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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
February 6, 2004


Montoya Quickest At Barcelona
Juan Pablo Montoya showed-off in his new Formula One race-car on Thursday by setting the fastest time at Spain's Circuit de Catalunya test session.

The Colombian, over 51 laps in the innovative FW26 BMW-Williams, beat Fernando Alonso's new light-blue and yellow Renault as he worked on chassis set-up items.

'We are achieving all our reliability targets and even though we're satisfied, we can always look to make progress on performance,' said Renault's Pat Symonds.

Nelson Piquet Junior continued to familiarise himself in the older Williams car and made 'a good contribution,' according to chief team engineer Sam Michael.

Further down the timesheets, however, Olivier Panis rounded out Thursday in Spain testing hospital-food after he speared backwards into the turn-3 barriers.

And David Coulthard and Alex Wurz's times continued to reflect the gloomy faces of the McLaren pitwall-technicians as they rounded out the field of nine.

Most teams return to action at the nearby Jerez circuit from Tuesday.

OTHER F1 TEST-ACTION

Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher concluded Ferrari's test at the Imola race-track in sunny Italy on Thursday after putting just 25-more laps on the new F2004 car.

And Nick Heidfeld added 67 laps to the new EJ14 Jordan's mileage in very wet conditions at Silverstone as the team uncovered a potential reliability problem.

'The car stopped on the circuit twice, both times with the same problem,' said the German driver. 'But I think it can be sorted out quite easily.'








Ralf Denies Affair-With-Model Claims
Married 28-year-old Formula One driver Ralf Schumacher has accused a busty-model of lying after she said they had a three-year 'on and off' affair.

'Jordan', real-name Katie Price, told co-stars of the ITV hit I'm A Celebrity - filmed in Australia - that she had affairs both with Ralf and David Beckham.

Ralf, brother of world champion Michael Schumacher, told German newspaper Bild that he met the model only once at a PR event for former team Jordan back in 1998.

'Her claims about what happened in the years after that are just lies,' he said.

Schumacher told the paper: 'The truth is, we never had anything.'

Katie Price's agent, however, said Jordan's claims are true. 'She used to fly out to Germany a lot to visit him,' he told reporters in Britain.

RALF AFFECTED BY GOSSIP

Last year, the BMW-Williams driver was affected by other attacks in gossip magazines such as claims that he was gay and his wife Cora was having an affair.

Ralf's manager Willi Weber explained: 'He can't just cut it out when newspaper stories say those things. He's human - of course it affected him.'








Verstappen Stubs Out Jordan Talks
Dutch veteran Jos Verstappen has, for a second and apparently 'definitive' time, pulled out of the race for the last-vacant seat on the 2004 Formula One grid.

After more talks between Jordan and his sponsor Trust Computers, Verstappen's management has decided to end all negotiations, claimed a report on his website.

'Despite all parties doing their best, some contractual obstacles couldn't be agreed upon,' read the report.

Trust's marketing manager Muriel Wouda said the company had done its 'utmost' to reach a deal but insisted that fans had seen the last of their logo on the EJ14.

She added: 'There might be an opportunity later this season whereby Jos Verstappen could get a seat in Formula One.'

Verstappen, 31, claimed not to be too disappointed.

'We have done what we could,' said the racer who similarly sat-out season 2002.

He continued, 'Despite all the time and effort we have not been successful in getting a mutual agreement on all contractual matters.'

JORDAN RENEW SPONSOR DEAL

Meanwhile, Eddie Jordan has called it a 'privilege' to announce a renewed sponsorship agreement with RE/MAX Europe for another single Formula One season.








Panis Sent To Hospital After Crash
For the second day running, a Formula One driver has woken up expecting to test a new racer but ended up testing the food at Catalunya's General Hospital.

Olivier Panis, when doing 130mph, speared his Toyota design into the turn-three barriers on Thursday and was airlifted to hospital for precautionary-checks.

Still at the nearby hospital was Sauber's Felipe Massa, who stayed overnight under observation having rolled his C23 machine into a ball at the first corner.

Eyewitnesses say Panis, the oldest driver in F1, lost control of his car at the fast right-hander and smashed backwards after skipping over the gravel-trap.

