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By Andrew Maitland
February 2, 2004


BAR Unleash New F1 Racer
Brackley-based F1 team BAR unveiled a new Honda-powered Formula One car at Spain's Circuit de Catalunya race-track near Barcelona on Sunday.

The outfit, led by David Richards, believes 006 - to be steered by Jenson Button and Takuma Sato - can launch a 'credible challenge' to the top-three teams.

Team sources said the new-car is a 'significant evolution' of its predecessor.

'As we enter the 3rd-year of my tenure, a great deal of the groundwork is behind us,' said Richards. 'The whole operation is moving forward relentlessly.'

Button was the first to drive 006 onto the Montmelo circuit and said it seems 'promising and stable' even if after just a few laps he's not 'completely' sure.

Team technical director Geoff Willis lauded the 'extra resource' in 2004 of Honda engineers recruited into the design of the actual Formula One chassis.

'We are beginning to see [those] benefits,' he said. 'By the time we go to Melbourne, we would have done about three times as much testing as last year.'

006's biggest development is the gearbox; a full carbon-composite main-case and lightweight gears 'which afford a very substantial weight reduction.'








Schu Sets Fiorano On Fire With F2004
Michael Schumacher put smiles on the faces of scarlet-clad F1-personnel over the weekend by setting Fiorano on-fire with his new Ferrari challenger.

The world champion smashed the former time-barrier, set in F2004's predecessor, and said with every season the Scuderia is getting 'more precise' with its cars.

'The evolution continues,' he said, 'a little closer to perfection.'

Despite reportedly falling behind in the Bridgestone-Michelin tyre-war, Schumacher maintained that he had 'no worries' ahead of the new racing-season.

'This car gives us a realistic chance of fighting for the title,' he asserted.

Michael, 35, tested between Friday and Sunday and - on every day - went quicker and put about 700 kilometres on the odometer 'without the slightest problem.'

He added, 'I am satisfied with this first session.

'I immediately got a positive feel from the car.'

* Meanwhile, at Spain's Barcelona track, Toyota developer Ricardo Zonta concluded an exclusive two-day wet-tyre test with Michelin and an older TF103.

'All in all we found some very encouraging results,' said the Brazilian.








Heidfeld Seals Sauber-Jordan Switch
Nick Heidfeld has closed the door on the second-to-last seat in Formula One for the upcoming 2004-season by sealing his switch from Sauber to Jordan.

The German, who's been on-track for the Silverstone-based team in recent tests, said the confirmed agreement was a 'big relief' ahead of his fifth year in F1.

'It was a strange experience doing the tests, especially the last one in Barcelona, without being officially part of the team,' said 'Quick Nick'.

Team owner Eddie Jordan refused to entertain speculation about Nick's race team-mate, even in the face of renewed reports of a deal with Jos Verstappen.

The Irishman said, 'I am carefully putting together a strong driver pairing to complement our 2004 package and sponsorship portfolio.

'I am optimistic that we have the tools to mount a reasonable contest against the midfield teams this year. Nick is a very quick driver.'

Heidfeld will steer the new EJ14-car onto the Silverstone circuit on Wednesday, after spending the weekend at the factory to complete a seat-fitting.








Dennis Hints At Coulthard Retirement
David Coulthard's boss doubts if the Scottish veteran will race-on beyond 2004.

McLaren chief Ron Dennis said it was more likely that, with the arrival of Juan Pablo Montoya in 2005, 32-year-old DC will stay at the team in another role.

'Of course he has a chance of winning the world championship [in 2004] and he has everything to gain from this season,' said Dennis.

But the Briton doubts speculation that if Coulthard enjoys a decent season in his silver car, he'll turn his attentions to teams like Jaguar or Toyota.

Dennis appeared to warn the Twynholm-born star against 'doing a Villeneuve'; that is, 'going backwards' on the Formula One grids after a spot at the top.

'If he can't go forwards, with us or with some other team, then he will stop,' said Ron Dennis. 'But he hasn't taken that decision.

'If he does a good job [this year] then I am absolutely sure he is going to be employed, possibly by McLaren in one form or another, in 2005,' he concluded.








Pizzonia: I've Got The Job
Antonio Pizzonia reckons he's landed a full-time job at BMW-Williams.

