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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
February 4, 2004


Sato's Turn To Clock New Lap Record
Takuma Sato carved another blink-of-an-eye out of the newly-set lap record at Barcelona on Tuesday as the enlivened BAR-Honda team continue to impress.

The Japanese, albeit driving the mainly year-old 005 'concept' car, was about six hundredths of a second faster than team-mate Jenson Button's Monday-record.

Nearly a full second behind on Tuesday was Spain's hero Fernando Alonso.

The 22-year-old was at the wheel of the all-new Renault R24 as he focused on set-up and the testing of small developments to the car's on-board systems.

Marc Gene and Ralf Schumacher were next in new BMW-Williams', while son-of-a-world-champion Nelson Piquet Jnr got a second chance in an older Grove-racer.

Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello completed 71 laps in the F2003-GA, while a silver-painted McLaren-trio headed by Alex Wurz continued to humbly drive MP4-19s.

Kimi Raikkonen had the indignity of bringing-up the times after just 18 tours, as Sauber's Giancarlo Fisichella and Cristiano da Matta (Toyota) went quicker.

'We experienced a transmission problem,' said Sauber's whiz Jacky Eeckelaert as he explained the curtailed programme of fewer than thirty laps in the C23.

CHAMPION TO RUN AT IMOLA

World champion Michael Schumacher and his sparkling-new Ferrari F2004 flew to Italy overnight to start a test at the Enzo e Dino Ferrari track near Imola.








Jordan Gets Smokey Cash-Boost
Eddie Jordan hailed a welcome cash-boost on Tuesday as he confirmed that long-time Formula One team-sponsor Benson & Hedges is staying for another season.

Owned by British-based group Gallaher, the cigarette-brand has coloured the Irishman's grand prix contenders since 1996 when it became the title-sponsor.

But Jordan sources clarified that B&H is, like 2003, a 'major sponsor' for the season and speculation puts their 2003 cash-pot at around the $20 million-mark.

The announcement will serve as a pep-talk to the hopes of British drivers Allan McNish and Ralph Firman as B&H prefers a local-star in the yellow-lined cockpit.

STILL ONE F1-SEAT TO FILL

Jordan-Ford has already signed German ace Nick Heidfeld, with ties to potential future engine-supplier Mercedes-Benz, as the first of its full-time F1-racers.

But Jos Verstappen is also clearly in the race for the final 2004-seat as his personal backer's logos were painted on EJ14 as it debuted at Silverstone.

'[B&H] have shown remarkable loyalty to us,' said Eddie Jordan.

He added: 'I'm proud that we will be racing once again in their distinctive yellow colours and we're looking forward to the season with excitement.'








Nurburgring Wins New F1 Contract
Germany's Nurburgring race-track will keep on staging F1 races until 2009.

Speculation had insisted that the event was a prime-candidate for the chop as the German Grand Prix is already hosted at the newly-revised Hockenheimring.

Moreover, Imola - Italy's second F1 destination - will lose its race after 2004.

Nurburgring race-promoters said on Tuesday that the contract with Bernie Ecclestone, set to expire this season, has been extended for five more years.

The track in the Eifel mountains stages the annual European Grand Prix.

FIA president Max Mosley said earlier this week that Germany and Italy were unlikely to continue staging two races as F1 continues a European-exodus.

BROTHERS TO KEEP HOME-CIRCUIT

Nurburgring is the closest circuit to world champion Michael Schumacher and BMW-Williams-driving brother Ralf's German hometown of Kerpen.

'We are very happy to have succeeded in what were very difficult negotiations,' the track's executive manager Walter Kafitz told a news conference in Mainz.

Kafitz said Nurburgring was one of the 'top' race-tracks in the world.








Alonso Encouraged By R24 Progress
Fernando Alonso reported contentment at the end of his first proper-day at the wheel of the aerodynamically-innovative Renault R24 in Barcelona (Tuesday).

The Spaniard, F1's youngest-ever winner, was quickest of all excluding BAR ace Takuma Sato who stormed to the fastest lap-time on a simulated qualifying run.

