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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
January 12, 2004


Panis Expects 'Big Step' From New Toyota
Olivier Panis expects to take a 'big step forward' with Toyota's new F1 car.

The French driver, who lapped 225 times at the Jerez track in Spain last week, eagerly anticipates the launch of the TF104 this Saturday in Germany.

'We worked on the reliability of the hybrid car first,' said Olivier of the three-day session, 'and it was really quite encouraging.'

Panis, the oldest driver at the pinnacle of motor sport, reckons he's 'excited' that the Cologne-based team's new challenger will be ready in a few days.

He added, 'I'm confident that it will be a big step forward.'

2004 team-mate Cristiano da Matta drove just one troubled day at Jerez.

'On a positive note though,' said the Brazilian, 'the finishing touches are going on the 104 which will be unveiled in Cologne next week.'








New McLaren Outshines New Williams: Jerez
Kimi Raikkonen, getting acquainted with his new Formula One racer, outshone the similarly innovative BMW-Williams FW26 as testing continued at Jerez.

The Finn, at the wheel of the MP4-19 McLaren, set a new lap record for the Spanish circuit despite working to overcome a seating discomfort problem.

Raikkonen's new '19' suffered a Mercedes V10 engine failure in the morning.

Meanwhile Ralf Schumacher, also getting used to his new car at the circuit, was third fastest on Sunday ahead of teams including Toyota and BAR-Honda.

Jenson Button and Takuma Sato continued to have their running curbed by the troublesome new Honda powerplant, which has recorded several failures.

'Despite the gearbox problem we encountered,' said Williams' Sam Michael, 'Ralf is happy with the new car but has identified some areas for improvement.'

Tester Marc Gene worked on endurance running with the P84 BMW unit.

Enstone-based team Renault wrapped up its program on Friday with a damper evaluation program, although Jarno Trulli's test ended with engine failure.

Ferrari's final day of Jerez testing was on Saturday.








New Renault Racer Gets A Paint-Job
Renault's first completed 2004 Formula One monocoque, the unlaunched R24, will head to the paint-shop this week to get its new race livery.

It will not be painted at Enstone, but 50 kilometres away.

'It will return two days later,' explains Keith Dunsby, Assistant Composites Manager, who'll oversee the car's delivery to the specialist supplier.

The job will be completed in secrecy, with only the five employees who work directly with the team allowed access to the never-seen car and paint-job.

First job, though, goes to Renault's head of graphics, Jon Woods.

He uses adhesive tape to recreate the car's lines; but his real objective is to make the R24 look unique, stunning - with minimal additional weight.

'By the end of the process, the monocoque shouldn't have gained any more than 500 grams extra,' Keith Dunsby continues.

The paint is then dried in heat, and polished for several hours. The meticulous detail, and beautiful finished product, keeps Dunsby up at nights.

'Some circuits are really harsh,' he smiles. 'It breaks your heart to see all the small stones on the edge of the circuit that chip the paint.'








Ferrari Launch New Racer This Month
Ferrari's predictably striking new F1 car will be launched later this month.

A spokesman for the Maranello-based team confirmed that the event is scheduled to take place on the 26th of January, at the Italian factory.

Accredited press will clap eyes on the yet-designated racer, to be steered by Michael Schumacher, inside Ferrari's Vecchia Meccanica building, at 11am.

Brazilian team-mate Rubens Barrichello will also be present.








Skills Plus Cash Equals '04 Jordan Driver
The only vacancies on the 2004 F1 grid are at Jordan-Ford.

German ace Nick Heidfeld has a provisional contract and Jos Verstappen, who drove a Minardi last season, is nearing the first official deal.

Eddie Jordan's team revealed late last week that the brand-new EJ14 will see light of day on the 4th of February when it tests at Silverstone.

It's 2003-car will hit the tracks again on January 20, in Spain.

But who'll drive the yellow-painted car is still anyone's guess, although skills multiplied by sponsorship cash is the likely formula for the victors.