The Brazilian moved to confirm strong speculation whilst testing a Grove-built car in Spain last week that he had indeed signed a new one-year contract.

'I'm going to be with Williams for the whole year,' he told Autosport.

'I'm happy to be back with the team. I can now help them with results. If I could help the team to get the championship this year that'd be great.'

Pizzonia, still in his early-twenties, held-down the development role in 2002 before tarnishing his reputation as a Jaguar Racing rookie early last season.

His 2003-job would be to support the efforts of principal Williams tester Marc Gene, who is overworked but will maintain his role as official race-reserve.

'My plan is to get a race drive for 2005,' Pizzonia concluded.








Button Wants First-Podium In Oz
Jenson Button has staked a claim for his first-ever podium in Formula One; and he reckons the deed can be done as early as the season-opener in Australia.

'If we carry on like this I think we can do it in the first race,' said the 24-year-old Briton who described the all-new 006 car as 'very promising.'

Button's new team-mate is 2003-development driver at Brackley, Japanese hopeful Takuma Sato whose debut for the Jordan team two-seasons ago was premature.

'It is one of the youngest driver line-ups but an ambitious one,' said team chief David Richards, who oversaw BAR's rise to fifth in the title last season.

Richards likened building an F1 team to 'building a house.'

'We've put the foundations down now,' he said. 'It's time for us to come above the ground during the season and show our true potential.'








Hands Off My Button: BAR's Richards
My boy's not for sale, so keep your hands off.

That's the stern warning of BAR boss David Richards in the face of speculated-interest from top-teams including Sir Frank Williams' BMW-powered operation.

'Jenson is not for sale,' Richards said as the new-006 was unleashed in Spain.

He added, 'There's not even a reason to discuss the situation with other teams.'

Richards believes that with the stout progress BAR-Honda is making, Button can forge his future and achieve his ambitions 'right here' at Brackley.

'We're getting quicker and quicker,' he said, 'we have a contract with him - so why would Jenson want to move out of here?'

But, still, Button is attracting the 'big team' plaudits.

McLaren boss Ron Dennis said recently: 'He can be a bit of a showman, and he has made his mistakes - but he did grow up. He is a pretty competent driver.'








Schu To Call It Quits: McLaren Chief
McLaren chief Ron Dennis thinks six-times world champion Michael Schumacher is likely to complete one more Formula One season - then call it quits.

The Briton told England's The Observer that all-signs point to that scenario.

'If a number-one driver says he is going to stop at a certain point, what would be the first thing a team would do if they wanted continuity?' asks Dennis.

Answer - extend the contract on the second driver; as Ferrari have just done with Schumacher's cockpit-lieutenant, Brazilian racer Rubens Barrichello.

Dennis continues: 'Then they say they are going to concentrate on developing the technical team and plan for the technical future of the company.

'You do wonder if this is in preparation for people leaving ... '

But don't get Ron wrong; he wants - needs - Schumacher to stay beyond 2006.

'Michael is motivated by failure, not success,' said the boss of the Mercedes-powered rival to Ferrari. 'Ideally, we want him to keep racing.'

Dennis said the 'worst thing' for McLaren or BMW-Williams would be to win the championship and then people say 'ahh, but Michael isn't there anymore.'








BAR Threaten Shift From UK To Japan
F1 team BAR might relocate from Britain to Japan, according to David Richards.

The F1-principal, currently operating the team out of Brackley, said local legislation on tobacco advertising could force BAR to move house ahead of 2005.

BAR employs 450 staff at its current British base.

'The knock-on effects will be significant,' Richards told the assembled media as the wraps were taken-off a shining new Honda-powered racer in Spain on Sunday.

Richards said the original plan was to phase-out tobacco advertising by 2006.

But he says a UK-turnaround will see Lucky Strike logos outlawed as of July next-year; but only if the Formula One operation is based in Britain.

'Foreign teams with foreign sponsors can [keep advertising],' DR continued. 'It is a disaster in the making. I don't know how it's going to work out.'

He said if the law stays, 'the whole thing could go to Japan within a year.'









Imola Race Set For Chop
Imola will stage its last-ever San Marino Grand Prix in 2004.

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone said the circuit will 'vanish from the calendar' after this season leaving Monza to host the sole Italian F1 event.

'This year is Imola's last,' the 73-year-old told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

2004 marks the ten-year anniversary of the death of Ayrton Senna at Imola.