DID NOT RULE-OUT DRIVER ERROR

A Toyota spokesman could not immediately rule-out driver error.

Panis, dazed, removed himself from the car and walked over to an ambulance for the trip to the circuit medical-centre where he complained of blurry vision.

A hospital spokesman said the 37-year-old Frenchman would be held overnight for observation but Toyota added that he'd be fit to return to his car next week.

'He doesn't have any injuries, so [doctors] tell us,' said team spokesman Silke Albus who also insisted that there was no structural-failure on the TF104.

But he said Toyota would undertake a 'full investigation' into the cause.








Renault Set To Turn-Up The Wick
Renault, having put an early-emphasis on reliability, are about to start chasing all-out performance from its new-architecture RS24 Formula One engine.

This week in Barcelona, Fernando Alonso fronted the 72-degree design's third track outing and the Spaniard added a full race-distance to its odometer.

'We still do not have the definitive 'A' spec Melbourne engine,' said Mathieu Dubois, head of the Viry-Chatillon engine test team.

Three intermediate versions, X, Y and Z, are already making progress and the 'Z' - in Alonso's car on Thursday - carried several small-component modifications.

MELBOURNE-SPEC TO RUN AT IMOLA

The first Melbourne-spec engine will run at Imola on 17 February, said a source.

So, between now and then, engineers will start to turn-up the wick on the RS24.

'So far, [performance] has not been a priority,' Dubois continued, adding that currently the focus is on achieving a 'perfect' relationship with the chassis.

Alonso and team-mate Jarno Trulli are also fine-tuning their driving-style.

New rules in 2004 mean that all F1 aces must change gear manually - 'An error of just 300 rpm when changing gear can cost several tenths a lap,' said Mathieu.








Jordan Express Interest In 'Tusks'
Jordan is the latest Formula One team to express an interest in the innovative front-end design of BMW-Williams' all-new 'tusked' FW26 race-car.

Chief designer John McQuilliam, at Silverstone for the first-run of his new EJ14, said he usually takes only a fleeting glance at his rivals' F1 products.

'I take a look at the photos on the internet,' he told British broadcaster ITV's Formula One website, 'but I don't get too distracted by other cars.'

McQuilliam said trying to copy another car's aerodynamics is not a good idea because, when replicated in another wind-tunnel, it often results in less speed.

'Every team develops the car differently and what works for one car does not necessarily work for another one,' said John whose EJ14 has a conventional nose.

FW26 NOT-SO RADICAL

He hints that the Williams' 'tusk design' is not as revolutionary as it appears.

'When you think about it,' said McQuilliam, 'it's not that different from what we've got. It's not going to be a night-and-day difference anyway.'

But he concluded: 'If we did see something that did that, then we would have to get thinking about doing something very quickly.'








Bernie Calms Jordan-Abramovich Link
Bernie Ecclestone has stamped again on claims that Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich recently made a $300 million bid to buy Eddie Jordan's F1 team.

'It's not true,' the F1-supremo told the Financial Times.

Abramovich, who owns football club Chelsea, hosted 73-year-old Ecclestone and Irish-born Jordan at one of his team's soccer-matches late last season.

'Eddie was going anyway and I was invited along,' Bernie explained.

The newspaper asked what the trio talked about. 'Nothing,' Ecclestone replied. 'There was never, ever any fear of Abramovich investing in Formula One.'

PUT BEGGING-BOWL AWAY

If there was a bit of discourse between Ecclestone and Jordan, however, it was most likely to have pivoted around the latter's recent perception as a 'beggar.'

'These guys need to think a little bit about what they're doing and how they're spending their money,' Ecclestone said, referring also to cash-strapped Minardi.

He concluded, 'They're perceived to be beggars, which is not our image.'








McLaren To Unveil 'B-Spec' MP4-19
The McLaren car that races in the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix this season will not be a MP4-19, according to the Mercedes-powered team's principal.

Ron Dennis said his team, some-time during 2004, is planning to introduce a B-version of the silver racer currently clocking up pre-season test miles.

McLaren has devised four such significant development steps this season.

