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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
February 3, 2004


F1 Teams To Abandon Europe?
Formula One teams are threatening to walk away from Europe.

FIA's governing president, Max Mosley, said restrictive EU laws such as to the working-week and tobacco-advertising could cost the continent its GP-outfits.

'The EU is strangled by unnecessary and excessive regulations,' said the Briton.

Mosley suggested Europe, and in particular Britain where six teams are based, might not be the 'right place' for something as 'cutting edge' as Formula One.

'If possible there are countries outside of the EU who might be able to make an offer to teams and also provide them with the facilities they need,' he added.

The Arrest-Warrants debacle, and anti-tobacco advertising laws to come into effect next-July, will only help to convince the teams to decamp outside Europe.

European Union legislation is also about the limit the working-week to 35-hours.

DUBAI MAKE F1 TASTY OFFER?

Some media reports are already speculating that Dubai might be the destination for a non-European F1, while Bernie Ecclestone may already have started talks.

Mosley hinted that 'a country' is offering a small-fortune to host F1 teams.

But most analysts agree that Mosley's - and BAR-chief David Richards' - threats are little more than pushing-power to get sport-exemptions from the EU-laws.








Button Sets Lap Record On Fire
He might have done it on a simulated qualifying-run, but Jenson Button has the rest of the Formula One paddock a little more than impressed with his new BAR.

The Englishman was a clear one-and-a-half seconds faster than the also-stirring new BMW-Williams of tester Marc Gene at the Circuit de Catalunya on Monday.

JB's new-record was a full eight-tenths faster than the previous benchmark, set some twelve days ago - and also by the 24-year-old in a 005 'concept' racer.

Button's new Honda-powered mount, dubbed 006, was admittedly on light-tanks.

But Sauber's Giancarlo Fisichella, who was nearly three-seconds slower than the BAR in his new-C23, said Button's time was 'very good' no matter the fuel-load.

FOG DELAYS EARLY RUNNING

This week's busy test at the Montmelo-track near Barcelona started in very foggy conditions which delayed the action for 2-hours as the helicopter was grounded.

'We assessed different front wings as well as several cooling configurations under high-speed conditions,' said Sauber chief engineer Jacky Eeckelaert.

Ralf Schumacher returned from illness to complete 64 laps, ahead of the F2003-GA Ferrari of Luca Badoer and then a trio of all-new Mercedes-powered cars.

Pedro de la Rosa, Alex Wurz and Darren Turner, all driving for McLaren, could do no more than trail the pace by multiple seconds over a combined 112 laps.








Renault Vow To Trouble The Stopwatch
F1 team Renault has finalized its testing program for the entire-season.

The UK-based operation launched R24 in Palermo last week but on Tuesday the real work begins; a taxing-schedule of pre-season tests to fine-tune its performance.

Director of engineering Pat Symonds said he now knows on what tracks and with which components for evaluation the pre-Melbourne test-schedule would proceed.

'We know exactly what needs to be done before leaving for Australia,' he added.

Reliability is a key issue; for example, at least one race-simulation will be carried out by drivers Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli per test-session.

Tyre development for Michelin has mainly been done with the older R23B car.

'But this car had very similar dynamic characteristics to the R24,' Pat said. 'Now, we will be able to pick up the tyre program again with our new car.'

PERFORMANCE TESTS SET FOR OFF

Finally, but perhaps most crucially, the R24 will be tracked for performance.

'We haven't yet had the time to concentrate on this area,' said Symonds. 'This will be the point at which we start thinking about troubling the stopwatch.'

A second R24 chassis will be available from the Imola-test, in two-weeks.

Renault's pre-Melbourne schedule is also set to land in Jerez and Silverstone.








Trust-Branded EJ14 Debuts In England
Cash-strapped Formula One team Jordan's all-new racing challenger hit the slopes of Silverstone on Monday in the hands of new-signing Nick Heidfeld.

EJ14, painted yellow and clearly an evolution of the 2003-spec EJ13, featured new sponsorship decals such as Lazarus and Jos Verstappen's main sponsor Trust.

