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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
January 29, 2004

Lap Records Tumble At Valencia
The lap record tumbled, and then tumbled again as no less than fifteen runners and every Formula One team except McLaren tested at sunny Valencia on Wednesday.

Juan Pablo Montoya, in a new FW26 Williams, beat David Coulthard's old mantle by a few tenths of a second - but so did Ferrari champion Michael Schumacher.

The German was driving an 'old' F2003-GA but he sought to contradict speculation that the 2004 tyre-war with Michelin is already a foregone conclusion.

'[Juan] found two good compounds with Michelin,' said Sam Michael, BMW-Williams' 31-year-old chief operations engineer.

Michael's brother Ralf was next-best, in another new BMW-powered car.

Sauber endured an unlucky day with the new look-alike-Ferrari C23 contender as a gearbox gremlin restricted Felipe Massa's running to just over fifty-laps.

Meanwhile, Jenson Button continued to impress the pace in the all-black BAR-005 'concept' car but his progress was hampered a bit when a gearbox broke.

Team-mate Takuma Sato exited the action when his Honda-powerplant erupted.

And F3000 champion Bjorn Wirdheim appeared in a 2003-spec Jaguar R4 and amassed more laps than any other runner to go faster than Mark Webber in the new 'Cat.

Pizzonia Returns To Williams Car
Antonio Pizzonia only confirmed widespread speculation on Wednesday by appearing in the BMW-Williams test-garage at Valencia in a Formula One driving-suit.

The Brazilian, who was dumped by Jaguar Racing mid-last season, is about to re-join the Grove-based team as second full-time tester beside Spaniard Marc Gene.

Pizzonia filled the development role at Williams in 2002 but this deal is not the continuation of his former long-term agreement, according to F1 sources.

It is understood that 'Jungle-Boy' has signed a new one-year contract to light the path for a possible return to the grand prix racing-grid in 2005 or 2006.

BMW-Williams are on the look-out for a replacement for defecting lead-driver Juan Pablo Montoya as the Colombian eyes a switch to McLaren next season.

Blue skies greeted Antonio's return to the driving-wheel on Wednesday as the youngster got going at the controls of a season-old FW25A with a 2003-engine.

He was only a half-second off the pace of regular team-driver Ralf Schumacher over an 83-lap programme as Pizzonia worked on electronics and tyre set-ups.

'Antonio Pizzonia re-joined us today,' chief operations engineer Sam Michael confirmed, adding that the 23-year-old will also drive in Spain on Thursday.

Baumgartner Endures Trying Minardi Debut
If his first day at the office was any indication of things to come, Zsolt Baumgartner is all-set to endure a trying season with Italian F1 team Minardi.

The Hungarian, whose financed-seat has already been shaken by an errant sponsor, completed just 4-laps in the plain-black PS04 chassis at Valencia on Wednesday.

'I was not lucky today,' said the youngster who raced twice for Jordan in 2003.

He added, 'I was really looking forward to driving an F1 car again - but what I can say is that I'm feeling pretty comfortable in the Minardi cockpit.'

Minardi started-off their sunny day in Spain with team-mate Gimmi Bruni in the sole interim-car as the Roman completed a programme of new-component evaluation.

Team sources report that 23-year-old Baumgartner's debut was halted by a gearbox-problem combined with a number of red-flag incidents on the busy-track.

'The programme will continue [Thursday],' a spokesman confirmed, 'with Baumgartner scheduled to be behind the wheel throughout the day.'

Senior engineer Andy Tilley said the team has solved the technical problem.

'I need to familiarise myself with the car and get into the Formula One-rhythm again,' the grounded and disappointed Baumgartner concluded track-side.

Coulthard Vows To Get 'Proactive'
After no less than nine full seasons in Formula One, David Coulthard has admitted to still fine-tuning his craft ahead of a new championship-assault.

The Scot is likely to bow-out of top-team McLaren-Mercedes at the end of this season but he intends to impress alternate employers by getting 'proactive.'

He told Autosport: 'I plan to do that rather than just going through the test programme and turning up at the grands prix hoping it will be okay.'

Coulthard insists there are some aspects of being part of the 600-staff Formula One operation that only the grand prix driver can personally develop.

'As a driver,' he told the magazine, 'you're on your own in the car. So I will be using those areas within McLaren that can help develop my technique.'

The 32-year-old struggled particularly to match the pace of Mercedes-powered hotshoe team-mate Kimi Raikkonen during single-lap qualifying last season.

Coulthard, born in Twynholm, added: 'It is just a case of doing my homework and learning from the mistakes of previous races.'

Sources earmark Jaguar and Toyota as potential new-teams for the GP-veteran.

