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By Andrew Maitland
January 6, 2004


BMW-Williams Unveil Radical FW26
BMW-Williams became the first Formula One team to officially unveil its 2004 challenger on Monday when the wraps came off a strikingly-radical FW26.

The car, with a drastic 'tusked' nose-job, was presented at the Valencia track in Spain and then rolled out by drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher.

'I am fascinated to see how all of this works together,' said Ralf, 'and it would be fair to say that my expectations are very high.'

Montoya, of Colombia, said the Oxfordshire-based team would now spend two months in Spain to hone the car in preparation for the first race of the season.

Chief designer Gavin Fisher was immediately pressed on the innovative design of the FW26, particularly in relation to the extraordinary front-end.

The concept is in tandem with a twin-keel monocoque design.

'It has challenged us throughout its development and there is certainly a sense that today is a more significant launch day than in previous years,' he said.

Chief engineer Sam Michael said the new Williams had been launched so early because in 2003, the team suffered by having little time to develop the FW25.

'The reason we are here unveiling the FW26 in order to bring our test programme forward really doesn't need any more explaining,' said the Australian.

Schumacher and Montoya, as well as the entire test team, now fly to nearby Jerez to commence the FW26's first major track session of the winter period.

'Our ambition can be nothing other than winning most races, steal Ferrari's crown and add another Championship title to the record,' said Frank Williams.








Renault Would Welcome More F1 Races
Flavio Briatore believes Formula One should curb the endless cycle of testing.

'I still believe we're doing too much,' said the managing director of Renault.

Last season, Flavio's was one of several teams which opted for the 'Heathrow agreement' - a design to cut down on testing costs for smaller outfits.

In 2004, that opportunity is gone.

Briatore added: 'We proved that efficiency is as important as the sheer number of days you run. Our rate of progress matched the top teams.'

The flamboyant Italian insists that F1's business is racing, not testing.

'Races are what people come to watch,' he adds. 'Personally, I would welcome more races and less testing, but there are other people who think differently.'








BAR Sign Two-Year Deal
F1 team BAR-Honda has signed a two-year deal with British communications firm STL as an official supplier.

STL's services will include data transfer from races back to Brackley, and management of the full telecommunications system at the team factory.

'We are delighted to be consolidating our relationship,' said BAR's head of IT, David France.

Meanwhile, team driver Jenson Button will head an all-star line-up at the Autosport International when he opens the show in Birmingham on Saturday.

'I'll be opening the show the day before I begin testing again,' the 23-year-old driver explained.








Ex-F1 Ace Blamed For Fading Player's Star
Former F1 ace Enrique Bernoldi is being blamed for the fading star of one of tennis' brightest young players.

Jelena Dokic has pulled out of the ASB Classic in Auckland this week citing 'personal reasons.'

Reports insist she has been dumped by her boyfriend of 18 months, the Brazilian Bernoldi, who last drove in Formula One for the now-defunct Arrows in 2002.

Dokic is too heartbroken to play, according to Australian sources.

Bernoldi, 25, had been credited with helping Jelena break away from her domineering father, Damir, from whom she is now estranged.

Dokic fell from four in the world ranking last year to fifteen after a succession of mediocre results.

She's also lost her endorsement deal with the clothing company Fila.








Jordan Diffuse Billionaire-Buyout Claims
British F1 team Jordan-Ford has raced to diffuse rising speculation that it is to be bought-out by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

Team chief Eddie Jordan was spotted in Roman's Chelsea football club director box at a match against Newcastle a couple of months ago.

Since then, the pair have had several 'secret' meetings, according to reports.

'Eddie's interest is in the security of the team and making it as competitive as possible,' said a spokeswoman for the Silverstone-based grand prix team.

She added: 'Other than that, it is positive to see the level of interest in Formula One and in our team. That's a good thing.'

Jordan is the only F1 team with any driver vacancies for 2004, amid conjecture that former world champion Jacques Villeneuve might be lining up a cockpit.