A spokeswoman said: 'Drivers for the testing dates are yet to be announced, as Eddie Jordan carefully evaluates the shortlist of available drivers.'

She added that the successful applicant, from a list also including Britons Allan McNish and Ralph Firman, will 'best compliment' Jordan's 2004 package.








Flying Finn Flies In New McLaren
The Flying Finn flew during his damp first test in a new McLaren F1 car.

23-year-old Kimi Raikkonen wasn't particularly comfortable in the tight-fit MP4-19 at Jerez de la Frontera, but he praised the racer's stability and potential.

It was Kimi's first test since November, when he had minor wrist surgery to remove a calcium cyst - and he eventually broke the circuit record.

'It was great to be back testing and driving the car for the first time.'

He added, 'It is still early days but the car felt good and I'm looking forward to putting in some more mileage.'

Raikkonen also drove on Saturday and Sunday and explained how most of his time was spent getting used to how the MP4-19 felt on the track.








Kimi And David In Pain After '19' Tests
F1 runner-up Kimi Raikkonen and team-mate David Coulthard are not comfortable behind the wheel of their new McLaren challenger.

The MP4-19's cockpit is narrower and tighter, and the driver more reclined than in the MP4-17D or MP4-18, as designers try to maximize legality regulations.

DC and 23-year-old Kimi both ended recent days at the wheel of the radical-looking car with bruising to their thighs, hips and ribcage.

Team tester Alex Wurz doesn't fit in the car at all.

Reports insist that second development ace Pedro de la Rosa hasn't had a problem inside the tight cockpit of the Adrian Newey penned MP4-19.

'It's a little tighter,' Coulthard, the Scot, admitted recently.

He added that both he and Raikkonen have been using modified MP4-18 seats and he's heading back to the factory in Woking this week to have a new fitting.

'It was a very bad day,' Kimi said late last week. 'I had no problems with visibility but we'll probably have to make a whole new seat for this car.'








Verstappen Edges Nearer Jordan Race Deal
Dutch F1 driver Jos Verstappen has not signed a contract to race for Jordan.

Reports last week indicated that it was a done deal but agent Raymond Vermeulen now insists that negotiations with the team could extend several more weeks.

He mused: 'Late January? Maybe even February. It could all gain momentum, though, in which case it would all be over earlier.'

Verstappen, 31 - Minardi driver last season - carries an impressive swag of sponsorship from a range of companies in the Netherlands.

Vermeulen added: 'We are positive about developments, talks are continuing.'

He explained that the first step is for the sponsors to reach agreement with the Silverstone-based team's principal and owner, Eddie Jordan.

'The team wants a good race-driver,' said Raymond, 'combined with an as attractive as possible financial deal.'

In return, the sponsors want maximum exposure on the EJ14 racer.

But it's not all about stickers on the car, 'but also other facilities like hospitality, entrance tickets for contacts and so on,' Vermeulen explained.

A Jordan spokesman, responding to new rumors that Jos will visit Silverstone this week, said EJ was still looking at the shortlist of available drivers.






Jaguar To Boost Staff, Budget, In 2004
Jaguar Racing, which has run on a shoe-string for the past two F1 seasons, has been given a green light to boost staff with a bigger budget in 2004.

Owned by Ford, the Milton-Keynes based operation has produced its new racer, the R5, on time and on budget, according to chief executive Richard Parry-Jones.

But F1 has to watch itself, or its rising costs will spiral out of control.

Parry-Jones said: 'We are no longer into having an opulent motorhome. There is no money in the budget for that sort of bullshit.'

He said every cent in the Jaguar budget is spent on the car.

'It's not sensible in the long term to try to buy your way to the front of the grid,' Richard maintained.

Most observers agree that the current cost escalation at the pinnacle of motor sport cannot be sustained for many more years.

'We're going to have to find a way of putting on a spectacle without consuming too much of the customers' money,' Parry-Jones told The Times newspaper.

