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By Andrew Maitland
January 14, 2004


Sauber Doubts Future Of French GP
F1 boss Peter Sauber has cast further doubt on the running of the French GP.

The German-speaking Swiss insisted at the launch of a 'pragmatic' new Formula One racer in Austria on Monday that he prefers seventeen races per season.

F1's provisional calendar for the 2004 season includes eighteen grands prix, although Magny-Cours' July date is provisional pending a new FOM contract.

Furthermore, all ten F1 teams must agree to travel to an unprecedented, and uncontracted, eighteenth stop; which will require monetary persuasion.

'Eighteen races is too much for the teams,' Sauber continued.

He did say, however, that if his nine colleagues in Wednesday's meeting of team principals in London prefer an eighteenth race, 'then we go in this direction.'

Sauber concluded, 'And then we take the money, of course.'

Sources put the extra-race compensation, ostensibly to be provided by the organizers of the 2004 French Grand Prix, at some $2 million per team.

But French motorsport president Jacques Regis has already ruled out supplement payments to the million-dollar backed Formula One teams.








First Renault Chassis Is Ready
Renault's new R24 racer will burst into life next Tuesday.

The Enstone-based F1 team, fourth in the '03 championship, has completed the first 2004-spec chassis which will now be shipped out to the Barcelona track.

It's all-new RS24 engine, with a 'more conventional' vee-angle, was also fired up for the first time 'without any problems', according to a statement.

'We completed the build of R24-01 late yesterday afternoon, and fired up the engine as well,' confirmed technical director Bob Bell.

He said the 'birth' went very smoothly and R24-01 will now be sent to Circuit de Catalunya so the team can start confirming its performance potential on track.

R24 is due to run for the first time next week, 20 January, in the hands of driver Jarno Trulli, according to a spokesman at Enstone, United Kingdom.

Team-mate Fernando Alonso will get his first chance later in the week.

On Wednesday, assembly of chassis-02 will begin at the factory.








Big Test Comes To Close At Jerez
Ralf Schumacher ended a seven-day test session at the Jerez de la Frontera circuit on Tuesday in the best possible way; by going fastest.

The German was again steering the all-new, BMW-powered, FW26 motor-car, his 61 laps beating Britain's Jenson Button to the line by half a second.

'We tested a lot of different types of tires, which were all very interesting,' said Button, 'and I think some of them look very good.'

The pair's Williams and BAR-Honda cars shared the initially foggy and later artificially-dampened circuit with Toyota's Ryan Briscoe.

Williams' tester Marc Gene, in the two-year-old chassis FW24 (season 2002), also participated in Michelin's wet tire development session.

'Over the course of the seven days, all three drivers have collated some valuable data and recorded some impressive mileage,' said engineer Sam Michael.

The next big test takes place in Barcelona, next week.

'We had some very foggy mornings,' was how Aussie tester Ryan Briscoe summed up his three days, and 1300 kilometres, in the Toyota TF103 and TF103B.

'Tires will be so influential next year again,' he continued, 'but we also did a lot of work on electronics like traction control and gearshifts.'








BAR Test Halted By Detonating Hondas
F1 team BAR had to call a halt on progress with its 2004 'concept car' this week after a spate of failures with the all-new Honda V10 powerplant.

The Brackley-based outfit rolled out a second black and silver car for the Jerez test and all three drivers; Takuma Sato, Jenson Button and tester Ant Davidson.

On day one, Anthony, a Briton, experienced engine problems and managed only 24 laps, and a day later, a similar gremlin crept up albeit on route to 94 tours.

Sunday dawned and Japanese race ace Sato completed just one of the planned 17-lap runs for tire testing before his Honda V10 exploded in a cloud of smoke.

He insisted, 'Even though we had some problems, we made some good progress.'

Davidson takes heart in the fact that a year ago, the Bridgestone-shod BAR was a full second behind the Ferraris at Jerez.

'Now we're setting similar times,' said Ant, now running on Michelins.

Technical director Geoff Willis insists that Honda has now identified the cause of the problem which kept detonating the Jerez-spec V10 engines.

'Otherwise the cars have run faultlessly,' he added.

Engineering director for Honda, Shuhei Nakamoto, confessed that the test was cut short because of V10 problems. 'It's a shame,' said the Japanese.

'But we're looking forward to making up the time lost in Barcelona.'








Verstappen, Heidfeld, Eye Last F1 Seats
Jordan has revealed Jos Verstappen and Nick Heidfeld at the top of the shortlist for the two remaining vacancies on this year's Formula One grid.

A spokeswoman rejected speculation that there are plans to unveil the line-up this week 'but you never know and that may change,' she admitted.

Silverstone-based Jordan, eyeing a minimal $85 million budget for 2004, is courting drivers who can maximize sponsorship dollars to the team.

The yellow ranks will announce at least one driver by 20 January, for their first day of testing this season at the Circuit de Catalunya, in Spain.