Abramovich, worth $6 billion, may also be hell-bent on wooing six-times world champion Michael Schumacher to one of his F1 seats, speculation persists.








Montoya Not Chasing Money To McLaren
Juan Pablo Montoya has denied claims that he's off to McLaren-Mercedes in 2005 because they can offer him a fatter pay-packet.

The Colombian admitted that he's 'never been happy' with the fact that his BMW-Williams team-mate, Ralf Schumacher, earns more money than him.

'But that's not the reason I'm leaving,' he told reporters at the Valencia launch of a radical new FW26 challenger on Monday.

Juan insists he's not bitter about how Ralf got his good deal.

'It was good timing,' he added. 'I was struggling, not getting what I needed out of the car. Ralf did well to get a better deal.'

Speculation puts his new McLaren salary at around $20 million per season.

'You would be surprised,' the 28-year-old smiled. 'I could have earned more money here. I have got enough money to live with anyway.'

Montoya just wants a new challenge for his fifth season in Formula One.

'It was an emotional decision to leave because I am very close to Frank,' he continues. 'At least I know where I'll be driving for the next five years.'







Williams Target Titles
Not since 1997 have Sir Frank Williams and team cohort Patrick Head raised a glass of champagne in toast of a Formula One world championship triumph.

'It has been the longest period in our history without winning a title,' Head, technical director, admitted at Valencia yesterday as the FW26 was launched.

Head said the innovative, and far from beautiful, 'tusk-nosed' car had been built with the aim of beating Ferrari to the mantle in 2004.

Defecting driver Juan Pablo Montoya, too, is committed to the challenge.

'I still see myself as a BMW-Williams driver,' he said, despite his already-confirmed switch to British rivals McLaren-Mercedes for season 2005.

He added: 'I want to win the title and I don't care if I have to beat Ferrari or McLaren to do so. I am here to win, simple.'








F1 Bosses Downplay Economic 'Crisis'
A couple of Formula One team principals have moved to downplay the scarceness of sponsorship opportunities in a waning economic climate.

In recent months, considerable press has been given to a cash 'crisis' at the pinnacle of motor sports, linked to the failure of back-of-the-grid teams.

Top-team BMW-Williams, however, secured a number of new partnerships in 2003.

'In my opinion, there are always opportunities to exploit, you just have to look for them,' said the team's head Sir Frank Williams at Valencia.

F1 can also now look increasingly to Asia, the Englishman continued.

'A whole new market of potential commercial opportunity is opening up,' said Williams, highlighting new-for-2004 grands prix in Bahrain and China.

Williams insists that F1 has to adapt to changing economic contexts.

He added: 'Our commercial team maintains a flexible approach to new business by ensuring we offer a competitive package for a potential partners' spend.'

Enstone-based Renault has just welcomed a new lucrative sponsor to the team.

'And there will be more sponsors before the start of the season as well,' said managing director Flavio Briatore.

'I think that overall, the environment is very healthy for Formula One.'

The Italian notes that F1 costs a 'lot of money,' and exploring new markets in new countries is 'part of getting a good return on that investment.'








Palmer Buys Brands Hatch Circuits
Four racing circuits in Britain have been bought by a new company led by former Formula One driver Dr Jonathan Palmer.

The tracks, formerly owned by Brands Hatch Circuits, have moved hands so that parent company, US giant Interpublic, can focus exclusively on Silverstone.

Interpublic's Andrew Waller said: 'We believe that our sale to [Jonathan's] company will help to safeguard the future interests of UK motorsport.'

Palmer, also known as manager to former Jaguar star Justin Wilson and a trained medical doctor, said racing and the motorsport business has 'dominated my life.'

MotorSport Vision, his company, has two other partners.

The tracks include Brands Hatch in Kent, Snetterton (Norfolk), Oulton Park (Cheshire) and Cadwell Park (Lincolnshire).

Last year, Sir Jackie Stewart lashed out at media claims that he and fellow world champion Nigel Mansell were eying the beleaguered British circuits.








