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By Andrew Maitland
January 8, 2004


Renault Join F1's Puma Party
Formula One team Renault has joined the Puma party.

Nearly all of pitlane - including Jaguar, Sauber, Jordan, Minardi, Toyota and Williams - have signed supply deals with the athletic brand in recent seasons.

On Wednesday, Renault announced a multi-year deal with the brand who will supply the Enstone-based ranks with official team-wear and footwear from 2004.

Team managing director and principal Flavio Briatore said Puma's 'young, sporting image' is a 'perfect match' for Renault in Formula One.

'With ties to Italy, England, Spain, Japan and of course France, Renault perfectly typifies the internationalism of Formula One,' added Martin Gansler.

The vice-chairman of Puma AG added that Renault has the 'know-how' to thrive in grand prix racing. 'We consider Renault a great fit for us,' he added.

Renault F1 finished fourth in the 2003 world championship.








First Pre-Season Test Day Of New Year: Jerez
BMW-Williams' radical-looking new Formula One challenger set the pace on Wednesday as pre-season testing got its first miles together in 2004.

At Spain's Jerez race-track, the Grove-based outfit were joined by Ferrari, Renault and Toyota, with McLaren and BAR setting up to kick off on Thursday.

In a promising start for the tusk-nosed FW26, Juan Pablo Montoya - the Colombian - was more than a second faster than the next-best man after 51 laps.

He was Brazil's Ricardo Zonta, testing a hybrid Toyota racer.

'Naturally, we have encountered one or two teething problems, as you would expect with a new car,' said Williams' chief operations engineer Sam Michael.

Tester Franck Montagny and Italian ace Jarno Trulli got Renault's 2004 campaign off to a start in a couple of hybrid R23Bs featuring the new car's gearbox.

Montagny worked on suspension for the R24, while Trulli evaluated brakes, but both cars had elements of the 2004 racer's drive-train.

Meanwhile, Sauber returnee Felipe Massa clocked 59 laps - in a Ferrari. He shared the Jerez track with regular tester Luca Badoer and F2003-GA cars.

The pair had three 2003-specification racers at their disposal.

Massa, 22, and Italian Badoer worked on electronics and were the only Bridgestone-clad runners on track, with times nearly three seconds off the pace.

Olivier Panis' was the slowest Formula One car on track on Wednesday.








All-Smiles At Williams As FW26 Goes Fastest
It was all-smiles on the BMW-Williams gantry on Wednesday as the testing life of a radical new racer got off to the best-possible start.

Juan Pablo Montoya, driving the tusk-nosed FW26, headed a field of eight at Jerez de la Frontera, more than two seconds clear of the nearest Ferrari.

Also significantly, the Colombian was easily clear of his BMW-branded cohort, Spanish tester Marc Gene, who steered a 2003 hybrid-specification FW25B.

The team's chief operations engineer, Sam Michael, an Aussie, said the day's focus centered on the 'initial set-up' of the car with 28-year-old Juan Pablo.

He said: 'We've concentrated on trying a variety of different set ups and collecting initial data from the car.'

The FW26 ground to a halt on a couple of occasions; once with a gearbox gremlin.

'But you expect that with a new car,' said Michael, explaining that Gene worked on Michelin tyre evaluation. 'Juan managed to complete some good mileage.'








Don't Hold A Gun To Frank's Head: Source
Ralf Schumacher would be ill-advised to continue playing hardball with his BMW-Williams bosses over an extension to his racing contract.

That's the advice of a source close to Sir Frank Williams, who notes the stalled talks between the 28-year-old racer and his wheel-chair bound chief.

'Frank detests anyone trying to hold a gun to his head when it comes to negotiating a new contract,' the source told Britain's The Sun tabloid.

Ralf's current deal expires in 2004 and it's believed he's pushing for a $4.5 million pay-increase and two-season extension.

Schumacher said this week that he had called a stop to current negotiations because they were 'lasting too long' and affecting his focus for season '04.

'If we can't find a way to continue together, I'll start looking for another cockpit,' he warned at the launch of a striking FW26 in Spain on Monday.

Other sources report that Frank is keen to drop a few-mill off the German's retainer and woo him up to speed with performance-related bonuses.

The source told The Sun that 'winning a world title' should be incentive enough for Schumacher to pull all the speed out of the bag he needs for the future.

He said Williams 'regrets' being pushed into Ralf's current, lucrative deal because the English chief would rather use the cash to develop his F1 racers.

'We don't have a limitless supply of funds,' said the unnamed contact.






Why Launch The New Williams So Early?: Head
Why launch the visually-radical BMW-Williams so early?

Technical director Patrick Head explains the decision, unlike seasons past, to be the second of ten Formula One teams with its new racer up-and-running.

'We decided to do it because that's what we didn't do last year,' he smiled.