'It may not be the same driver that races for us, but it could be,' the spokeswoman continued, denying that 'any driver' was a number one choice.

She added, 'There are a couple of drivers we've been talking to more recently.'

Spokeswoman Helen Temple confirmed the factory visit of Jos Verstappen on Monday and said his discussions with Eddie Jordan would continue in the coming days.

'We're also talking very closely with Nick Heidfeld,' she concluded.







Sons Of Champs To Test F1 Cars Again
Two teenage sons of former Formula One world champions, Nelson Piquet Junior and Nico Rosberg, are scheduled to test again for BMW-Williams in the near future.

Both sessions will take place at Spain's Circuit de Catalunya, with Nico Rosberg - the German-born Finn - to undertake his duties on 21 and 23 January.

Nico is the son of former Williams champion Keke Rosberg (1982).

Meanwhile Nelson Piquet, better known to his British F3 rivals and countrymen as 'Nelsinho', will drive on the 3rd and 5th of February at Barcelona.

His Dad is the triple world champion of the same name, who bowed out of competitive action in 1992 when he was seriously injured at Indianapolis.

They'll both, Nico and Nelson, take the controls of the modified FW25A.

Rosberg was widely lauded after his maiden test in December but Sir Frank Williams thinks the son of Piquet is still 'a bit too young' for Formula One.








New Williams Is 'Lot Of Fun': Ralf
Driving the innovative new Formula One car is a 'lot of fun,' according to BMW-Williams' lead pilot Ralf Schumacher.

The 28-year-old got plenty of miles under his belt at Jerez.

'I only got 3 laps at the launch,' he said.

'I'm not going to speak in superlatives but everything is very promising so far. It was really great to get a proper run.'

Ralf reckons a good driver can tell right away if a car is good or not.

'Jerez showed that the car behaves very well,' the German continued. 'I was pleased to set the new lap record and was even about to improve on it.'

He explained that a technical problem forced him to the side of the track and only then did Kimi Raikkonen, in the new McLaren, set an even better time.

Team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya was slightly less fervent about the car which features, at the front, a radical nose treatment resembling elephant 'tusks.'

'The effort everybody's put in is fantastic,' said the Colombian.

He said FW26 has a 'lot of potential' although it's still early days.

'We will now have to wait and see what the others come up with.'








Minardi Dismiss Baumgartner Glitch
Back-of-the-grid F1 team Minardi has played down fears that newly-signed driver Zsolt Baumgartner may not actually make the Melbourne GP grid.

Hungarian television claimed that his main sponsor, oil firm Mol Rt, was trying to pull out of the deal because Zsolt had signed for Minardi, not Jordan.

A spokesman for the Faenza-based team, however, said there was a firm contract in place between the 22-year-old and Minardi.

'If not,' he said, 'we wouldn't have announced him as one of our race drivers.'

Choosing to say little more, however, the Minardi man claimed that F1 teams generally 'don't make comment on commercial issues.'

He added, 'That goes for drivers, sponsors or technical partners too.'

Minardi, run by Australian entrepreneur Paul Stoddart, nonetheless said it would now watch developments on the Baumgartner/Mol Rt agreement 'closely.'

Zsolt would drive the sister PS04 alongside Roman Gianmaria Bruni.








Jordan 'Flattered' By Sell-Out Claims
Even reports of a multi-million dollar buy-out deal won't distract Jordan Grand Prix from producing the best possible Formula One car ahead of season '04.

Head of design at the Silverstone-based team, John McQuilliam, told ITV that rumors linking Roman Abramovich with Jordan are actually 'very flattering.'

According to speculation, the Russian billionaire is prepared to offer the Irish entrepreneur, Eddie Jordan, some $270m for his Ford-powered team.

'There have been a few rumors in the press recently about people wanting to buy the team,' McQuilliam confessed.

'Well, the interest is very flatting but we know the real situation.'

And, similarly, there's no need for the mechanics and other personnel to worry about a potential change of ownership, the chief designer maintained.

'Our work in the [EJ14] car is very exciting,' John concluded.








Massa Lauds Schumacher
Who is Felipe Massa's idol? Easy - world champion Michael Schumacher.

The young Brazilian, Massa, tested scarlet cars for the six-times title winner last season but in 2004 will again go head-to-head with him as Sauber racer.

Felipe, 22, described his year at Ferrari as his year at University.

'Working with Michael was great for me,' said the Paulista. 'I was at most of the races and in most of the meetings and I think it was very important for me.'

Massa did 15,000 kilometres in the F2002 and F2003-GA racers in 2003.

'I have to say it was a great experience,' he continued. 'And in Formula One, experience is very important.'

Felipe was lauded for his speed but reprimanded for his errors when he first took to the grand prix grid at the Sauber-Petronas team two years ago.

He admitted, 'You do learn from mistakes and I think I have learned a lot because last year I made very few mistakes, just spun a few times.'

And Massa reveled in Schumacher's experience: 'He's won six championships, been in F1 for 14 years. It was great. He's a great driver.'

