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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
January 20, 2004

Verstappen To Sign Jordan Deal Tomorrow
Dutch ace Jos Verstappen will be announced as a Jordan driver in Formula One on Wednesday, according to hardening reports on the internet.

Authoritative sources are insisting that the Montford-born star, who raced a Minardi in 2003, is at Silverstone today to finally sign the one-year deal.

The experienced Verstappen brings some $10 million in personal sponsorship.

Moreover, Jos 'The Boss' is tentatively scheduled to test a Ford-powered, EJ13 racer at the modified Circuit de Catalunya race-track on Thursday and Friday.

Unknowns Bas Leinders and 21-year-old Timo Glock are also set to join the action in Spain but are not widely thought to be in contention for the other race-seat.

They may line up as part-time Friday practice testers, say expert commentators.

Britons Allan McNish and Ralph Firman, favored by Jordan backer Benson & Hedges, will duke it out for the second race seat with German Nick Heidfeld.

Zsolt's Fans To Save Minardi Drive?
Hungarian racer Zsolt Baumgartner's fans are rushing to his aid following reports that his newly-signed Formula One deal might be in trouble.

This publication reported that the youngster's main backer modified its agreement with Zsolt because they thought he would sign a deal with Jordan.

Mol Rt., the Hungarian oil firm, may therefore be looking for guarantees that are impossible for Baumgartner to satisfy; like finishing every grand prix.

Experts say Mol Rt is trying to cancel their backing of the Hungarian driver by modifying a memorandum beyond reason, rather than simply pulling the funds.

This course of action is more legally justifiable, they say.

The 22-year-old's army of fans mainly in Budapest, however, have set up an appeal and fund whereby donations could secure his back-of-the-grid drive.

Mol Rt.'s package was reportedly worth about $1.5 million.

While Baumgartner's management is 'concerned' about the reports, Faenza-based F1 team Minardi continue to insist that a 'firm contract' is in place for 2004.

Ferrari 655's Front Wing To 'Surprise Everyone'
So you thought the front end of the radically-new FW26 was something special?

Ferrari's team principal Jean Todt has now hinted that the ever-transmuting world of Formula One may not have seen anything yet.

Talking to the press at the annual ski/media briefing in the Dolomites, Todt - a Frenchman - was asked about the soon-to-be-launched new Ferrari F1 car.

Set to be designated Ferrari '655', the racer will be unveiled on January 26.

Todt insisted that the newest scarlet racer should stay a surprise to the assembled few who will witness it's unwrapping in Maranello later this month.

But he offered the following teaser; Ferrari 655, to wear the coveted 'number 1', boasts a front wing section that could 'surprise everyone.'

F1 Teams Threaten European Boycott
Formula One teams have threatened to boycott up to seven grands prix scheduled to be staged on the European continent this season.

Races in Britain, Spain and Belgium may not be attended by the competing outfits following new legislation ordering extradition in the event of a fatal crash.

The new European Arrest Warrants (EAW) legislation has reignited fears that a Senna-esque legal saga would rise again should another F1 driver die in his car.

The aforementioned countries all signed up to the legislation.

FIA president Max Mosley, following a meeting with F1 bosses, wrote to the sporting bodies of the countries raising their 'serious concerns.'

France, Germany and Italy are also likely to sign up by March.

Mosley's letter warns countries who have signed, or are planning to sign, that F1 teams do not intend to race unless the EAW legislation is exempted.

The EAW could be issued by local magistrates to order the arrest and extradition of team personnel following fatal F1 accidents, according to sources.

Scarlet Ship Keeps Sailing With 655
One day, the scarlet ship will stop sailing so smoothly.

Ferrari's F1 boss Jean Todt refers to the 'phenomenon of wear and tear'; or the idea that when aims are achieved, it's a good idea to change what you do.

But that's not the case at the world title-winning Scuderia, he insists.

'We've decided to go on the way we are because we get on well together,' said the Frenchman. 'The day when we burn out will come - but it hasn't yet.'

When Todt arrived at Maranello in 1993, his goal was to stay until 1995.

He added, 'I thought that would be difficult enough. After eleven years, I'm still here. We've made progress at all levels because of the people here.'