He said, 'If we don't, we are heading for a cliff.'

Aussie ace Mark Webber will drive the R5 at Lommel, in Belgium, for the first time on Monday and will be partnered in the 2004 season by Christian Klien.








Baumgartner To Lose Minardi Seat?
A new opening on this year's Formula One grid may appear before March.

There are reports emerging from Italy that newly-signed Minardi ace Zsolt Baumgartner has struck trouble with one of his million-dollar backers.

Hungarian oil company Mol Rt had pledged $1.5 million in a memorandum of understanding signed last year for the local driver's 2004 F1 campaign.

But it is understood that the brand wanted Zsolt to drive a Jordan.

A spokeswoman for Mol Rt said the agreement with 22-year-old Baumgartner, from Budapest, was valid only 'in specific circumstances.'

She added to Hungarian television, 'This memorandum was not a binding agreement. [We] started negotiations in light of conditions which have now changed.'

Zsolt's manager hopes he wakes up from this new nightmare.

'I've heard the reports,' said Tamas Frank. 'I can only assume this is a misunderstanding and we will be able to sort it out soon.'








Alesi, Blundell, Predict Seventh For Schu
A couple of former rivals to world champion Michael Schumacher are supporting the German's push for a seventh consecutive drivers' crown in 2004.

Frenchman Jean Alesi, now a touring car star, still sees Schu as number one.

'He finished the season so well,' said the 38-year-old. 'If Bridgestone can give him tyres that are a match for the Michelins, I see him winning.'

Former Tyrrell and McLaren driver Mark Blundell, meanwhile, predicted an even tougher fight for Michael's Ferrari team against its foes this season.

'This year's going to be good,' the Briton said at the NEC in Birmingham.

He said: 'McLaren are going to be strong, Williams should be in the thick of things as well.

'But I'm afraid to say it, I think that Michael Schumacher and Ferrari will be knocking on the door of another world championship.'








Button Targets BAR Race Wins In 2004
Ferrari, McLaren, BMW-Williams, Renault; some, or all, may well be within the grasp of Jenson Button in the forthcoming 2004 race season.

That's, at least, what the 24-year-old Briton reckons.

'We're not going to win it this year,' he said at the Autosport International. 'It's very unlikely. But we can get close to that.'

Button says his Brackley-based, Honda-powered BAR team is now ready to take on the big guns of the modern Formula One grid.

'Third in the championship would be mega, and I do think it's possible,' he added. 'We're going to be pushing them, believe it or not.'

And race wins are definitely on the cards, he reckons. 'Winning races is my main aim,' said Button in Birmingham. 'I hope we can do it.'

As ever, the season will be pivotal in Button's career path, with links tying him with a future return to the team he started off with; BMW-Williams.

He added: 'But I've got a contract with BAR for 2005 and 2006 and that is where my focus is at the moment.'








Schu Sets Bad Example For Next Generation
Michael Schumacher sets a bad example for the new generation of F1 drivers.

That's the opinion of his former team-mate and TV pundit Martin Brundle who says the German would 'run everybody off the road' at the first opportunity.

'He did it in F3 in Macau,' said the Briton, 'he did it to me and he has even put his own brother into the wall.'

More notorious incidents include 'Jerez-gate' in 1997, where he was disqualified from the championship, and Adelaide three years earlier, against Damon Hill.

Brundle says: 'I am a massive fan of his but he will cross the line and he should be setting a better example to young drivers.'

Martin referred to incidents as recent as last season, involving 22-year-old Fernando Alonso and his newest track nemesis, Juan Pablo Montoya.

'Sure, race hard,' said Brundle, 'but you have got to have discipline.'

If Schumacher had been around in the 80s, said Brundle, he would have been put in the wall by racers like Keke Rosberg, Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell.

'He would not have been allowed to do it [by them],' said Brundle.