The Brazilian said Michael is 'very technical' and 'very concentrated.'

'He is strong in good or bad situations,' said the youngster.








Gene Amazed At F1's Rate Of Progress
Marc Gene has marveled at the rate of development in Formula One, particularly at his team BMW and Williams, in the past two seasons of racing and testing.

The Spanish driver, who develops cars for the Grove-based outfit, was asked to do Michelin tire testing in a two-year-old FW24 (2002) chassis on Tuesday.

'The FW24 was just so slow,' Gene told the Speed Channel at Jerez.

He added, 'Obviously, the car has less downforce, but I felt the difference in the engine most of all. There's been an amazing improvement in two years.'

Asked why the Catalan Rocket was in the old car, Williams' chief operations engineer said the team simply had some engines and parts left over.

'So we wanted to use it for the wet test,' added Sam Michael.







Long-Life Engine Will Weigh Less: Sauber
For the first time in a eight-year collaboration, Sauber will be powered by the same-spec Formula One engines as Scuderia Ferrari in 2004.

Team sponsor Petronas has commissioned the preparation of about 35 new V10 engines at Maranello during the course of the looming F1 season.

Usually, the Petronas-branded units, at a cost of around $30 million to Peter Sauber, were based on prior-year works Ferrari units.

The reason for the changed strategy is that due to new regulations, the '03-spec Ferrari V10 would not have lasted the whole race weekend of some 700 kilometres.

'We are delighted to be able to continue our extremely successful cooperation with Ferrari,' said Osamu Goto, head of 'powertrain' at Sauber.

'It's great that we will have the same model engines,' he added.

Unlike BMW, meanwhile, Goto confirms that the long-life engine regulations won't actually add any overall weight to Ferrari's new 2004-spec powerplant.

'Mileage has been increased significantly,' he said, 'but even because of this, another major weight reduction has been achieved.'








Peter Points Finger At Ron, Frank
An F1 team boss has pointed the finger at top British principals Ron Dennis (McLaren) and Sir Frank Williams for pushing on a controversial new rule.

The FIA stance dictates that drivers including Justin Wilson, Allan McNish and Nick Heidfeld are too qualified to test a bottom-six team car in 2004.

Under another new regulation, bottom-six Formula One teams can field an extra car and driver in the official practice sessions of 2004.

Sauber hints that only 'one or two teams' are against unanimously overturning the rule when all F1 principals meet in London on Wednesday.

'I think it's Ron or Frank or both,' said the Swiss. 'But normally you can speak with Ron and Frank.'








Now Ferrari Might Grow Tusks
Now Ferrari might grow Williams' tusks.

A spokesperson for the Maranello-based outfit told The News Of The World newspaper that Ferrari would 'review' the innovative design this winter.

He added, 'We investigated a similar concept a few years ago and at that time it didn't seem to offer anything to us.

'But now perhaps it is something we should look at again.'

Williams' design centers around the pioneering 'twin-keel' monocoque/suspension design; Ferrari are still building racers with a more conventional single-keel.

Renault will also look at the front-nose design in the wind tunnel.

'And other teams will be trying it as well, I'm sure,' said the team's executive director of engineering Pat Symonds.








Schu Is Not Rookie's 'Cup Of Tea'
Michael Schumacher is not Formula One rookie Christian Klien's 'cup of tea.'

The Austrian debutant, who'll partner Mark Webber in the 2004-spec R5 Jaguar, reckons F1's pacesetter is 'too stiff and arrogant' for his liking.

Klien, who brings $4.5 million to the grid in Red Bull sponsorship, branded Schumacher's racing style 'aggressive' and often 'offensive' to onlookers.

The 20-year-old, who is yet to race in a grand prix and finished runner-up to Ryan Briscoe in the '03 F3 Euroseries, made the comments on Austrian television.

F1 pundit Martin Brundle also reprimanded the 34-year-old Ferrari driver.

'Michael sets a bad example as far as I am concerned as he will run everybody off the road at the first opportunity,' said Schumacher's old team-mate.








Dropping Dollar Attacks F1 Grid
The diminishing value of the United States dollar is having a dramatic impact on the pinnacle of motor sport, according to numerous sources.

Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo said his company is suffering because it's making 25 percent less for the sports cars it sells in the States.

And the scarlet marque's budget for the grand prix circuit, estimated at $250 million, comes mainly from Marlboro and Vodafone, who pay Ferrari in US dollars.

Jaguar, funded by American car giant Ford, is also suffering.

A source close the British-based team told The Sun newspaper that 'any big currency fluctuation' directly affects spending power.

Sauber's $100m budget is made up mostly, about 70 percent, in US dollars.

'So it's clearly a problem,' said the Swiss-German in Austria on Monday.

David Richards, meanwhile - principal of the Brackley-based BAR-Honda squad - is thanking his lucky stars for a change of heart sometime during last season.

'I decided to switch our contracts from dollars to sterling,' said the Briton.

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