The appearance of the latter, prominently under the cockpit sides, has re-lit speculation in Holland that their racing-hero has indeed done a deal to race.

Heidfeld completed a few laps, without problem, in what is known as a shake-down test; a series of short runs to run through the function of new-car systems.

JORDAN TO LAUNCH ON WEDNESDAY

EJ14 will be launched at the English circuit, just a few meters from the Jordan factory doors, on Wednesday where it will also get a more comprehensive F1-test.

Insiders say the event will be private and low-key in reflection of Eddie Jordan's privately-owned team's precarious present financial situation.

According to ITV, Heidfeld was 'extremely positive' about the new car even if a slightly-damp track made performance assessments quite difficult.








FIA Wants Shorter F1 Schedule
Bernie Ecclestone wants two-more, Max Mosley wants two-less.

We're talking about Formula One races per-season, after the latter president of motor sport's governing body said the FIA would like to cut the schedule down.

Yesterday, F1-supremo Ecclestone said the current 18-event calendar could cope with two more grands prix if Formula One teams just cut back on testing.

But as Mosley made his annual-speech in London on Monday, he said the FIA would like to chop a couple of European races each year to make a calendar of just 16.

'In the long term it will be difficult to maintain the smaller races and it is also going to be difficult to have two races in one country,' he said.

'In the longer term we would prefer to see 16 races.'

LESS TESTING FOR TEAMS

Mosley backed Bernie's plan to cut the agreed number of Formula One test-days, currently 48 per season, to around the twenty-mark in the next couple of years.

But he said that wouldn't be done just to free-up space for more races.

'It is questionable whether you need 20 grands prix,' said Mosley.








Ralf Returns To F1 Action
Ralf Schumacher shrugged off last week's hospital-visit and severe abdominal pains to return to the Formula One test-tracks of Spain on Monday.

The German driver was fourth-fastest of the nine cars and five teams that unpacked at the Circuit de Catalunya, in Montmelo, for the five-day session.

Schumacher shook-down a new, third innovative FW26 BMW-Williams chassis.

'He finished the day setting up the car,' said test manager Tim Newton.

Test cohort Marc Gene, in another new 2004-contender, similarly completed set-up work but also practiced manual-clutch starts and some longer grand prix runs.

NELSON PIQUET TO TEST AGAIN

Ralf and Marc will be joined on-track on Tuesday by Nelson Piquet Junior.

The teenage star, son of former triple world champion and Brazilian Piquet, is scheduled to take the controls of a modified (2003-specification) FW25A chassis.

F1 chief Sir Frank Williams reckons Piquet's first-run in a Formula One car was a 'bit too soon' but technical whiz Patrick Head is more convinced of his flair.

'Certainly it was very interesting to operate with him,' said the Briton after his maiden run. 'I'm more than convinced he has a strong future [in F1].'








New Jordan Passes FIA Crash-Tests
Jordan's newly fired-up EJ14 Formula One contender has passed the mandatory crash-tests organized by the governing FIA as a requirement to race in 2004.

A team insider told British broadcaster ITV that the rear and side checks went without problem and the only one left is the front-impact test for the nosecone.

Last month, this publication revealed that fellow independent team Sauber had failed an FIA-test with its new C23 in the bid to make new components smaller.

The Ferrari-powered car will sit its crash-exams again in February.

Technical director Willy Rampf says he's 'reasonably confident' that significant design changes should be made in time for the C23 to avoid any more problems.

VERSTAPPEN TO TAKE SECOND SEAT?

Meanwhile, speculation has re-ignited that former Minardi driver Jos Verstappen - a Dutchman - has sealed the deal to team-mate Nick Heidfeld at Jordan in 2004.

The mostly plain-painted EJ14 was shaken-down by 'Quick Nick' at Silverstone on Monday bearing 'Trust Computers' logos - 31-year-old Verstappen's main sponsor.

This, despite news last week that Jos had pulled out of the race for the seat.

'It is important that all parties [have] a good basis for a successful season,' said Trust's Michel Perridon. 'This time, that is not the case.'








Sato: It's Tough To Test
As a race-driver, it's tough to test, according to Takuma Sato.