The 2003-specification FW25, with its BMW engine and Michelin tyres, was the car to beat by the final quarter of the previous racing season.

But in Australia, and the ensuing queue of early-year races, it was no-where.

'We thought we'd try something different,' the Englishman told the Speed Channel whilst admitting an early aerodynamic chassis deficiency with '25.

On Wednesday, at FW26's first real test at the Jerez circuit in Spain, Juan Pablo Montoya was more than a second clear of the nearest challenger.

Head continues: 'It's a big encouragement to the guys back in the factory. It's early days and we've had a few problems so far. But we'll see.'

Montoya agrees with his team's approach to getting the FW26 going quickly.

'Winter gives us the time to reflect on our shortcomings,' he said. 'Our intention is to come out fighting at Albert Park, no excuses.'








Montoya Expects Raikkonen As F1 Teammate
McLaren are refusing to confirm their Formula One driving line-up for 2005.

The Woking-based team has already announced that current BMW-Williams star, Juan Pablo Montoya, will steer a Mercedes-powered racer from next season onwards.

But it leaves the identity of his team-mate obvious; and unclear.

24-year-old Finnish racer Kimi Raikkonen, current McLaren partner to David Coulthard, is one of the brightest young talents on the grand prix grid.

But a team spokeswoman said recently that McLaren does not want 'to confirm our complete 2005 driver line-up.'

She added: 'We have an option on a number of drivers.'

Montoya insists he 'doesn't care' if its Kimi or his current Scottish veteran team-mate, Coulthard, in the sister MP4-20 of season 2005.

'I don't know,' the 28-year-old continued as he got the development program of Williams' radical-looking FW26 going in Spain on Wednesday.

'But I'd be surprised if it's David Coulthard and me.'

Juan Pablo, feisty CART champion of 1999, also rejects reports that he'll struggle to fit into Ron Dennis' overly-corporate F1 driver mould.

He said: 'I don't believe that. I'm probably the best driver of that sort they've ever had here at Williams.'









Up To F1 Teams To Cut Costs: FIA President
It's up to the teams to cut costs in a cash-spiraling Formula One.

That's the insistence of the sport's governing body president, Max Mosley, who vows that the FIA will not intervene to solve a problem of rising costs.

'It's up to the bosses to agree on the best way to save money,' he told authoritative British motor racing magazine Autosport.

A memorandum of understanding signed recently by F1's major stakeholders should ensure, at least, that more money goes the way of the struggling independents.

Sources predict that up to $18 million could find its way into the budgets of teams like Minardi and Jordan as early as the start of the European season.

'We hope there is something on the not-too-distant horizon for smaller teams,' said Minardi's owner Paul Stoddart. 'Clearly we are safe for 2004.'







Button To Wait For BAR's World Title
Jenson Button may have to wait for his Formula One world championship.

BAR team principal David Richards admits that the 2004-specification 006, to be launched on the first of February, will not be a Ferrari-beater.

The Honda-powered team will unveil it at Spain's Barcelona race-track.

But while a championship is off the agenda for the new season, significant progress on solid form in 2003 is a must, the Englishman insists.

'We needed to finish fifth last year but this season we want to be mixing it with division one,' said Dave Richards.

He said BAR won't make a 'quantum leap' in 2004.

'But I'd expect one or two of the top teams to drop off the top a bit and we expect to take advantage of that,' the Prodrive chief concluded.

Jenson's drive to an inaugural podium finish came to a halt at the penultimate grand prix of last season, at Indianapolis, with hydraulic and engine failure.








Ferrari To Launch New Car In January?
World champion Formula One team Ferrari are likely to take the wraps off an all-new title-challenger later this month, according to rumor.

Sources in Italy insist that the unconfirmed designation F2004, expected to race from the first GP of 2004, will be launched in the final week of January.

Meanwhile, emerging reports suggest that the Silverstone-built Jordan EJ14 could get a Spanish launch in early February - perhaps Wednesday, the fourth.

The next F1 car to be unveiled will be Sauber's, on Monday in Salzburg.








Bernie Cools Abramovich Assault
Bernie Ecclestone has moved to cool speculation that Russian billionaire and friend Roman Abramovich is planning an assault on Formula One.

Ecclestone, 73, is the sport's group principal and has had several formal and informal meetings with the Moscow-born owner of football club Chelsea.

Widespread reports this week indicated that Roman is ready to spend up to $300 million to snap up Eddie Jordan's embattled Silverstone-based F1 team.

But Bernie insists that at no stage has Abramovich 'shown any interest about coming in [to Formula One].'








Button's London Pad On The Market
Jenson Button's bachelor-bad in Weybridge is on the market for $3.6 million.

The star Formula One driver, who's now engaged to fiancÚ Louise Griffiths, spends most of his time at his dishy apartment in Monte-Carlo.