But while Italy is set for a chop, Germany - which also stages two grands prix in the country - can keep both races at Hockenheim and the Nurburgring.

Ecclestone continued, hinting that he last-week concluded a new deal with the latter venue: 'Germany will continue to have two races.'

Bernie, head of Formula One Management, also revealed that Turkey will stage an F1-race in 2005, India by 2007, and South Korea from the year 2009.

Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher - an ambassador for San Marino - and the mayor of the city cast doubt on Bernie's claims that Imola has gone under the guillotine.

'He's always saying a lot of things,' said the German. 'Let's wait and see.'








Two-Seater F1 Races Scrapped
Paul Stoddart's mooted plan for 'celebrity' grands prix has been scrapped.

Media reports claim that the idea to spice up Sunday-action with a two-seater F1 race complete with celebrities has not got the agreement of all teams.

Stoddart, who runs the Minardi team, has a fleet of two-seater challengers.

He proposed at a recent meeting of team bosses that ten cars be prepared in the liveries of all Formula One outfits and raced by testers and former F1 drivers.

But not all sponsors, the media reports claim, liked the idea.

According to Autosport, only four teams actually signed up while the others either agreed with reservations or didn't get back to Stoddart at all.

Some teams wanted to prepare the Minardi cars themselves, whilst others had even deeper reservations about associating themselves with the cash-strapped outfit.

'The pluses are endless really,' the Australian, Paul Stoddart, said recently. 'I'm confident. No-one else has come up with a better idea.'








Button Talks To Frank Williams
Jenson Button chats on the phone to F1 principal Sir Frank Williams.

But don't read into that, the 24-year-old driver of Brackley-based team BAR-Honda said before steering the new 006 challenger onto the Barcelona track.

Button, born in Frome, debuted as a teenager for Williams in 2000.

Some media quarters are claiming that the English racer is eyeing a return to the BMW-powered squad as a replacement for McLaren-bound Juan Pablo Montoya.

'That is untrue,' said Button. 'I do talk to Frank because he is a friend.

'He gave me my first opportunity so I am not going to stop talking to him.'








Bernie Tells Teams To 'Stop Begging'
Formula One's rising costs can be contained, according to Bernie Ecclestone.

The pinnacle of motor sport's 73-year-old boss frowned upon claims that its up to the governing-FIA, or the revenue-takers, to save teams from over-spending.

'The problem is that teams always spend everything they get,' he said.

Bernie told La Gazzetta dello Sport that, for example, rich F1-teams take 45-tonnes of freight to the grands prix when twenty would be plenty.

He added, 'Teams take 100 people to private testing. Crazy stuff.'

But Ecclestone also has little sympathy for the cash-strapped F1 minnows.

He reckons Jordan and Minardi should sell-up rather than 'begging with a hat.

'They should look closely at themselves,' Ecclestone continued.

'Frank Williams, years ago, was in much bigger trouble than Jordan, but he was able to pull himself up to the highest success. Why can't Jordan do that?'

And Ecclestone is amazed that Jaguar are still racing at all.

'How much longer can Ford go on this way,' he wondered. 'They have made a big cut in costs - no wonder they hired a driver with money.'

On his own future, though, Ecclestone warned onlookers not to wait with bated breath for a spectacular Bernie-retirement. 'I'd get bored to death,' he said.








Dennis Hopes Montoya Finishes Third
Ron Dennis hopes his new F1-signing finishes just third.

The McLaren chief, who had wanted Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya for 2004, will have to wait a full racing-season before his BMW-Williams contract runs-out.

'I believe moving to McLaren will be good for Montoya,' the Briton said.

Dennis thinks 28-year-old Montoya's approach to racing is very South-American.

'It reminds me of Ayrton [Senna],' Dennis added of his late former champion.

'We think we know how to get the best out of him although only time will tell. Our first priority will be winning the world championship this year.'

McLaren, powered by Mercedes, will attack the upcoming season with drivers Kimi Raikkonen and David Coulthard before next-year dumping the veteran Scot.

'[Montoya] will be one of our main competitors [in 2004],' said Dennis.








Hyderabad In Lead For Indian GP
Hyderabad still holds pole-position to land a Formula One race.

The Indian city, located in the state Andhra Pradesh, said on the weekend that it is 'ahead' of possible alternate venues for the Indian Grand Prix.