Alonso's 1.14.690 bettered a duo of new BMW-Williams FW26s, Rubens Barrichello's older Ferrari car, and three shining McLaren MP4-19s after a 71-lap program.

Fernando told reporters: 'The new car has confirmed my good first impressions from two weeks ago. It behaved as expected and is consistent on long-runs.

'I am happy with the progress we have made so far.'

CAR RESPONDS WELL TO CHANGES

The 22-year-old racer spent his time working on optimum chassis set-ups and the results were 'pleasing,' according to a Renault spokesman at the circuit.

'The car responded as predicted,' he added, revealing that Renault has now largely completed the first task of establishing R24's basic cooling set-up.

Alonso also tested minor engine modifications on the RS24, Renault's all-new architecture powerplant designed to compliment new long-life F1 regulations.

'Fernando's mileage with the R24 today was equivalent to just over a race distance,' noted executive engineering head Pat Symonds.

'We were pleased to see the car react to our changes as we had expected.'








New Jordan Racer Is F1's 'Lazarus'
Eddie Jordan had a spring in his step on Tuesday as he showed-off EJ14.

The Irishman was present as new-signing Nick Heidfeld put the first proper miles on his new Formula One challenger at the nearby Silverstone circuit (England).

'I feel at home,' Nick, who raced a Sauber last year, said after 37 laps.

'The car looks good and I've done quite a few laps with no technical problems at all so I look forward to driving in drier conditions.'

Jordan, team owner and principal, reckons his technical team has never unveiled a car with such improvements over its predecessor in the aero-departments.

Tech-whiz James Robinson marveled at how quickly the team put EJ14 together.

'I'm happy to say EJ14 is a step forward from last year,' said the team CEO.

But Eddie warned that only 'time will tell' if enough advances have been made to pull the yellow-clad team off the back row of the grid in the 2004 championship.

'I'm feeling optimistic,' he added, thanking Benson & Hedges for its loyalty.

Sources close to the team insist that since the season-ending Japanese Grand Prix last October, Jordan came close to joining Arrows and Prost in F1-heaven.

'I hope we will have a few surprises to come before the season starts,' EJ concludes. 'We've got a new car and I'm encouraged by what I have to show off.'

JORDAN AND LAZARUS

The EJ14 bore the word 'Lazarus' on its side-pod on Tuesday.

According to the Bible, Lazarus of Bethany was taken sick, died, and was buried; but, after having lain in the grave for four days, was brought back to life.








Ecclestone's Right - And Wrong, Says Stewart
Bernie Ecclestone is right but he's also wrong, according to Sir Jackie Stewart.

The triple F1 world champion, today president of the British Racing Drivers' Club, said his country should sit up and listen to Ecclestone's latest warning.

Bernie, F1 impresario, said Europe has 'no chance' of competing for future grands prix with the growing world economies such as India, Turkey and Korea.

'However, we cannot agree with Bernie with regard to his observations on Silverstone,' said Stewart, the Scot and chief of the club that owns the track.

Stewart explained that Ecclestone is 'one of the partners' involved in the rebuilding of Silverstone in a bid to retain the historic British Grand Prix.

BERNIE INVOLVED IN CIRCUIT REBUILD

In the Italian press, Bernie sarcastically mocked Silverstone's recent improvements, such as to new access roads and parking lots, as a 'big deal.'

But Stewart says Ecclestone's Formula One Management is closely linked to the next round of circuit-revisions; the rebuilding of the entire paddock and pits.

'The BRDC has committed its monies to this,' he said, 'and [we] are currently waiting for ... FOM to confirm in writing their agreement.'

He says Ecclestone's support is crucial to qualified government-assistance.








Piquet Takes Step Closer To F1
Nelson Piquet Junior took another step in his triple world-champion dad's footprints on Tuesday as he completed another day in a BMW-Williams race-car.

The teenage Brazilian, who got behind the wheel of an older FW25A contender, joined Ralf Schumacher and Marc Gene at Spain's Circuit de Catalunya.