His colonial-style mansion on the St George's Hill estate, not far from London, is being sold through his local agent Curchods, according to reports.

Button's pad boasts five-bedrooms, an indoor swimming pool and staff quarters.

'The house is lovely,' said the 23-year-old lead driver of British outfit BAR-Honda, 'but it's massive and we hardly go there.'

He added, 'I think I visited it only three times last year.'






Button Plays Down 'Sand Problem' In Bahrain
Jenson Button has dismissed a sand problem for the inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix.

While some muse about terror threats in the Middle East, or a shortage of hotel accommodation, others worry about the desert winds of the region near Manama.

German racer Ralf Schumacher visited the construction site late last year.

He said: '[Sand] could get onto the track and cause problems.'

But Button, the 23-year-old BAR-Honda driver, has also visited Bahrain and insists that it will not 'be as bad as people think.'

He told Formula 1 Magazine: 'There's sand everywhere.'

But he said circuit designer Hermann Tilke has 'worked endlessly' on producing the most effective track surface in the world.

JB added: 'They've shipped in granite from Wales to mix with the asphalt, which they say will create the most sophisticated and durable asphalt in the world.'

Such a surface, however, may only replace one problem with another.

'It will most likely be very hard on the tires,' said Button, 'causing some teams to struggle to make their product last the distance.'








Brawn Needs Help On Ferrari Strategy
Even Formula One's master of strategy, Ross Brawn, needs help.

According to the tabloid publication Bild, Ferrari's technical director has enlisted the mind of Luca Baldisseri to assist in devising team race tactics.

Baldisseri, Michael Schumacher's former race engineer, was promoted in late '02.

'I need somebody assisting me with strategy,' Brawn, the burly Briton, said.

He continued to tell the German magazine: 'The preparation [for a grand prix] with all its parameters has become much more difficult.'








Montoya More Aggressive Than Ralf: Test Ace
Juan Pablo Montoya has a more aggressive driving style than his current Formula One team-mate, according to BMW-Williams' chief tester Marc Gene.

The Spaniard said at the opening test of 2004 in Spain yesterday that he always gets together with Juan and Ralf Schumacher before a grand prix weekend.

'If I discover something very important at a test,' said the 29-year-old, 'I'll ring them up. But usually we get together on Thursday or Friday.'

He might tell them which tires, in his opinion, will be best suited to the grand prix and how they performed on different parts of the circuit.

Gene reckons there isn't a 'great difference' between Montoya and Schumacher.

'Every driver, including myself, aims for neutral handling,' he continued, 'so we always end up with very similar results.

'Perhaps Juan is better [than Ralf] at handling slight oversteer.'

Talking about his role as development driver, Marc singles out tire testing as the most enjoyable part of the job.

'Especially trying soft compounds,' he explains, 'because I can go really fast! I also enjoy research projects - innovations that may never come to fruition.'








You Sure It's Going To Work?: Montoya On FW26
'Are you sure this thing is going to work?'

That's what a shocked Juan Pablo Montoya asked when he was first shown the innovative front-end of BMW-Williams' new Formula One car late last year.

He told sports daily L'Equipe: 'I thought: 'Where is the nose?'

The FW26, with - according to a spokesman - 'tusks', has a shorter, wider nose section that his inspired similar astonishment from seasoned F1 commentators.

Montoya continued: 'At first glance, it's so strange - difficult to believe that the car is really like that!'

'Then, when you look at it in detail, you see that it is a very good solution for the front section.'

The Colombian, 28, predicts that FW26 will be a 'winning car.'

He said last season's FW25 was a 'very difficult' beast to drive, but the new challenger is ready a month earlier and has twice as many tests already planned.

Montoya added that he still has a season to achieve his ultimate goal at BMW-Williams before switching to McLaren ahead of 2005.

'I want to be champion this year before leaving,' he said.








F1 Has Forgotten Benetton, Says Renault Chief
Formula One has forgotten Benetton, according to Flavio Briatore.

With the exception of Ferrari, Williams and McLaren, the aforementioned team was the only one in the last two decades to notch up a drivers' world championship.

In 2000, Benetton was bought-out by French manufacturer Renault.

And the new guise really made a name for itself last season, according to Renault F1's flamboyant Italian managing director.

Briatore said: 'People have forgotten Benetton, or Renault as an engine supplier. We are one team, working harder than before, and working better.'

Michael Schumacher won Benetton's titles in 1994 and 1995.

The team's former Enstone base, in Oxfordshire, combined with the Renault engine plant at Viry-Chattilon (France) to make up the modern Formula One outfit.

'Enstone and Viry are working together better than ever before,' Briatore continued. 'The structures we have now put in place are the right ones.'

Renault, fourth in the 2003 constructors' chase with Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli, is also very strong and 'very motivated,' according to Flavio.

He said: 'We have assembled a group of people who want to win.'

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