'We are in the forefront and ahead of others,' a source said.

The government then revealed to the press a letter from F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone vowing to keep negotiations with Hyderabad exclusive.

'... We have not entertained any meetings with any other parties,' it read.

Last week, the rival-state of Maharashtra claimed that Mumbai had put its nose in front in the race for the pinnacle of motor sports from season-2007.

Sources report that final talks with Hyderabad will take place this month.

'This round of negotiations will centre around the legal and commercial aspects of the project and we are studying the documents sent by F1,' said one source.








Alonso Will Get In F1 Fight: Schumacher
BMW-Williams and Renault will also get in the fight for this year's F1 titles.

That's the claim of reigning world champion Michael Schumacher who said a few weeks ago that Mercedes-powered McLaren pose the toughest challenge to Ferrari.

'I realise that we are going to have a good fight for the championship this year,' the 35-year-old told Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper.

Schu reeled-off his usual rivals - 'my brother Ralf, Montoya, and Raikkonen.'

But, ahead of 2004, he's also adding a fresh-faced 22-year-old from Spain, who drives a yellow and blue car. 'Alonso,' the German-born racer smiled.

'After a year of learning, he is now ready to compete at the highest level.'








Silverstone Has No Future: Ecclestone
Bernie Ecclestone has renewed his warning that Silverstone has no future in F1.

The sport's impresario, talking to the Gazzetta dello Sport, suggested that European countries have no chance of competing with the growing world economies.

Ecclestone said the future of F1 is in India, Turkey and Korea.

He then likened Silverstone to an 'old house' that needs serious renovations.

'I can't see a future for it,' Ecclestone said. 'An old house allows itself only touching-up - an access road, parking lot ... big deal!'

Bernie said only 'serious reconstruction' would put the circuit, located in Northamptonshire and scene of the 2004 British Grand Prix, back in the F1-race.







Firman Wants to Beat Heidfeld
Ralph Firman would love to line-up alongside Nick Heidfeld in 2004.

The Norfolk-born driver, who raced for Jordan last season, hopes to retain the second yellow-clad seat - Formula One's final vacancy on this year's grid.

'The news of Nick's signing comes as no surprise,' said Firman.

Eddie Jordan is expected to announce Heidfeld's team-mate by Wednesday - and Firman confirms that he's still in the chase for it.

'I know [he] has a number of options,' said Ralph. 'The final slot will go to whichever driver makes the most sense.'

As well as factors such as attracting funding, Firman hopes 'continuity' also comes in to play in the consideration for Jordan's second race-driver.

Team sponsor Benson & Hedges has $10 million to spend at Jordan if the second-2004 driver is British - Scotsman Allan McNish is therefore another candidate.

'I hope the cards fall in my favour,' said Firman, who insisted that he raced and beat Nick Heidfeld in the Macau F3 race a few seasons ago.

* Meanwhile, should Allan McNish miss out on the Jordan seat, he'll drive an Audi in the inaugural Le Mans Endurance series as well as the 24-hour event.








Trulli Itching To Step Out Of Shadow
Jarno Trulli is itching to step out of the shadow of his rookie team-mate.

The Italian was thoroughly upstaged by 22-year-old Renault racer Fernando Alonso last season as the Spaniard clocked up maiden pole and grand prix successes.

'I think what Fernando achieved was great, he had a really good season.'

But Trulli, in his late-twenties, was regarded - by some pitlane analysts - as the stronger of the blue and yellow-wearing racers at stages of the 2003-series.

>From Pescara, Jarno was certainly not the luckiest of the pair.

'He's a nice person,' Trulli added of Alonso. 'I work very well with him. It's just a shame that I lost opportunities that were not my fault.

He concluded: 'You can accept it when you make mistakes, but sometimes he got opportunities that I lost. But this year I will try to turn the wheel around.'








Webber Will Wait For Future
Mark Webber's future will come to a head in July this year.

The Australian, under two-year contract to Ford-backed team Jaguar Racing, is also managed by flamboyant Renault team principal Flavio Briatore.

Williams see him as an ideal candidate to replace Juan Pablo Montoya in 2005.

Briatore said he was delaying all talks about his plans for the 27-year-old Aussie until the middle of the year, around the time of the French Grand Prix.