Ralf And Juan Pleased With FW26 Roll-Out
Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya reported good impressions with their first taste of the radical FW26 challenger at Valencia late Monday.

Montoya, 28, was the first on track, and amassed a total of 14 tours.

'The car doesn't feel a lot different from last year's,' he said, 'which is a very good start and I think we have an excellent potential car.'

The Colombian said he felt comfortable and could push the car from the outset.

New bodywork rules impose less downforce and make the car more difficult under braking, Montoya reported, but despite that, 'everything feels just right.'

The similarly-aged Schumacher, meanwhile, echoed Montoya's sentiments that FW26, despite its innovations, feels 'similar to the old car.'

He added: 'Of course this day doesn't tell us much about the performance - I only completed three laps. It's far too early to make serious comments.'

Tomorrow, Montoya will be joined at Jerez de la Frontera by team tester Marc Gene to start a seven-day maiden test of the BMW-Williams FW26 challenger.

German-born Schumacher joins the action later in the week.








Piquet, Pizzonia, To Get Second Chances
Nelson Piquet Junior will get another shot at the wheel of a BMW-Williams.

At the launch of the radical FW26 in Spain on Monday, team chief Sir Frank Williams admitted that teenager's maiden F1 outing was a 'bit too soon.'

'He was a little bit young,' the Englishman explained.

Piquet, nicknamed 'Nelsinho', is the 18-year-old son of the former Formula One world champion.

Williams said the team would 'call him again' but he didn't know when.

'Probably this year,' said Frank.

Patrick Head, Williams' technical director, confirmed at the Valencia launch that Piquet will get a 'second run in the car.'

Keke Rosberg's teen son, Nico, impressed with his times at the December test.

Head continued of Nelsinho: 'Certainly it was very interesting to operate with him at the test. I'm more than convinced he has a strong Formula One future.'

The technical whiz also confirmed that former test driver Antonio Pizzonia, who bombed at Jaguar last season, may return to a development role in 2004.








FW26: Not A Thing Of Beauty
FW26 will not be the handsomest Formula One racer on the 2004 grid.

The car, to make best use of a new twin-keel chassis design, features an innovative 'tusk' nose aimed at channeling air more efficiently.

'I don't think it's very pretty,' admitted Sir Frank Williams.

Team partner Patrick Head, however - also technical director - rued that Frank's biggest concern will be the 26's reduced bodywork for marketing exposure.

The FW26's nose, as a result of the innovation, is far shorter.

Head added: 'However, having known him for a long time I can assure you that he'll be happy if it's fast.'

Patrick Head also believes the BMW-powered machine is 'not a thing of beauty.'






French GP Is Unlikely: F1 Team Boss
France is unlikely to feature on this season's Formula One calendar.

That's the opinion of team chief Sir Frank Williams, who confirmed at the launch of his FW26 racer that he was 'planning' for a full schedule of 18 grands prix.

'Even though I can't see how France can pay the teams for it,' he said.

Sources predict the cost of an 18th race, not accounted for in the secreted Concorde Agreement, at around the $20 million mark for the French Grand Prix.

The FIA has cautioned that France's race is 'subject to the agreement of the teams and the ... conclusion of a [new] contract with Formula One Management.'

But FFSA president Jacques Regis has already told reporters that the federation 'can't afford to make any supplementary payments' to grand prix outfits.

Sir Frank Williams is a rare foreign recipient of France's Legion d'Honneur in recognition of his Formula One team's former triumphs with Renault.








Montoya Hits Back At Ferrari's Brawn
Juan Pablo Montoya has hit back at Ferrari's Ross Brawn over claims that the Colombian racer will endure a 'difficult season' at BMW-Williams.

Montoya, 28, is already confirmed as a McLaren driver in 2005.

He said at Valencia on Monday that if he were 'standing in Ross Brawn's shoes, I would say exactly that to wind everybody up.'

Juan Pablo claims that he is a 'big threat' to Ferrari and Michael Schumacher.