The Japanese filled the development-role at BAR-Honda last season after a troubling-debut to his Formula One racing-career a year-earlier with Jordan.

In 2004, Sato slips on Jacques Villeneuve's baggy race-overalls.

'It was tough for me to be just testing - to be going to the grands prix but not racing,' the 26-year-old said as he test-drove the new 006 car at Barcelona.

He added: 'It was frustrating. But I was looking at the bigger picture.'

JAPANESE WANTS MAIDEN PODIUM

That bigger picture, it seemed, was an eventual race-seat - and it happened sooner than he expected, in front of his home crowd in the 2003 season-closer.

'I love racing so much,' he said. 'I am excited to be a race driver again.'

Takuma Sato outlined 'at least one' podium as his ambition for the new season, which kicks off at Australia's temporary F1 street-circuit near Melbourne.








Schu About To Breathe His Last: Mosley
Michael Schumacher may be about to breathe his last at the very-top.

FIA president Max Mosley predicts another hotly-contested Formula One season at the end of which Ferrari's German ace could finally be knocked off his perch.

'You would always have to say Schumacher is the favourite before the first race but it may well be someone else this time,' said the Englishman in London.

Mosley said BMW-Williams' drivers, including Michael's younger-brother Ralf, look likely to challenge, as does McLaren speedster Kimi Raikkonen.

'Even David Coulthard,' he added almost as an afterthought.

SCOTTISH RACER IS 'TOO SERIOUS'

Motor racing's top-chief reckons the aforementioned Scottish veteran has the talent but perhaps not the competitive-verve to take the title from Schumacher.

'It's all in the head,' he said of the McLaren driver who's set to be dropped by his silver-paymasters at the end of his ninth season with the British team.

'He's got the ability but he's got to perform too.'

Whether Fernando Alonso and Renault can compete is all down to how much horsepower the Viry-based engine-builders can squeeze from a new design.

And Mosley concluded that Toyota are set to be a 'huge force' of the future.

'They will be one of the top teams in the next two or three years.'








Burti Signs As Part-Time Ferrari Tester
Luciano Burti has signed a new 'part-time' contract to test F1 Ferraris.

The Brazilian, who raced and crashed for Jaguar and Prost in 2001, announced on Monday that he had been asked to remain on-call for the Scuderia this season.

'This is another great opportunity for me and I'll do my best,' he said.

ONLY ONE FULL-TIME TESTER

In 2004, Ferrari will attack the tracks with only one full-time tester, Luca Badoer, who may be asked to drive a Sauber in the official GP-practice sessions.

'Because Ferrari has such a busy test program and because of our good work of 2002, they signed me to be part of their line-up as well,' Luciano continued.

Burti, from Sao Paulo, said a 'good thing' about his contract is that when he's not testing Formula One cars he's free to pursue other leads in motor sport.

'So I am already discussing some other possibilities,' he concluded.








FIA Assures French F1 Future
Formula One's governing FIA has assured the future of the French Grand Prix.

Motor sport president Max Mosley said on Monday that the 'traditional' race had now completely avoided the threat of cancellation as it had paid its debts.

Asked why Magny-Cours had been earlier left off the provisional-schedule, the Englishman replied in London: 'Well that was very straightforward.

PROMOTERS 'HADN'T PAID'

'They hadn't paid. That seems fairly simple to me at least. They couldn't produce a letter of credit and that is why they lost their race date.'

Mosley said France was given extra-time and they 'paid at the last minute.'

He confirmed that the race is back on the calendar 'without question' and should run uninterrupted for the duration of a new contract that stretches until 2009.








Silverstone Owners To Blame: FIA Chief
If Silverstone loses its Formula One grand prix, the circuit owners - not the British government - will be to blame, according to Max Mosley.

The president of racing-authority FIA said in London that he had read reports quoting F1-chief Bernie Ecclestone as saying the Brit-GP is unsafe beyond 2004.

Ecclestone likened the Northamptonshire circuit to a dilapidated house.

'I'm not involved in all of this,' Mosley said during his annual-address, 'because it is between Bernie and [the promoters and circuit-owners].'