No Cash, Pace, Leaves Firman In Dark
A lack of money and a lack of pace on Saturday-afternoons has left 2003-rookie Ralph Firman in the dark by Formula One team Jordan.

The Norfolk-born speedster admitted yesterday that the yellow-clad team has yet to take up their contract-option on him because he doesn't have a major sponsor.

'And they also criticised my one-lap qualifying at times last year,' he added.

But Firman's hopes of retaining the Ford-powered drive took a turn for the better earlier this week when talks with Dutchman Jos Verstappen broke down.

He admits that Jordan won't look back on 2003 with any satisfaction.

'They acknowledge it as being their worst-ever year and I drove their second-car in their worst-ever year in my first-ever year in F1,' said Firman.

But Ralph, son of Van Diemen founder Firman Senior, knows that if he steps into the EJ14 he'll go to Melbourne with a 'foundation of experience' behind him.

And with 'absolute confidence' that Jordan will take a step forward.

Firman also admits to frustration that colourful team chief Eddie Jordan has not taken up the 'option' on his services for the 2004 racing-season.

'But I respect the fact that [he] has to examine all options and find the best combination of drivers and financial support to go racing in the best way.'

Jaguar's 'Pang' Of F1-Jealousy
Jaguar Racing boss Tony Purnell often feels a pang of jealousy when he reads about other Formula One teams' superior multi-million dollar annual-budgets.

'I find myself thinking, 'If only',' he smilingly told ESPN.

According to F1-insiders, the Leaping Cat's budget, proffered mainly by owners the Ford Motor Company, hovers at around the $170 million per-season mark.

That compares to other manufacturer-backed rivals' budgets, such as Toyota and Ferrari, similarly operating two F1-cars on the GP-tracks for upward of $300m.

But Purnell says Jaguar spends its modest budget wisely.

'We are now delivering a terrific amount of effectiveness,' he said. 'I'm proud of how every single dollar is spent in the most efficient manner.'

It's hard, though, to keep your eye on the bottom-line when rival teams for the head of the mid-field - such as BAR and Toyota - splash their liberal millions.

Purnell said: 'We've tried hard to get a mindset of, 'Don't look at the other guys, just look at yourself.' 'Being jealous never gets anybody anywhere.'

Jaguar, meanwhile, admit that their new R5 racer has problems; but also confess that, unlike Ferrari, it can't simply haemorrhage money to fix it quickly.

'But it is also dangerous,' said Purnell, 'so I have no real complaint.'

Renault Can Claim 2004 Titles: Briatore
Renault can mix-it with Ferrari, BMW-Williams and McLaren.

That's the claim of managing director Flavio Briatore who reckons his improving Formula One team can duke-it-out for this season's world championship titles.

The joint Enstone and Viry-based team is shaping-up to launch the innovative and sleek-looking new R24 challenger in Palermo, Sicily, later on Thursday.

'We will be challenging for the title along with Ferrari, Williams and McLaren,' Italian-born Briatore claimed prior to the unveiling ceremony.

Some of that conviction is inspired by the four round-black things that are sticking drivers Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso so well to the F1 test-tracks.

'We are continuing with Michelin,' said the flamboyant principal, 'Ferrari are sticking with Bridgestone. We will see in the end who made the right choice.'

Renault finished fourth, behind the aforementioned 'top three' Formula One outfits, in last year's constructors' chase.

Meanwhile, newspaper El Pais is reporting that Renault will benefit in 2004 from over nine million dollars in new-sponsorship from Spanish giant Telefonica.

According to the report, Briatore successfully persuaded the communications giant to expand their interest beyond a speculated personal-deal with Alonso.

Champ Car Remains F1's Road-Racing Rival
US-based open-wheeler series Champ Car will remain F1's trans-Atlantic rival in 2004 after a bankruptcy court awarded the assets to a group of competing teams.

CART's own series-rival, the oval-based Indy Racing League, also made a bid for the embattled Champ Car assets which would have ceased the road-racing category.

Judge Frank Otte ruled that the aforementioned group of CART team owners - named 'Open Wheel Racing Series - won despite the competitive $13.5m bid by the IRL.

IRL chief Tony George, also president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said his series' failed bid was aimed at 'unifying' American open-wheel racing.

From Foe To F1-Friends: Schu And DC
Michael Schumacher doesn't often throw praise to his Formula One rivals.

Almost six-years ago, the German and his Scottish competitor David Coulthard clashed at the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix - and Schu wanted to knock his block off.

Schumacher, having careered into DC's silver McLaren, stormed into the now-32-year-old's pit-garage and allegedly screamed 'You tried to f***ing kill me!'