A team spokesman at the track near Barcelona said Williams was 'impressed' with the youngster's performance and his 'excellent feedback' throughout the day.

Piquet, currently a fixture of the British F3 series, completed 67 laps and a best-time of 1.16.431, a little-more than a second slower than his team cohorts.

TEAM 'IMPRESSED' WITH TEEN STAR

He was, however, quicker than the McLarens of Pedro de la Rosa and Kimi Raikkonen and grand prix race-regulars Giancarlo Fisichella and Cris da Matta.

'Nelson joined the test to assist with our schedule,' chief operations engineer Sam Michael confirmed, adding that the youngster completed mechanical tests.

'He [also] spent the day familiarising himself with the circuit,' he concluded.

Piquet, better-known to his fans as 'Nelsinho', rejoins the team on Thursday.








Teams Should Buy And Sell Racers: Mosley
FIA president Max Mosley believes the secretive Concorde Agreement should be modified to allow Formula One teams to buy and sell complete race-contenders.

Currently, one of the foundation regulations of the championship is that each outfit must design, build and race a unique car produced by their own personnel.

'We have to keep at least 10 teams,' Mosley said in London on Monday.

The Englishman said one of the 'only ways' a modern, cash-strapped circus can achieve this is through affordable engines and reduced research and development.

He's batting for the survival of struggling privateers like Jordan and Minardi.

'If it was down to me,' said the Paris-based chief, 'I would open it up and let the market rip. That would be to everyone's advantage.'

Mosley said the Formula One teams were thinking about his idea.

'It is being discussed,' he confirms. 'In the longer-term manufacturers must be satisfied with what they get [out of F1] in relation to what they put in.'

He suggested that a third manufacturer's (engine) championship was one way to reward F1 carmakers from offering affordable customer supplies to lesser teams.

WILL STAND FOR PRESIDENT AGAIN

Max Mosley also vowed to stand for another term as FIA president.

'It is early days,' he said in reference to the next-round of elections not due until late-2005, 'but health and sanity permitting I will stand again.'








'Unfair' Points-System Is Here To Stay
Formula One's 'unfair' points-allocation system is here to stay.

That was the message of FIA president Max Mosley who said just weeks ago that it would have been a travesty if Michael Schumacher had lost his sixth title-crown.

A new system introduced last year sought to reduce the margin of the race-winner and also confer more runners in the top-eight places with championship reward.

But it may have crowned runner-up Kimi Raikkonen, who won just a single race in 2003, champion despite Schumacher's 2003-tally of six victorious grands prix.

NO MOVES TO RECONSIDER SYSTEM

Mosley confirmed there had been 'no move at all' in the F1 Commission or by team principals to reconsider the amended system for the allocation of points.

He even backed away from his claims that the structure is 'unfair.'

'I think it was [Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo] who said it's unfair. Well, we know that. I don't think it will change.'

But despite the 'downside' of possibly crowning an unworthy champ, Max insisted that the system makes it more likely that the series will go down to the wire.








Burti Has Not Signed Ferrari Contract
Contrary to an earlier report by this publication, Luciano Burti has not signed a part-time contract to test Formula One Ferrari cars during 2004.

The talented Brazilian told the media on Monday that a new agreement would allow him to follow leads in other motor sport categories throughout the year.

ONLY CONTRACT IS WITH BADOER

A scarlet-clad spokesman, however, denied that there is a formal contract and explained that Burti may be occasionally called-up to drive as he was in 2003.

'The only driver with a (test) agreement is Luca Badoer,' he told Reuters.

Maranello's spokesman added that both Sauber race-pilots would be on-call to test Ferrari cars during 2004 and 'maybe Luciano' will be used as well.

'But there is no signed agreement,' he concluded.







Ron Dennis Changes Tune Over Schu
Ron Dennis has changed his mind about reigning F1 champion Michael Schumacher.

When the Red-Baron took on McLaren-protégé Mika Hakkinen a few years ago, Woking-based team principal Dennis didn't like the Ferrari driver's style.