So unlike the idea of constant change, Ferrari has opted to leave a winning team alone - Todt, Schumacher, Barrichello, Brawn, Byrne, Martinelli.

There will be a few changes in 2004.

Luca Baldisseri is the new chief race engineer; Mattia Binotti will oversee engines, and Noel Cavey the test engines; Pino D'Agostino has a new role.

'It will be a tough season, a difficult one,' said Todt. 'We're up against the very best in motor racing and the tyre war will be awesome.'

Ferrari's new F1 car, to be designated 655, will be unveiled on the 26th.

Jordan To Test Timo Glock In Spain
Formula Three driver Timo Glock, from Germany, is set to get his first taste of F1 this week when he tests a Ford-powered EJ13 Jordan.

The 21-year-old, who won three races in '03, is scheduled to complete the Silverstone-based team's first of a 4-day session at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Jordan is the only F1 team still with race-vacancies for this season but Glock is more likely to be in contention for the 'third driver' role.

He said, 'It has been my biggest dream to drive in Formula One. I am quite nervous but I'll do my best. I'm sure when I sit in the car I'll be ready.'

F1 chief Eddie Jordan reckons Glock, the Euro-F3 star, is 'probably the most promising' young driving talent in Germany at the moment.

'He's come up through the junior ranks quickly so I'm optimistic that he'll be very significant in the future of German motorsport,' said the Irishman.

Belgian youngster Bas Leinders will test the EJ13 on day-two but Jos Verstappen, Allan McNish, Ralph Firman and Nick Heidfeld are favorites for the race-seats.

Williams Go It Alone At Barcelona
BMW-Williams went it alone on the modified Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona on Monday with two new FW26 cars and Marc Gene on top of the times.

The Spanish driver set a benchmark of 1.15.928 for the new Barcelona circuit after 76 laps as he got his first taste of Grove's 'tusked' 2004 racer.

Gene spoke to the Speed Channel after his first run in the FW26: 'It's very quick, easy to drive. I'm happy. We've not even altered the set-up yet.'

The session began in freezing conditions with Ralf Schumacher working on set-ups and traction-control, and simulated (manual) race-starts.

Test manager Tim Newton said that due to the cold, there was 'greater progress' in the afternoon.

'Ralf ran in chassis two for the first time,' said Newton. 'Marc did some tyre testing for Michelin and Ralf spent the day shaking down the new car.'

Juan Pablo Montoya joins Schumacher on Tuesday, while teenager Nico Rosberg will complete a second test for BMW-Williams on Wednesday and Friday.

Most F1 teams are setting-up at the track for a prolonged session this week.

Toyota May Open Door To Coulthard
Contrary to earlier reports, Toyota may consider opening its Formula One factory doors to McLaren refugee David Coulthard.

Former chief and now 'advisor' to the German-based team, Ove Andersson, said on Saturday that Ralf Schumacher would be the preferred top-rank driver for 2005.

Coulthard, the veteran Scot, will be replaced at Woking-based top-team McLaren by BMW-Williams' Juan Pablo Montoya at the end of this racing season.

'I think Coulthard is one of the best drivers around,' Toyota's new team principal Tsutomu Tomita said at the launch of the new TF104 car.

He added, 'But for now I'd like to focus on this big day for Toyota.'

But neither Ralf nor David will find a new home at Cologne if French incumbent Olivier Panis has anything to do with it.

He's 37, and F1's oldest current driver, but Panis has no plans to retire at the end of 2004 even though a two-year deal would have expired.

'I want to say very clearly that I'm not retiring,' said Panis. 'I've heard the stories about new drivers coming, but I intend to still be here next season.'

Formula One To Get New Feeder Series
Support-category to Formula One, F3000, is to be replaced by a new series.

An agreement has been reached to, in 2005, replace F3000 with the new Formula GP2 series, to become a more realistic 'stepping stone' into grands prix.

Chassis and engine, to produce 600bhp, will be more sophisticated, according to a statement outlining that the formula is supported by Renault.

The chassis will be produced by Dallara, it was announced.

A statement continued, 'Bernie Ecclestone has been helpful ... and said this will be a very good way for drivers, engineers and mechanics into Formula One.'

The FIA will preside over the new series but said on Monday that it is yet to receive any draft proposals for technical or sporting regulations.

