Formula one, 2001 season French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours: Away from the track the jpoc report

Another piece in the who drives what puzzle fell into place when Williams announced that Ralf Schumacher had signed up to drive for Frank Williams' team until the end of 2004. That is good news for both parties but it puts a bit of a squeeze on Jenson Button. He was Frank's insurance policy in case Ralf would leave at the end of 2002 and now that will not happen, there must be a question mark over Jenson's future once his loan to Benetton expires.

Unlike many F1 drivers who feel the squeeze, Button is still well thought of and so there was substantial intertest and, of course, rumour over what might be his future should he not drive for Williams in 2003. Jaguar, Prost and Jordan were all rumoured to have the hots for Button. Clearly, Jenson must have something going for him as the interest is still there despite half a season tugging round at the back of the field consistently behind his team mate. Speculation that Button would switch to Jaguar reached such a height that team boss Rahal had to pledge that his current drivers, Irvine and de la Rosa were both secure in their seats for 2002. Barbed support or what? Like McLaren, Jaguar were disturbed by the Newey affair and it looked as though the team was trying to establish at least some stability.

Over at McLaren, Norbert Haug said the he hoped that the team would have the same driver line up in 2002. David Coulthard said that he hoped to continue to drive for the team in 2002. Mika kept quiet. Hmmm, why did Nobby say that when he clearly does not have a full set of signitures? Clearly not to put pressure on Coulthard. It certainly looks as though the team is having to do a job on Mika to get him to drive for another year. It is pretty unlikely that he would switch to another team so perhaps there is something to the speculation that he is not sure if he wants to drive at all in 2002. Panis to partner Coulthard in 2002?

Down at the less glamorous end of the pitlane, Arrows were clearly happy to announce that Jos Verstappen had signed for the team for the 2002 season. Flattered a little by a policy of making more pit stops than normal and starting races with a low fuel load, Jos made some impressive appearances near in the top six and was one of the most exciting drivers to watch in the first half of the season.

Despite Frentzen's earlier assurances about driving for Jordan in 2002, rumours surfaced to the effect that he was considering a drive with the new Toyota squad. That was a blow to the Japanese team's second development driver Alan McNish. Toyota number one, Mika Salo already had a guarantee of a drive in the 2002 season with Toyota so a place for Frentzen would be a place not for McNish. As the rumours gained ground, both Frentzen and Jordan moved to play them down. While Eddie Jordan was firm that the German would drive for him in 2002, Frentzen was merely supportive but making no firm comments.

We also got an answer to the question of who would get Honda engines in 2002. Honda denied all of the rumours and stated that they were going to supply engines to both of their current teams in 2002. That was good news indeed for Jordan and BAR as the uncertainty would certainly have been destabilising. It was also good news for Prost as it removed BAR from the queue of teams interested in the possibility of running the Asiatech engines which were an increasingly likely choice for Prost.

Arrows who had the Asiatech engine in 2001 started to edge closer to signing a deal with Ford for a customer deal with the Coswirth engine for 2002. The advantage of this to Arrows was that the 2001 Cosworth engine should be a better power unit than the 2002 Asiatech unit while for Prost the main attraction would be that the Ferrari engines that they had for 2001 and very expensive and they are not exactly full of money. Alesi's two points finishes in the previous two races will have helped on the budget front as the team would thus receive a larger slice of Ecclestone pie in 2002. Alesi himself made clear that he would like to drive for the team in 2002. Although he had been linked to a move to the US, it was clear from his reaction at the end of recent races that he was enjoying himself in F1 again.

The first piece to fall into place in this part of the jigsaw was the announcement from Asiatech that indeed Arrows would not be getting their engines in 2002.

Another engine issue that surfaced concerned the matter of engine capacity. Finally, the subject of smaller engines to reduce power was raised. The main benefit of this is simple. Less power means that the cars could no longer drag such large wings around. That would cause a drop in cornering speeds and increase braking distances. It would also reduce the dirty air effect which means that a following car often cannot get close enough to overtake. All in all, thie would be a good idea for the sport. But who would stand to make money from all of the disruption?

In a twist not seen since the days of the Moneytron sponsorship of an F1 team, it was announced just before the French race that aspects of the finances of the Minardi team and it's founder Gian Carlo Minardi were under investigation by the Italian tax authorities. GC should look on the bright side. At least he is not being investigated by the Russian tax authorities. They wear balaclavas and carry sub machine guns when they carry out an investigation. Roll on the Moscow GP.

While there has been rather a shortage of engines in F1 of late with one or two teams engaged in a rather worrying scramble each year, it emerged that there was little prospect of a shortage of rubber goods. That was nothing to do with Eddie Irvine's off track activities but the prospect that 2003 would see a three way contest between Goodyear, Michelin and Bridgestone. Most likely, this was down to the emergence of the big car manufacturers as key players in the F1 firmament. After all, if you hope to sell tens of millions of tyres to the likes of Ford, Honda, Toyota etc it cannot hurt to have your top engineers and smoothies rubbing shoulders with their counterparts at the car manufacturers.

The whole 2001 season All the races and the behind the scenes games
GP of France at Magny-Cours July 1st Setting the scene
GP of France at Magny-Cours July 1st Practice and qualifying
GP of France at Magny-Cours July 1st The starting grid
GP of France at Magny-Cours July 1st Race report
GP of France at Magny-Cours July 1st Results
GP of France at Magny-Cours July 1st Championship standings after the race
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