Dennis told Autosport: 'The 19B will be significantly different from the car we have in the first grand prix. We have got a very ambitious program.'

MERCEDES ENGINE PROBLEMS

The magazine also reports that McLaren's plethora of new-engine problems at Barcelona this week has resulted in Mercedes shipping-out another batch.

Pursuing the trend of the last week or so, McLaren racer David Coulthard and tester Alex Wurz were basically slowest-of-all runners in Spain on Thursday.

Austrian-born Wurz said after one slow-day at the Circuit de Catalunya: 'The car felt so good in Valencia. But today I just couldn't get the flow going.'








Massa Checks-Out Of Hospital
Sauber ace Felipe Massa was given the 'all-clear' before he checked-out of a hospital in Barcelona (Spain) following his horror 180mph F1-shunt on Wednesday.

According to the young Brazilian, doctors have ordered him to rest at home for the next few days, but he is scheduled to return to the track-fray in Jerez.

Sauber's next session at the Jerez de la Frontera circuit, also in Spain, is scheduled to start on Tuesday the 10th - and Massa will drive, said a spokesman.

22-year-old Felipe told his website: 'I explained that I have been asked to test next week and [the doctors] told me I'm free to drive without any restriction.'

Massa, from Sao Paulo, said he lost the new C23 under braking at turn-one.

DID NOT FALL UNCONSCIOUS

'It spun several times and hit the barriers hard. I called the team by radio, got out of the cockpit, took my helmet off and waited for the rescue [team].'

And contrary to some reports that Felipe lost consciousness in the airlift-helicopter, the speedster said he sat seated for the entire journey.

'I think it's just rumors from the journalists,' he smiled.








Honda To Axe Formula One Project?
Japanese engine manufacturer Honda is to decide later this season whether or not to continue ploughing the millions into BAR's Formula One project.

A current contract expires in late 2004 and a review will take-place mid-year.

'By Silverstone [a] decision will be made,' said Honda's Otmar Szafnauer.

In spite of a disappointing four seasons since returning to the grand prix grid, Szafnauer told Autosport that the 2004 powerplant is significantly better.

'It's lighter and will be more powerful in Melbourne than it was in Suzuka last year,' he insisted. 'We have set ourselves some pretty aggressive targets.

'We have got a month to meet them all and I think we will.'

CRUNCH-TIME FOR TEAM PARTNER

BAR chief David Richards, acknowledging a raft of pre-season glitches on the new long-life V10 specification, agrees that it's performance-time for his partner.

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








Bernie: Schu To Keep-On Racing
F1 impresario Bernie Ecclestone reckons Michael Schumacher will keep-on racing.

Why? Because the German star has got 'nothing else to do.'

Schumacher, who has won the past four drivers' championships for Ferrari, signed a new contract through to the close of season 2006 earlier last season.

But most analysts doubt he'll drive long enough to see the end of it.

'I think it depends how he goes,' Ecclestone told the Financial Times.

IN FOR EVEN TOUGHER SEASON

He added: 'I think if he gets consistently blown away by the young hot shoes, maybe he'd think about [retiring]. But he loves his racing.'

In terms of making it a seventh personal title-triumph this season, however, Bernie warns Schu to expect everything except an easy ride to the record-crown.

'I do think he'll have an uphill struggle,' said Ecclestone, 73.

He concluded, 'Last year was better [for F1] because his rivals were better. I think this year will be even better.'








Eddie Irvine On The Run
If an English police-officer spots former Formula One playboy Eddie Irvine, he won't ask for an autograph - he'll slap him with a set of handcuffs.

District Judge Nicolas Evans has ordered local police to arrest the 38-year-old ex-grand prix driver on sight following yet another failure to attend court.

In July last year, Irvine was pulled-over doing 50mph in a 30mph-zone in London's Hyde Park - on a scooter without a license or relevant insurance.

FAILED TO ATTEND COURT - AGAIN

Evans retracted an earlier pardon of the former Ferrari driver's failure to attend court when 'The Swerve' didn't show-up for sentencing on Thursday.