'When received, the draft regulations will be considered in the usual way.'

The French-based body also noted that GP2 will have to sign agreements with Ecclestone's FOM company before it could support the grands prix in Europe.

Series organizer Bruno Michel said: 'We will have a car that is going to be as close as possible to Formula One - in terms of engine, chassis and tires.'

He added that GP2 should be a more affordable entry into Formula One.

Has Beauty Abandoned F1 Design?
Formula One cars may not be more beautiful in 2004.

BMW-Williams acknowledged at the launch of their radical-looking FW26 in Spain recently that a tusked-nose does not a handsome racing-car make.

But new chassis-design limitations don't help matters, either.

Chief designer at the Grove-based outfit, Gavin Fisher, explains that the FIA imposed new restrictions in the construction of an F1 racer for 2004.

The larger geometrics of the engine cover, rear wing elements and end-plates, have been driven mostly by commercial factors, he outlined.

Fisher added, 'Whether or not these have contributed favorably to the aesthetics of the cars is for the individual to judge.'

The engine cover and end-plates are considerably larger, and the rear wing now has a maximum of two-elements in response to the FIA's wish to reduce speeds.

'We've spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel to counter-balance any potential performance lost through the revisions,' said a team spokesman.

Webber: What's A Bit Of Tax, Mate?
Mark Webber is just a country boy.

The highly-rated Australian is linked with a high-salaried future at BMW-Williams but he's quite happy to live in his small village near Milton-Keynes.

'I'm contracted to Jaguar until 2005,' he said on Sunday. 'Totally focused on them. But you never know what might happen.'

Even if he gets the hallowed call from Sir Frank, though, this 27-year-old from a farm in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, is not about to go and live in Monaco.

'I'm a country boy,' he said. 'I like the space. What's a bit of tax, mate?'

Jaguar boss Tony Purnell is also impressed with Mark's dedication to his sport and desire to emulate the racing-attitude of Michael Schumacher.

'He's here to work,' he said of Webber. 'He's not here to pose or chase women. Nothing scares him. He's here to be the best race driver in the world.'

Toyota Drivers Happy With Gascoyne
Toyota's F1 drivers are happy about the high-salaried appointment of technical director Mike Gascoyne, poached from Renault late last season.

'I was very happy,' said Brazilian Cristiano da Matta, 'because I knew that's what the team needed. I knew he was the right guy for the place.'

Da Matta said Mike is already operating 'way above' expectations.

'It's really positive,' said the 2003 rookie of the year.

Team-mate and French veteran Olivier Panis insists that Gascoyne, who'll earn $7.1 million in 2004, 'knows exactly what to do' with an F1 car.

'He's so experienced,' said the 37-year-old. 'But he's also very motivational in the way he talks. Already people are smiling more. That's important.'

Gascoyne himself is being long-sighted about Toyota's F1 prospects.

'Our aim is to win the titles but you don't do that by focusing everything on right here, right now. You've got to develop it.'

Jaguar Must Improve Race-Day Pace
Jaguar must improve its race-day performances if it is to one day compete with the likes of Ferrari and BMW-Williams, according to Mark Webber.

The team's top driver was an average third on the Friday one-shot grid last year but reckons his green machine was not as competitive a couple of days later.

'In qualifying we did pretty well and I really enjoyed that part,' said the Australian at the Circuit de Catalunya race-track for pre-season testing.

He added, 'But you have to take that on to the race if you want to score good points and that is going to be as difficult as ever.'

Jaguar outlined direct mid-field foes in BAR, Toyota and Sauber for 2004.

Webber continued: 'They're all likely to be strong so we have to show them some respect and accept that they will be trying to do as good a job as us.'

Sauber Extend Puma Deal
Sauber's F1 pilots will wear custom Puma race-overalls and boots in 2004.

As an extension to the existing contract, it is the first time that F1 drivers will be provided with race-clothing entirely designed and produced by the brand.

'Since the right gear is an important factor in motorsport, I am more than happy to wear their race-wear and footwear on track,' said Giancarlo Fisichella.

The Puma logo will also appear on the head-rest of the C23 racer.

Toyota Wants Points, Podiums
Toyota wants points at every round of the 2004 Formula One world championship.