More recently, at France's Magny-Cours race-circuit, David showed the Red-Baron 'the bird' after a crude overtaking maneuver at the tight Adelaide chicane.

But those episodes tapered into distant memory this week with the 35-year-old's approval of his Twynholm-born rival and veteran, Coulthard, earlier this week.

'I know David gets a huge amount of flak and negative press in the UK but within the confines of the F1 paddock he is well respected,' Schumacher said.

DC's manager, Martin Brundle - who drove as team-mate to Schumacher at Benetton in the early-90s - says he 'understands' what Michael is on about.

The Briton, also a commentator, told The Sun: '[Coulthard] is a great driver. David has his critics but the guys he races against know what he is capable of.'

Theissen: Has One-Engine Rule Cut Costs?
Dr Mario Theissen reckons the new one-engine per-weekend regulation has not been as successful as the hype in cutting-down costs in Formula One.

The BMW motorsport chief refers to claims that reducing the sheer number of engines will significantly save the F1 teams and manufacturers many millions.

'In my view it is only one way to proceed,' he told F1 Racing magazine.

'Of course, you need fewer engines but the research and development becomes more expensive. We've spent less, but not a lot less than we spent before.'

BMW was one of the one-engine rule's main proponents and Theissen said that in early-2002, when it was first proposed, it got the Munich-firm's full support.

But that may just have been the German manufacturer trying to get a jump-start on the rest of the field in anticipation of approval for the long-life laws.

So how does Theissen propose to cut F1's out-of-control costs?

'It's quite difficult,' he admitted. 'In my view it is correct to think about it and we are spending quite a lot of time doing just that.'

One idea is to reduce track-testing, said Theissen: 'We're now testing four-times as much as we race; if you limit it, it would certainly reduce costs.'

Ferrari To Answer Critics On Track
Ferrari will answer its critics on the Formula One race-tracks of 2004, according to six-times world champion driver Michael Schumacher.

The German told reporters whilst testing in Spain this week that he had no intention to speculate about new 'Ferrari crisis's' that may or may not strike.

'Our car looks similar to last year's and is not as radical,' Schumacher said of the newly-launched F2004, even though he's driven the old one so far this week.

Michael added, 'We will find out in Melbourne how good our rivals are.'

Critics asked many questions of the Scuderia last season; how could they let a scarlet-car be lapped?; how come the Bridgestone is not as good as the Michelin?

'We answered all of them by coming out on top,' said 35-year-old Schumacher. 'People are quick to forget that we won both world championships - again.'

Meanwhile, team leaders Ross Brawn and Jean Todt insist that stability, above all other factors, has given Schumacher the strength to progress year-on-year.

'It is that stability that bonds the team during difficult periods, such as in certain moments in 2003, and grows from within,' said technical director Brawn.

Principal Todt added: 'We have great motivations and a stable, strong team.'

Jordan To Hire British F1 Driver?
Cash-strapped Formula One team Jordan-Ford might yet throw a driving life-line to one of three embattled British stars ahead of season 2004.

The Silverstone-based team is the only in pitlane with two clear vacancies for the new season after negotiations this week broke-down with Jos Verstappen.

Jordan is backed by tobacco-brand Benson & Hedges, who apparently want a local-lad behind the wheel of a yellow EJ14 for the season-opening Australian GP.

Scotsman Allan McNish and 2003 Jordan-driver Ralph Firman are both in the frame.

'I have certainly not ruled out having a British driver in the team,' Eddie Jordan told The Sun. 'Ralph drove for us last season and he is a super guy.'

Meanwhile, dumped Jaguar and Minardi ace Justin Wilson, of Yorkshire, told reporters in December that he hasn't got enough sponsorship to land the drive.

But Jordan appears to think he's in with a shout.

'There's also Allan and Justin,' said the Irishman, who added that both British racers showed in the last couple of seasons 'what they are capable of.'

Ferrari President Runs For Chairman
Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has announced that he will run for the chairmanship of Italy's private industrial confederation, Confindustria.

The Italian, who vowed to keep his job in scarlet, confirmed that he had been nominated for the position 'in light of requests' from all over the country.

Montezemolo let the news slip as Formula One drivers Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello pulled a satin-sheet off the new scarlet-red racer F2004.

'My availability is evidence of a great passion for this extraordinary reality that is Italian enterprise,' he told reporters on Monday at the car-launch.

Supported by Fiat, Scuderia Ferrari is just one of seven global automobile manufacturers vying for the coveted-crown as Formula One world champion in 2004.

Its rivals are BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Renault, Ford, Honda and Toyota.

'We have beaten them already and we want to beat them again [this season],' said Luca Montezemolo. 'If we fail this year we will be ready to win again in 2005.'

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