'We will discuss the possibilities,' the Italian told the Sunday Mirror.

'But at the moment he is not going to Williams.'








Davidson Sows Seeds Of Race-Seat
Anthony Davidson is still sowing the seeds of his Formula One future.

The Briton will drive BAR-Honda's newly-unveiled 006 challenger on all eighteen circuits of the season in 2004 for official Friday morning practice.

'At least I can show what I can do,' said the racer who debuted by doing two races in a black Minardi car a couple of seasons ago.

Davidson, 23, believes the 'third' role will be crucial this season in conjunction with new-rules confining race-drivers to the use of a single engine.

'It will be up to me to help them with decisions such as tyre choice,' he added.

He said getting the chance to learn all the circuits on the calendar takes him 'one step closer' to his ultimate goal of a full-time race-seat in F1.








I'm Still Flavio: Renault F1 Chief
Flavio Briatore believes he has contributed notably to Renault's success.

The Italian has overseen the Enstone-based operation's rise from a take-over in 2000, and from the back-of-the-grid, to fourth-place in the world championship.

'I think I have put in place a good organization, the right people, and discipline,' he explained in a newly-published interview.

Briatore's job-description is to take care of the commercial and strategic sides of the Formula One operation based jointly in England and France (Viry).

'But I also have worked to create an effective, united group,' he said.

The flamboyant team chief is fifty-three, and joined F1 in 1987.

But he says, personally, little has changed in the Briatore-approach.

'My methods are still the same,' he said. 'I leave people to get on with their job and take decisions intuitively. Now, I don't make certain mistakes.

'But I'm still Flavio - that is to say, rarely satisfied!'








BAR Flex Exaggerated Muscle?
BAR isn't flexing its often exaggerated-muscle in racing for a fight with the top-three Formula One teams this season, according to Jenson Button.

The team driver flew in pre-season testing recently.

'The highlight was the [lap] record in Barcelona,' said the 24-year-old driver as he helped the Brackley-based outfit pull the wraps off a shining new 006.

BAR chiefs didn't hide the fact that the test-car was running low-fuel, 'but the purpose of the run was to gauge car performance in that trim,' said Button.

Jenson also believes he'll work well with new team-mate Takuma Sato in 2004.

The Japanese replaces former world champion Jacques Villeneuve but, despite the distinctly 'baggy' overalls to fill, he's feeling 'positive' about the New Year.

'Taku' said, predicting podiums: 'This will be my second full year of racing in F1 and my first opportunity to build on the valuable lessons I learnt in 2002.'








'Quick Nick' Looks Ahead To New Races
It was a close-call, but Nick Heidfeld is still a Formula One driver.

The German has, having offered a little through sponsorship to Eddie Jordan's team, now completed the switch from Sauber to the Silverstone-based outfit.

'This season is going to be interesting and I'm particularly looking forward to the new races in Bahrain and Shanghai,' said the racer in his mid-twenties.

Heidfeld welcomes the push out of Europe and into the wider-world.

'I think it's good for F1,' he added. 'After all it's a world championship so we should go all over the world. And personally I like going to new tracks.

'I also enjoy visiting countries I've never been to before.'








F1 To Stage Twenty Races: Ecclestone
Formula One's lengthened annual-calendar could get even longer.

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, who devised the unprecedented 18-race long 2004 schedule, says teams and drivers might be set for twenty future GP-stops.

'We could easily get to 20,' he told the Italian press. 'All we'd need to do is reduce private testing from 40 to 30 [days] and that would create two more.'

But even with the speculated addition of new races in Korea, India and Turkey, Formula One might not have to worry about expanding its calendar.

Bernie reckons European races won't be able to compete with their economies.

'Believe me, in the next ten years, Europe will slide down to the level of the third world in economic terms,' said the 73-year-old Englishman.








Bahrain Track Nearly Complete
Bahrain's new Formula One circuit is ninety-six percent completed.

Twenty journalists from France, Germany and Britain were shown around the venue near Manama which will stage the first-ever grand prix in the Middle East.

Some quarters were worrying that the circuit, with an inaugural April-4 race-date, would not be ready for the final FIA-inspection some-time this month.

'As the journalists will have seen, the track is well on schedule for completion,' said project coordinator Gordon Calder.

He added that Bahrain was 'ahead of all the critical' deadlines.

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