBOOK Toyota plans entry into F1; Zanardi excited about racing at Indy By Dan Knutson indyf1.com Special Correspondent INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 5, 1999 -- Toyota has joined the long list of ...
UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX AT INDIANAPOLIS NOTEBOOK Toyota plans entry into F1; Zanardi excited about racing at Indy
By Dan Knutson indyf1.com Special Correspondent
INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 5, 1999 -- Toyota has joined the long list of engine manufacturers that will be trying to win the United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as the automotive giant plans to enter the F1 arena between 2001 and 2003.
A statement released by Toyota, the third largest car manufacturer in the world behind General Motors and Ford, said that it "will actively consider future involvement in Formula One." Hiroshi Okuda, president of the Toyota Motor Corporation, said Toyota will undertake specific studies and research activities, including engine and chassis, to prepare for F1 early in the next century as a "comprehensive team."
While no other specific details of the F1 program were announced, Toyota confirmed it will continue its programs in the CART Champ Car series, the World Rally Championship, the Le Mans 24 Hours and domestic racing in Japan.
Fans at next year's F1 race at the Brickyard will see a battle royale between engine manufacturers. In recent months Honda and BMW have stated their intentions to return to F1 in 2000, and they will challenge Ferrari, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot, Arrows and the Renault-based Supertec. And it won't be long before Toyota enters the fray.
Zanardi eager to race at Indy: Italy's Alex Zanardi spent three years racing in North America but never competed at Indy due to his CART commitments.
After winning the CART Championship twice, Zanardi headed back to F1 where he has signed for the Winfield Williams-Supertec team. He's finally going to get a chance to race at Indianapolis now that the Speedway will play host to the United States Grand Prix in the year 2000 and beyond.
"I'm certainly very excited," Zanardi said. "I believe all that all my American colleagues have been aiming to go back to Indianapolis for so long. When it was announced, the first thing I did was call my friend and old (CART) teammate Jimmy Vasser in America. I was teasing him, telling him that I had to come back to F1 to go to Indianapolis.
"It's going to be great not just for F1 but also for the American fans, who are great motor sports enthusiasts. Personally, I believe that F1 could not go back to America with a better business card than the name Indy. It's going to be a great event."
Zanardi's team owner, Frank Williams, echoed his feelings about F1 at Indy, saying "it's the very best place you could find for it."
Argentina race off: Despite last-minute attempts, the Argentine Grand Prix will not take place March 28.
The event had been listed as a reserve race on the 1999 F1 schedule, and efforts were made to slot it into the March date left open when the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix was postponed.
It's not known if the demise of the race in Argentina was linked with Argentina's Esteban Tuero announcing his retirement from F1 after only one season due to "irrevocable personal reasons." Last season, at age 19, he drove for Minardi.
New cars unveiled: The Sauber and Prost teams hope their new 1999 cars will challenge F1's top four teams this season.
Unveiled in Basle, Switzerland, the Red Bull Sauber-Petronas C18 has one of the best engines in F1 ... even if it's a year old. Sauber uses Ferrari V10s with a Petronas badge because of the sponsorship from the Malaysian petroleum company by that name. It is the same spec engine that Michael Schumacher used to win six Grands Prix last year.
"We have no illusions," said team owner Peter Sauber. "The 1999 season will be a difficult and demanding one. However, we will rise to this challenge, and we are optimistic that we will make progress. The goal at the end of the road is simple: We want to be one of the top teams in Formula One, which means winning races as soon as possible."
France's Jean Alesi and Brazil's Pedro Diniz are Sauber's drivers this year.
Meanwhile, four-time F1 World Champion Alain Prost's team showed its new Gauloises Prost-Peugeot AP02 in Paris. Designed by Luic Bigois with some added suggestions from John Barnard, the AP02 is lighter, stiffer, has a longer wheelbase and better weight distribution compared to last year's car.
"The real aim is to be able to measure up to the top teams," Prost said, "or at least to those who will be just behind Ferrari and McLaren. We want to be able to fight for points at every Grand Prix."
The Prost team has expanded from 120 people last year to 195 people this year. Its drivers are Olivier Panis of France and Jarno Trulli of Italy.
Humiliation might help Williams: "A little humiliation has done us a lot of good," said team owner Frank Williams. "We've learned a lot. We have a lot of determined people at the factory who worked very hard this winter to make matters right. There is a lot of confidence in what they have produced."
For Team Williams, "a little humiliation" is finishing third in the Formula One Constructors Championship. That may be an achievement for some teams, but Williams failed to win a Grand Prix last year for the first time in a decade, and that's not good enough considering Williams drivers have won seven World Championships and the team has won nine Constructors Championships.
The new car -- the Winfield Williams-Supertec FW21 -- represents a complete revamp.
"The car is totally new," technical director Patrick Head said when the car made its debut in Barcelona, Spain. "We are not used to being uncompetitive, and we didn't like it. When you have a bad year you learn a lot. We went through all aspects of the car."
Said chief designer Gavin Fisher: "Winning had become a bit too easy for us at Williams. Last year was a shock for us and an unacceptable season for us. Everybody has made a large contribution toward this car, and we are very confident that it will be a significant improvement over our season last year."
Compared to the 1998 machine, the 1999 car looks like it's been to the gym. It's leaner, meaner and faster.
"We've concentrated much more on detail, trying to exploit every little bit that the rules allow you," said chief aerodynamicist Geoff Willis. "This car represents one of the biggest changes between cars we've ever made during the time I've been at Williams. We've looked at every single bit of the car, everything has been pushed to the limit, been lightened, made smaller, improved. We've left no stone unturned."
Head elaborated, saying the team has made an effort not only to catch up but to vault ahead: "It has a new gearbox, a new rear suspension and new hubs. The monocoque is not just geometrically different, but the construction of the monocoque is completely different. The front suspension is new. There is not much carryover from last year.
"Even the dashboard and the steering wheel are new. Now we have a lot of logic and information in the steering wheel for the driver. The sidepods are quite a lot smaller and lower than last year. The cooling systems on the car are a lot more compact. The hydraulic systems have been completely redesigned and made more simple."
Williams not only has a new car it also has new drivers. 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve, who won the title with Williams in 1997, left the team after three years to join British American Racing while Heinz-Harald Frentzen signed for Jordan. The new shoes are two-time CART champ Alex Zanardi and Ralf Schumacher, younger brother of Michael Schumacher.
"The team is flat-out," Zanardi said. "It's good to be surrounded by people like that. It gives you the motivation to go out and do your best. Let's just hope it's going to be enough because we know and respect the value of our opponents."