A court spokeswoman said of the Ulsterman: 'The warrant remains outstanding and Mr. Irvine will be arrested at the earliest opportunity.'

According to British sources, Eddie is not in the United Kingdom.







Bridgestone To Come-Out Fighting: EJ
Contrary to popular perception, Formula One tyre-partner Bridgestone can pose a threat to on-pace rival Michelin this season, according to Eddie Jordan.

The F1 team-boss reckons the Japanese brand, also supplier to Scuderia Ferrari, will not succumb to its pre-season pace and should 'come out fighting' in 2004.

MORE TO COME FROM TYRES

Team ace Nick Heidfeld switched camps, from Sauber to Jordan for 2004, but he remains shod by the rubber that stuck Michael Schumacher to the past 4-titles.

'I think they've made some good improvements,' said the 26-year-old whilst testing the EJ14 at Silverstone this week. 'Hopefully there's more to come.'

Bridgestone is still perceived to have an upper-hand in wet conditions.

Eddie Jordan also said that unlike BAR, who switched boots from Bridgestone to Michelin late last season, his team will remain loyal to the champion-marque.








Sato Can't Wait To Try New BAR
Takuma Sato can't wait to try his all-new Formula One racer.

The Japanese set a new lap record at Barcelona this week at the wheel of the older 'concept' car while team-mate Jenson Button got to grips with the new one.

'It was my first opportunity to do a performance run,' beamed Sato. 'It was good to see such high performance and I was very happy with the result.

'It's a great feeling to record a fastest lap.'

Technical director Geoffrey Willis lauded the young driver's lap in the concept-car and said it represented 'good progress' in terms of performance.

TO GET FIRST-TASTE AT JEREZ

Sato will get his first-taste of the newly-launched 006 at Jerez from Tuesday.

'We are all excited about the new car, which was very quick straight away,' the former Jordan ace, and BAR-replacement for Jacques Villeneuve, concluded.

* In other news, Ferrari has signed a three-year licensing agreement with toy-company Lego, paving the way for the development of Formula One car models.








Button Not Frustrated By Over-Hyped Stars
Jenson Button understands the F1-hype of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen.

The British racer is also in his mid-twenties but seldom perceived as among the 'new generation' of F1 stars fixing to steal Michael Schumacher's thunder.

Mark Webber and Juan Pablo Montoya also have less experience than Button, but the aforementioned racing-pair are similarly viewed as F1's future champions.

'It doesn't frustrate me,' Button told Autosport. 'It's just people's opinion.'

The BAR leader doesn't understand the hype about Webber 'but I understand Alonso and Kimi because they've both won grands prix. They're both in top teams.'

LUCKY TO LAND ON TOP

Alonso and Raikkonen might be good, but they were also lucky, says Jenson.

'They came in with teams that were very strong. I didn't.

'But I got so much experience driving bad cars that when you finally get a good one it's a great feeling. I think it's the best thing to do.'

Button expects to land his first podium-finish with his newly-launched BAR.

'It's not about proving anything to anyone,' said the Frome-born ace, 'but it would be good for the team, because of the amount of work that's been put in.'








Jordan Cools Threat Of UK-Snub
Team owner Eddie Jordan has likened moving his Formula One operation from England to somewhere-in-the-Middle-East as moving house to 'Mars.'

The Irishman told Reuters that he had indeed received a few offers to decamp abroad and avoid a raft of looming and restrictive European Union legislations.

But he doesn't think it will come to that.

EJ therefore seemed to prove theories that his, BAR chief David Richards', and FIA boss Max Mosley's threats are little more than political-prods at the EU.

'I think that sense will prevail,' Jordan told the news-agency.

He added: 'I can't possibly ever get my head around thinking that I would have a Formula One team in my name somewhere other than at Silverstone.'

STOP COMPLAINING, SAYS ECCLESTONE

F1 mogul Bernie Ecclestone told Jordan and BAR-Honda to stop complaining about EU-laws and just 'get on with Formula One' via The Times newspaper this week.

'We've got to make the best of what we have got,' said the Briton.

Bernie reassured the racing-world that while Britain may not stay at the centre of F1-politics for much longer, it should retain its technical edge.

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