Jaguar R5 Gets First Run On Monday
Jaguar's new R5 challenger will hit the test tracks on Monday.

The car, to be steered in Formula One by Mark Webber, should fire for the first time ever at Ford's 'Lommel' straight-line circuit in Belgium.

R5, powered by a works Ford engine, was completed before Christmas and has now passed the mandatory FIA crash tests and is cleared to run.

The green racer will then be launched on Sunday at Circuit de Catalunya.

'The R5 has passed all crash tests for the season,' team spokesman Nav Sidhu said on Saturday.

Following the Lommel roll-out, the R5 will undergo three days of off-track stress testing before its first proper development runs at Barcelona.

Team managing director David Pitchforth confirmed that the R5 has a traditional front nose section, unlike the radical BMW-Williams FW26's 'tusks'.








BAR Chief Doubts 'Tusk' Innovation
Geoff Willis doubts if BMW-Williams will surge too far ahead of the field this season with the innovative 'tusk-nosed' front wing assembly.

The Briton, currently technical director at BAR-Honda, was chief aerodynamicist at Sir Frank's Oxfordshire-based outfit a few seasons ago.

'We had the idea a few years ago,' said Willis, 'but we didn't think it was worthwhile pursuing it because the merits of such a design were so small.'

Insiders say the concept may increase downforce but at the likely expense of drag and additional weight through new carbon-fiber structures.

Willis said he heard in 2003 that Williams was again toying with the concept.

'Maybe they've found something [else],' he continued, 'because obviously they have state of the art facilities over there.'

Geoff said his own '04-spec 006 will resemble a 'sexy lady'.








Fingers Crossed For Bosses Meeting: Wilson
Justin Wilson hopes F1 bosses opt for fairness over their own interests.

The English racer is holding his breath ahead of a principal's meeting in London this week during which the controversial 'third driver' rule will be discussed.

Wilson, having driven 16 races for Minardi and Jaguar last season, is now too experienced - under the rule - to take up a test role at the latter team.

'I believe that there will be a decision about this soon,' said the 25-year-old, 'otherwise it's a classic case of being overqualified for a job.'

Under European jurisdiction, no such restriction is legal, according to sources.

He added, 'But what can I say? It's frustrating but I can't do anything about it. It could go one way or the other at the moment.'

Wilson says if he is offered a full-time test contract, he'll accept it.

'I want to finish [in F1] what I started,' said the six-foot-three tall ace. 'We've been pushing hard to find an opportunity.'

A source at a respected grand prix publication, however, insisted that there is 'no chance' that the top-four teams will agree to overturn the ruling.









Willis' New F1 Racer Is 'Sexy Lady'
Geoff Willis' new F1 racer is a 'sexy lady'.

That's how the BAR technical director describes the Honda-powered 006's curves and lines, which will be unveiled to the press on the first of February.

'This year our car carries the lines I have always wanted my cars to have,' said Willis, the Briton and former Williams aerodynamicist.

He said, 'It's more curvaceous than last year's.'

Team leader Jenson Button, at the Autosport International in Birmingham, said his technical boss's sexy boasts about the car's curves are 'great' to hear.

He added, 'Normally when cars look good they're very fast. There are a few exceptions, though - like probably the Williams.'

His former team's BMW-powered FW26 is innovative, but the tusk-like front wing assembly is hardly attractive, even from Sir Frank Williams' perspective.

Button wonders if Patrick Head spent a bit of time in Whistler.

'I was skiing last week,' smiled 24-year-old Englishman, 'and I saw that nose quite often on the snowploughs.'








Schu Will Never Drive A McLaren
Michael Schumacher will never drive a McLaren-Mercedes in Formula One.

That's the promise of the German marque's president Juergen Hubbert who says the Ferrari star's mammoth salary is 'not in line with our objectives.'

He told German TV: 'We have no intention to have him in our team because he is too expensive and that would bring nothing more to our corporate image.'