CIRCUIT NOT UP-TO-SCRATCH

He added: 'At the moment it is between him and them.'

Ecclestone wants the British Racing Drivers' Club, who lease the former airfield to Brands Hatch Circuits, to improve the track in-line with the best worldwide.

Mosley noted, 'At the moment, they are not there at all.'

But the circuit-infrastructure has improved following minor revisions in recent years. 'The British government has done its bit there,' said the Briton.

'But the circuit-owners have not done theirs.'








JB Reveling In Villeneuve's Wake?
Is Jenson Button, the quickest man ever to tour Spain's Circuit de Catalunya, working better at Formula One team BAR-Honda for any particular reason?

Some say he's reveling in the absence of 2003 teammate Jacques Villeneuve.

'I don't think so,' JB told reporters in Montmelo. 'I don't want to look too much into the past but I think it's me. I'm more confident than last year.'

Button started off 2003 with a formidable task; proving he was good enough to rise from the mire of a middling two-year stint at Renault ...

... And proving that he belongs at all to his feisty French-Canadian cohort.

ASSUMES ROLE OF TEAM-LEADER

'I gained a lot of experience,' the English racer added. 'I don't think it's because [Villeneuve] is gone. I'm doing everything to make the team better.'

Button has assumed the role as driving team-leader.

'Just about every day this year I have been with the team or talking to the team which makes you feel better. I am at the factory a lot more.'

Last year, Villeneuve - who was at BAR since inception - was the main-man.

'I would race and test but my team-mate would have the opinions,' said Button. 'But now I'm spending as much time as I can with the engineers out of the car.'








Spaniard Lauds Barcelona-Track Changes
Locally-born Pedro de la Rosa has lauded recent-modifications to the Circuit de Catalunya race-track in Spain as a 'positive' step to improving the show.

The Spaniard, who grew-up not far from Montmelo near Barcelona, ran for the first time on the new stretch of road designed to inspire overtaking on Monday.

He and two other McLaren-contracted drivers, including Austrian Alex Wurz and part-time tester Darren Turner, of England, also lapped in new MP4-19 cars.

'At first sight, the modifications are positive,' said de la Rosa, who last raced in grands prix a full season-ago, for the British-based Jaguar team.

CHANGES WILL INSPIRE OVERTAKING

Pedro said more drivers will 'take the risk' of driving on the inside-line at the new first corner in an attempt to make up positions at the race-start.

He said the new hairpin reminds him of 'Adelaide' at Magny-Cours.

'It looks safer,' he added, 'and the run-off is larger and more overtaking will take place, even if maybe it's now more difficult between Campsa and La Caixa.'








F1 Needs 'Rebels' Like Villeneuve
What's wrong with David Coulthard? - F1's Max Mosley says its all in the head.

'He's too serious,' the Englishman told his annual-address in London. 'He'd need to do something to enliven his image. We need characters, rebels.'

And what better template than sacked former world champion Jacques Villeneuve.

'It's a pity we no longer have him,' Mosley continued. 'He was an eccentric figure. Rebels can be a nuisance but they are like the leavening in bread.'

JACQUES HAD GOOD QUALITIES

Mosley said Villeneuve, who was often seen enjoying a barbeque in the paddock with close friend Coulthard, had an 'interesting view' on everything.

'One might not agree with it,' he noted, 'but you need those views.

'He had a lot of good qualities.'

Jacques, son of the fiery Gilles Villeneuve and never the corporate player, has been replaced at BAR by Honda's favorite Japanese son Takuma Sato.







Ralf Unimpressed By Lap Records
Ralf Schumacher is saving his record-shattering speed for Melbourne.

The German star, who returned from illness to go fourth-fastest of nine runners at Barcelona on Monday, scoffed at Jenson Button's frighteningly-fast time.

JB's new BAR-Honda 006 was a full eight-tenths clear of his previous record.

Ralf, who drove an innovative BMW-Williams FW26 in Spain, told the Speed Channel: 'Good luck to all these people who keep on smashing lap records.

'I'm not looking for that now. I'd rather have a lap record in the first race.'