He added, moving to simplify his joint-employment with Sir Frank and Ron Dennis: 'I want to win races with the team I am with, and right now I'm with Williams.'

Brawn, however, insists that Montoya is stuck in the middle of a McLaren 'strategy' aimed at destabilising British rivals BMW-Williams.








Ralf: Stalled Talks 'Not About Money'
Ralf Schumacher has delayed contract talks with Formula One team BMW-Williams for at least the first three months of the 2004 race season.

The German, in Spain for the track debut of the FW26, said he had instructed a halt on negotiations for a new deal 'because it was lasting too long.'

28-year-old Schumacher's current contract expires later this season.

His manager Willi Weber rejected speculation that the stalled talks related to money by recently explaining a dispute over exposure of personal sponsors.

'I wanted to focus on my driving,' Schumacher added.

Asked where he saw his racing future, Ralf continued: 'Right now, I think Williams.

'But at the end of the day, if we can't find a way to continue together, I'll start looking for another cockpit but that's far down the road.'

He expected the stall to last three months, in order to focus on the 'most important' phase of the 2004 world title, for which he expects to fight for.

'But even if it takes all year I don't mind,' he said of resumed negotiations. 'It's not about the money, the money is not a problem.'








Ralf Gnarls Tusks At F1 Racing Brother
Ralf Schumacher sees a 'tusk-nosed' BMW-Williams car as his best chance of beating Ferrari-driving brother Michael to the Formula One world championship.

'He is still there and he will try to win,' said the 28-year-old in Spain.

'It's pretty obvious. Why should it be different this year? But yes, if you ask me, I think if we were going to win it in any season, this is it.'

Schumacher also commented on team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya's switch to McLaren.

'I like Juan as a person,' he insisted, despite widespread reports of a long-term spat with the similarly-aged Colombian.

He said: 'I understand and respect his decision.'

Ralf noted that Montoya had an opportunity to drive for 'another great team' under 'maybe better conditions and I respect that.'








Williams Still Upbeat About Bahrain
Sir Frank Williams is still upbeat about the 2004 Bahrain Grand Prix.

Recently, the Englishman said he was 'sanguine' in the face of a threat of terrorism in the Middle East issued by the British Foreign Office.

At the launch of a new BMW-powered F1 racer on Monday, Williams added: 'Security one reads about, but I still take an optimistic view.'

He added that WilliamsF1 would 'monitor the situation' closer to April.








Briatore Welcomes Long-Life Engine Rule
Flavio Briatore has welcomed long-life engine regulations to Formula One.

In 2004, each car/driver combination faces the threat of sanction should his single allocated V10 powerplant not make it to Sunday's grand prix grid.

'I think it's a step in the right direction,' said the Italian, managing director at the Enstone-based Renault team.

Briatore said the regulations will 'save money' in the long term.

'Having said that,' he continues, 'meeting the regulations will be a challenge for everyone this year.'

F1 teams will tiptoe a design-compromise in making engines more robust, and able to last about twice the track mileage, against maintaining ultimate performance.

Moreover, Renault has radically altered its engine design architecture.

Back at Enstone, Renault is hard at work on finishing the 2004 car, R24. 'What I can say is we are optimistic about the engine,' Briatore continued.

In '04, the V10 unit will feature a 72-degree, rather than wider, vee-angle.

'And those of us who have seen the new car in the wind tunnel,' said the flamboyant team principal, 'are very excited indeed about the season.'








Barrichello Has Not Signed Deal: President
Ferrari's president has denied reports that Formula One driver Rubens Barrichello has signed a two-year extension to his racing contract.

Luca di Montezemolo said 'as far as I know, he hasn't.'

The Italian added at the American Detroit Motor Show that there was 'nothing new' to add about the status of the Brazilian ace's contract.

As of today, it is due to expire at the close of season 2004.

Just before Christmas, Montezemolo insisted that if Rubens extends his already four-year stay at the Scuderia, 'we will announce it.'

'I have nothing to add to what I said then,' he concluded.

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