Ferrari, Fiat, Marlboro and Vodafone are rumored to share the burden of 34-year-old Michael Schumacher's reputed $50 million per-year price-tag.








'Tusk' Design Is Three Decades Old: Designer
An American race-car designer has hit out at reports from across the Atlantic that BMW-Williams' new FW26 Formula One car is especially 'innovative.'

The former engineer, Mike Devin, said the FW26's nose and 'tusks' resemble a Brabham he built for Johnny Rutherford to drive in the Indy 500 of 1972.

He said: 'It had real, real high downforce, but also high drag.'

Williams' technical director Patrick Head said the innovation was the result of hundreds of hours in his team's state-of-the-art wind tunnel.

Asked where Devin got the idea, he replied: 'No idea. We dreamed it up.'

It's driver, Rutherford, said the similar design branded 'tusked' by Europeans was known in America, in the Seventies, as the 'Scotch tape dispenser.'

He added: 'It was zoomy-looking. It was new, different. It was also a failure. The big cavern in front of the car gathered all the air.'

Mike Devin concluded that had his Brabham been fitted with a more conventional nose, Rutherford may well have won the Indianapolis championship.








Coulthard Can Win F1 Title: Stewart
David Coulthard must attack the first races of his 2004 campaign knowing that McLaren chief Ron Dennis doesn't really want him in a MP4-19.

The Briton tried to offer rival principal Sir Frank Williams nearly $5 million to off-load 32-year-old Coulthard in return for Juan Pablo Montoya.

Williams refused, leaving DC at the Woking-based team for another year.

But at least the Scot has the support of a famous racing compatriot.

Sir Jackie Stewart told The Sunday Mirror that Coulthard is good enough to go out against Kimi Raikkonen in 2004 and win the drivers' world championship.

The former triple world champion added, 'He's certainly as good as an awful lot of drivers who have won the championship.'

When things are not quite right, Coulthard is not quite as good, says JYS.

'We've seen examples over the years. I'm sure he knows that, as I know that, as we all know that. One-lap qualifying was an issue for him.'

2004 will be David's ninth, and final, season at Mercedes-powered McLaren.








Davidson Eyes Biggest F1 Opportunity
Anthony Davidson could have featured in the running for a pay-drive at cash-strapped teams Jordan and Minardi in 2004.

But he preferred this route; getting noticed by the bigger teams by participating in Friday practice sessions this year - and getting paid for it.

The BAR-Honda tester said at the Autosport show in Birmingham: 'This is going to be one of my biggest opportunities.

'I'll learn a lot without being too much in the limelight.'

Davidson, 23, believes he'll be an even more crucial aspect of the GP weekend in 2004 than Renault's Friday tester of last season, Allan McNish.

'I think I'll be used heavily,' he said. 'I don't think the race drivers will do many laps unless it's a new circuit they need to learn.'

Each racing car/driver combination is, from this season, restricted to the use of a single V10 engine per weekend - but not test drivers.

'I'll miss racing,' the former Minardi ace said, 'but even in a test we can have quite a bit of fun with each other out on the track.'








Alonso Attracts The Big Bucks
Fernando Alonso's pace is already attracting the big bucks.

According to reports in Spain, the local hero is on the verge of signing multi-million sponsorship deals with Telefonica and Gillette.

Telefonica, the communications giant, met with Renault to discuss a $6 million deal, according to newspaper Marca.

And Gillette has already done the deal, reports suggest.








F1 Does Not Come First: Schumacher
Formula One does not come first, according to Michael Schumacher.

The six-times world champion says that with all his objectives satisfied, and all the money in the bank, racing now has to 'fit in' with his family life.

He added: 'I'm very happy to do what I'm doing now. But if it turned into 40 races a season, or I had to test every day, I'd definitely have a problem.

'I'd hang up my gloves.'

Schumacher, 34, says he'll 'never compromise' on putting his wife, Corinna, and two young children ahead of his 200mph day-job.

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