He said: 'I do have a very different opinion now than I did a few years ago.'

The Briton thought some of Michael's swerving race-starts were 'questionable' and he more than occasionally got 'on the limit' during overtaking maneuvers.

But now, 'I think Michael is a fantastic driver,' said Ron Dennis.

He reckons the 35-year-old has grown-up and is now 'fairer in some of his moves.

'There are still moments of indiscretion but [drivers] all have them.'

GERMAN IS SIZING-UP RETIREMENT

Dennis maintains that Michael Schumacher is sizing-up retirement, evidenced in Ferrari's recent outward-admiration for McLaren's youngster Kimi Raikkonen.

'They've been testing the temperature on some other drivers,' he noted. 'That gives you a little bit of an indication.'

Should Schumi win another world-title in 2004, Ron calculates the probability that he'll continue to grace the circuits a season later as about '50-50.'

And if he loses?: 'I'd say it would be 20-80 against,' said Ron Dennis.








Chiefs Slam Touted F1 Rev-Limits
Max Mosley has cast doubt on claims that Formula One technical chiefs are likely to embrace a wholesale overhaul of the engine-regulations in 2008.

Most carmakers appear to have walked-away from an earlier undertaking to support the plight of independent teams by offering 'affordable' engine supplies.

Some suggested, however, that a new Concorde Agreement might be the perfect opportunity to cut-costs by instilling a cheaper-to-manage power-formula.

A rev-limited, four-litre V10 configuration was touted as an easily-affordable route to at least eight-hundred and fifty horse-power.

'Rev-limits will not work in F1,' said Mosley, the governing FIA's president.

COSTS WOULD BE PUSHED-UP AGAIN

He said: 'All that would happen is that manufacturers would look for power in other areas and costs would be pushed up again. It's not the answer.'

BMW motorsport chief Dr Mario Theissen agrees.

The German explained to British-based F1 Racing Magazine: 'It would be very difficult to define an engine formula which really leads to cheap engines.'








Mark Webber, Stay Out Of Bahrain
Mark Webber, you've been officially warned - stay out of Bahrain.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs And Trade (DFAT) pursued the recent lead of Britain by warning citizens against setting foot on the Gulf Island.

Webber and his 19 driving-rivals will race on Bahrain's state-of-the-art new circuit in April when the desert-location hosts its first-ever F1 grand prix.

A DFAT spokesman told us that the warning had been devised in view of 'continuing tensions' in the Middle East and the ongoing risk of terrorism.

'Australians in Bahrain should exercise a high degree of caution and monitor developments that might affect their safety,' read a section of the warning.

BUSINESS AS USUAL, SAYS F1 TEAM

F1 team BMW-Williams, meanwhile, continues to fly the flag for F1 in Bahrain by insisting that the sport should 'run from no-one', especially terrorists.

Team owner and principal Sir Frank Williams told F1 Racing Magazine: 'Recently we had a marketing party over there and all combatants returned safely.'

The FIA said the inaugural race's organization was proceeding 'as usual.'








F1 Has Abandoned Tobacco-Snub
F1 has turned-away from its earlier commitment to ban tobacco advertising.

FIA boss Max Mosley told reporters in London on Monday that the world of grand prix racing had originally agreed to end its association with the weed by 2006.

But 'legal advice' of about a year ago moved the Paris-based Federation to turn its directive into a mere 'recommendation' for competing grand prix outfits.

Five of Formula One's ten-teams are substantially backed by cigarette-dollars.

ACCUSES UNION OF 'STUPIDITY'

Mosley reckons the European Union's back-flip on the ban, resulting in an earlier imposition date of July next-year, was to blame for the FIA-snub.

He accused the EU of 'stupidity' because F1 teams had all agreed to the 2006-ban and had therefore signed new contracts with sponsors that now ran to that date.

'We're now virtually certain to see tobacco sponsorship in F1 going on until all of us have lost interest,' Mosley told journalists at the media-lunch.

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