BROTHER SET CIRCUIT ON-FIRE

If his elder brother Michael knows how to win multiple back-to-back world championships, though - as he does - then Ralf might be advised to take note.

Schumacher Senior shaved several hundredths off the private Fiorano circuit in Italy on Sunday at the wheel of his brand-new Ferrari-branded F2004.

'This car gives us a realistic shot at the title,' said the German afterwards.








China Reveal Cheap F1 Tickets
China is offering some of the cheapest Formula One tickets on the entire racing-circuit for its inaugural grand prix to be held in late September.

Organisers of the event held in Shanghai revealed prices ranging from 160 yuan ($19) to watch practice or qualifying to 3700 yuan for top-seats on all days.

About forty dollars will buy you a spot on the grass on race-day.

'Our tickets are relatively cheaper than the other 17 events on the F1 tour around the world,' said Mao Xiaohan, general manager of the circuit.

NOT ALL TICKETS TO BE SOLD

Organizers also revealed that tickets will only be sold for three-quarters of the 200,000 circuit-capacity amid concerns about safety and transportation.

Mao said around 30 percent of the tickets will be bought by foreigners.

'We received inquiry calls from some Japanese corporate customers as early as September,' said Zhou Qicheng, a sales manager with Shanghai Airlines Tours.

Mao Xiaohan admitted that transportation remains a problem.

'We're considering installing several interim bus-lines, and even an extension of the metro system in the future,' he told local news agencies.








Imola Reacts Coolly To F1-Scrap
Imola has reacted coolly to reports that it has lost its Formula One event.

F1 impresario Bernie Ecclestone said on Monday that the 2004 San Marino Grand Prix will be the Italian location's last on the sport's annual race schedule.

Imola mayor Massimo Marchignoli, admitting that the race-contract is now up, said this is not the first time that Ecclestone has threatened his event.

VOWS TO RE-OPEN F1-TALKS

'We'll see,' said the Italian, 'what we need to do to reopen talks.'

World champion Michael Schumacher, through his ties with Italian-based team Scuderia Ferrari, is an ambassador for the Republic of San Marino.

Asked if he'd miss the race, the German said 'yes, in one sense.

'But Ecclestone is always saying a lot of things. Let's wait and see.'








It's Time To Deliver: BAR's Richards
This season is 'delivery time' for the entire BAR-Honda F1 team.

Brackley-based principal David Richards, who has only overseen the last two years of team-progress, admitted that BAR has not delivered a lot to date.

'BAR had a lot of resources and finances put behind it,' the Englishman noted of the team founded by now-ousted predecessor Craig Pollock in late-1998.

CRUNCH-TIME FOR HONDA

It's also delivery-time for engine partner Honda, DR asserted.

'[Honda is] so steeped in tradition and performance in the past - they need to show that the new Honda has that same skill sense and ability,' said Richards.

The team's newly-promoted leader Jenson Button, who will start his fifth full season at the pinnacle of motor sport in 2004, is also faced with a challenge.

'It's delivery time for Jenson Button now too,' said the rhetoric Richards.

'He's been put in a position where hopefully all the resources are there to step up to the mark. And it's delivery time for me and my management.'

Richards said 'regular podiums' and a chance-win are the targets for 2004.








McLaren Doubts British-Team Exodus
McLaren has poured doubt on fellow Formula One team BAR's claim that wayward anti-tobacco laws may force British-based marques to decamp out of Europe.

BAR chief David Richards said he would consider moving his now Brackley-based operation to Japan in 2005 to avoid UK-only oriented advertising legislation.

But Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren managing director, does not agree that UK-based teams will commit an offence if they carry cigarette-logos after July '05.

He told The Guardian: 'We have taken legal advice [on this matter].'

Whitmarsh said his advice doubts any illegality if a TV-broadcaster shows tobacco-related imagery in the UK of McLaren's cars competing overseas.

HAKKINEN COMPETES IN RALLY

Meanwhile, former double McLaren champion Mika Hakkinen finished seventh in the 1000km Arctic Lapland Rally on the weekend at the wheel of a Toyota Corolla.

'I must be getting the hang of it,' said the Finn, 'as last year we were 33rd.'

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