New principal Tsutomu Tomita also yearns to oversee the Cologne-based outfit's first podium in its third full season of grand prix racing with the TF104.

'I'm sure we will make a big step forward,' said the Japanese.

These ambitions will underline Toyota's 'passion' to be a future Formula One force, Tomita continued.

He added, 'We are determined to make Toyota's third year in F1 the basis of our future.'

Toyota has become known as pitlane's 'big spender,' evidenced in the unprecedented engineer salary of ex-Renault man Mike Gascoyne.

'We want to be racing at the front,' said the Briton. 'Ultimately we want to win so we'll be looking to get the best out of this car and then build on.'

Webber Reckons Klien Will Last Distance
Not for a while has a junior team-mate at F1 team Jaguar lasted a full season.

In 2001, Luciano Burti fell by the wayside after just four races and last season, Antonio Pizzonia and Justin Wilson shared disappointing form in the R4.

But all that's about to change, according to the Milton-Keynes based team - even if Mark Webber's 2004 cohort is an untested F3 ace who's just 20 years old.

'I am very, very confident that he will last the season,' said Webber of Austrian ace Christian Klien who will also drive the Cosworth-powered R5.

But don't expect any help on your quest, Christian, Webber warned.

'I'm not here to pump up his tires,' said Mark.

He added: 'And being quick in testing is one thing, it's when you get to Canada in the rain and you have to get a grip on the car that really counts.'

Webber hopes Klien is there to pick up the pieces on one of his 'bad days.'

He concludes: 'Hopefully he'll be able to score points that I miss out on as we all know the problems we had last season [with the second car].'

Purnell Admits Jaguar Car 'Fault'
Tony Purnell has been forced into admitting the technical 'faults' that looked set to plague Jaguar Racing's all-new Formula One car.

Team spokesman Nav Sidhu yesterday defended Purnell's earlier comments that he knows 'some things are wrong' with the 2004-specification R5.

'Every single car will have areas which are under-developed,' said Sidhu.

But Purnell, team principal, has now come out and confessed that the 'fault' is a carry-over of a problem that also beleaguered the Leaping Cat throughout 2003.

R5 features the same rear tire-wear problem that often meant Mark Webber could qualify very strongly but fell by the wayside in Sunday's grand prix.

'If we can eradicate that problem we will probably be on a par with teams like Renault,' said Purnell on Monday.

He added: 'It's not a simple fix - suspension, vehicle dynamics and traction control all play their part.

'But if we are successful in finding a cure our car will be enormously better.'

Ferrari Still On Search For Young Blood
Ferrari is still on the look-out for younger Formula One drivers.

'We are thinking about what is the future for Ferrari in the coming years,' team chief Jean Todt recently told this publication.

But just last week, the Maranello-based marque announced that 31-year-old Rubens Barrichello had renewed his racing contract for Ferrari for two more years.

35-year-old Michael Schumacher is his number-one team-mate.

So what of Ferrari's strategy of keeping an eye on F1's youngsters?

'We're happy with Rubens,' said Todt, 'but that doesn't mean we've given up looking for younger drivers, and those in other categories.'

But why bother? The scarlet family is, at least in theory, all sewn up until the end of 2006 - an eternity in the scheme of Formula One things.

The answer is that Schumacher, of course, may not intend to see out his new 2006 deal. 'Maybe there will be some unforeseen events,' Todt said with a smile.

'If there are, we will deal with them.'

Fisichella To Test Ferrari: Jean Todt
Roman ace Giancarlo Fisichella is likely to test-drive a Ferrari Formula One car this season, according to Maranello's chief Jean Todt.

Fisichella, 31, has signed to drive for Ferrari-powered Sauber in 2004.

Todt said: 'We have a technical collaboration [with Sauber] and this allows us to use the two drivers in testing.'

But the French principal's interest in Giancarlo, at least for now, stops there.

'My job is not to think about [Felipe] Massa and Fisichella's future,' he said. 'It is down to them and to Peter Sauber, to think about their future.'

How Is Panis Like Michael Schumacher?
How is Olivier Panis just like six-times world champion Michael Schumacher?

'I don't want to stop,' smiled Panis, the Frenchman and oldest pilot in pitlane.

The 37-year-old has heard stories linking potential McLaren and BMW-Williams exiles David Coulthard and Ralf Schumacher to his own Toyota-powered seat.

