Formula one, the jpoc 2001 season overview
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The year 2001 started as the first year for a very long time that a Ferrari driver would be in with a chance of winning back to back championships for the team. Lauda had come close with wins and 1975 amd 1977 but that was a long time ago.
The main technical developments were a relaxation on the rules concerning electronics and various changes to the aerodynamic regulations. The latter included raising of the front wing restrictions on the diffuser at the back of the car. These were aimed at reducing downforce in expectation of higher levels of adhesion from the tyres and this in turn was a consequence of the entry of a second tyre manufacturer. The French organisation had signed contracts to supply tyres to a range of teams. The only one of note being Williams. Front runners McLaren and Ferrari were to continue with Bridgestone rubber.
The electronics changes were the reallowing of traction control, launch control and automatic gear changing. These systems were not to be allowed from the start of the season but only from the fifth race on. The reason that the systems were being allowed back into the cars was simply that the FIA accepted that it was not possible to prevent teams from cheating by installing such systems covertly. There have been many rumours of teams using traction contol systems and the FIA, having failed to work out how to police the rules, decided to rescind them.
One other change to the cars was an increase in the side impact crash protection for drivers. This led to the general appearance of larger side pods.
There was plenty of interest in most other areas of F1.
Williams started the year holding contracts on three well regarded drivers. Ralf Schumacher, still looking for his first win had a firm contract to drive for the team. The team also had a long term contract with higly rated newcomer Jenson Button. However, they also had a long term contract with the Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya. Williams had farmed him out to Chip Ganassi's CART team in the US and they faced the prospect that if they did not bring Montoya back for the 2001 season, their option might expire and he could take another F1 drive. So, Button was passed on a loan deal to Benetton where he would partner Fisichella. The latters team mate from 2000, Alex Wurtz joined the trend for drivers hitting a career glitch to sign up for a test deal in the hope of securing a full time drive later. That worked well for Panis who replaced Zonta at BAR after a year as McLaren's test driver. McLaren boss Ron Dennis was reported to have been so impressed with the Frenchman's services as a tester that he offered to beat any salary offer from another team for a race drive. Arrows driver Pedro De la Rosa was dropped at short notice for bernoldi and, after a brief tryst with Prost, he ended up with a test drive at Jaguar and a firm contract for a race drive in 2002. Jaguars 2000 test driver Luciano Burti was given a race drive in place of Johnny Herbert.
Prost meanwhile kept his old mate Jean Alesi as number one driver alongisde the sponsor mandated Gaston Mazzacane. Minardi brought back Tarso Marques alongside Fernando Alonso and the inexperienced Kimi Raikkonen joined Prost refugee Nick Heidfeld. Raikkonen, who only had 23 car races under his belt was made to pass a driving test and then given a provisional licence to allow him four races to prove himself as safe on an F1 track.
On the team front, Prost went through a bad winter and looked to be in some peril. Eventually, Pedro Diniz joined the team in an investor-manager role and pressure from F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone resulted in the French team securing a supply of Ferrari customer engines. These were bankrolled and badged by Acer the Asian computer manufacturer.
Prost's former engine supplier Peugeot withdrew amidst a lot of acrimony and in a technology transfer deal, their project became an AMT engine and it found it's way into the Arrows.
Prost's role as a user of Ferrari engines and Michelin rubber gave rise to concern that they might give Ferrari feedback on the progress of their tyres so that the Italian team could make a switch at the optimum moment.
There was one new entrant into the championship though they had no intention of actually turning up at the races! There is a limit to the number of teams that are allowed to compete in F1 and, fearing that the final vacant spot would be taken by another, Toyota bought up slot twelve, paid the entry fee and then paid the fine for not racing. Their intention being to race from 2002.
The year was also the last for the Benetton team. They have been bought by Renault and from 2002, the cars will be entered as Renaults. The French outfil promised a new engine but said that the team might still run the previous years Supertec motor if the new one was not ready.
Away from the track, the row over the commercial future of the sport runbled on but everyone seemed to expect that Bernie Ecclestone would pull a solution out of the bag when it suited him.