But Panis feels he can do a good enough job 'to keep my place' for 2005.

'I can understand why there is a sudden interest in Toyota,' said the Lyon-born veteran, 'as [Toyota] are a team going places.

'We are becoming a big power in the sport and I still have a lot of things to prove to myself. I want more victories before I finally retire.'

Panis' only win came in the rain-soaked Monaco Grand Prix of 1996.

'We're now thinking like the big teams, like Ferrari - and I think stability is a key issue,' Olivier concluded. 'I'm sure we'll continue for 2005.'

Toyota: Gascoyne Influence Will Take Time
Toyota will pay new 'technical director chassis' Mike Gascoyne more than $7 million in 2004; but his influence on the TF104 race-car will be minimal.

'I only joined in December,' said the Briton, 'and if I ran around changing everything then it would have been chaos.'

Gascoyne lauded designer Gustav Brunner's job on the new Toyota.

'But we're looking to develop it straight away,' said Mike. 'Some of my changes will take time but hopefully you'll see them sooner rather than later.'

He's being paid more, but Mike Gascoyne insists that unlike his days at McLaren, Sauber, Jordan and - most recently - Renault, the pressure is less.

'I know what I need to do to win,' he said. 'Toyota have big resources and have invested in impressive facilities and now expect to see them bear fruit.'

F1 Yet To Solve Financial Crisis
Formula One is yet to sign a new agreement that was recently touted to have 'saved' the pinnacle of motor sports from an era of financial crisis.

Principal of the Ferrari team, Jean Todt, acknowledged that some of his nine rivals in pitlane, most notable the smaller ones, have money 'problems.'

He said: 'I hope the deal with Bernie Ecclestone, the banks and the constructors can be finalized. This would mean a budget increase for all the teams.'

One such independently-run outfit, Swiss F1 team Sauber, agreed that a memorandum of understanding signed recently is actually 'no agreement' at all.

'There is a letter,' he said. 'It is not a lot.'

Chinese F1 Track Is 70 Percent Complete
China's new Formula One circuit in Shanghai is now 70 percent complete.

Set to host the pinnacle of motor sport for the first time in September this season, the circuit aims to attract 200,000 fans to a 'beautiful' facility.

General manager of the 'sister' Malaysian GP, Ahmad Mustafa, visited the circuit last week and was amazed at the speed and progress of its construction.

The main grandstands are up, as is the pit building beside a glass-walled paddock club, media centre and team offices which are built on water.

'Everything looks on track and ready,' he said of the 5.4km circuit which is scheduled for completion in March ahead of FIA inspections and sanction.

The Shanghai F1 circuit will be inspected for homologation in May.

Webber, Jaguar, Ready To Pounce
Mark Webber would love to become the first Australian since 1980's world champion Alan Jones to see the Formula One podium this season.

The 27-year-old will again be at the controls of the new R5 Jaguar Racing F1 car at the Circuit de Catalunya on Tuesday.

He said in Spain this week: 'I'd love to see my first podium [in 2004], but I wouldn't be totally distraught if it didn't happen.'

Webber outlined 'progression' and 'points' as the main targets for 2004.

And the Leaping Cat has dedicated special attention to poising itself to pounce on the bigger guys who stumble over new engine regulations early this year.

'The new rule means some may struggle for reliability,' said Mark, 'and we have to be ready to capitalize when those opportunities come along.'

Ferrari Assert Faith In Bridgestone
Ferrari has re-asserted its faith in tire supplier Bridgestone.

Team principal Jean Todt reckons the competitive war between his Japanese supplier and French-based Michelin will be 'awesome' in 2004.

However, conventional wisdom puts Michelin, with six top-teams on the books, favorites to secure their first Formula One crown this season.

But don't count Bridgestone out, Todt has warned.

The Frenchman said: 'They're Japanese. They work methodically and with rigour.'

Early pre-season testing times indicate that Michelin-shod teams, like McLaren, BMW-Williams and Renault, are already miles ahead of the game for 2004.

Todt continues: 'The only thing we shouldn't do is panic - there is no reason to. I say it clearly; I am convinced that we will race well [this season].'

The 2004-specification F1 Ferrari will be designated '655'.

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