F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
February 10, 2004

Barrichello Sets Record In New Ferrari
Another Formula One lap-record has fallen in pre-season testing despite new regulations designed to slow the efficiency of the million-dollar racers.

First, Juan Pablo Montoya (Williams) and David Coulthard (McLaren) showed them how it was done by setting a new benchmark at the twisty Valencia track.

BAR's Jenson Button and Takuma Sato then smashed each others' unofficial records at Circuit de Catalunya as they performance-tested new and hybrid 2004-cars.

Yesterday, Rubens Barrichello was on-fire over 74 laps in Ferrari's F2004.

New regulations in 2004, written also with commercial considerations, include penalties for poor engine reliability and restrictions to the aerodynamic code.

But Brazilian Rubens, who endured a couple of damp debut-days in the scarlet machine at Italy's Mugello track, finally got a sunny sky on Monday ...


... his best-time, 1.18.704, was significantly faster than the old unofficial record set by team-mate and reigning champion Michael Schumacher in the F2002.

After Rubens' maiden 3-day test, Ferrari packed the single-seater into the trucks and powered back to base where another test will start on Tuesday.

Schumacher, 35, is scheduled to resume the development-programme at Fiorano.

Pantano Eyes Jordan Victory
Italian F3000 driver Giorgio Pantano is nearing the chequered flag in an unusually-protracted race for the final full-time seat in Formula One.

The 25-year-old will almost certainly line up alongside confirmed ace Nick Heidfeld in the Ford-powered EJ14 if his sponsors deliver up to $5m in funding.

Jos Verstappen was ready to offer $10 million, and Benson & Hedges nearly $6m if a British driver took the wheel - so why has Eddie Jordan plumped for Pantano?

Team sources hardened speculation that the highly-rated racer is making the trip to Spain's Jerez de la Frontera circuit this week to meet with Jordan bosses.

A spokeswoman didn't reveal (know) if Pantano would drive at the test or not.

'We're talking and he's going to come down to see what's going on,' she added.


Experts close to the Silverstone-based team reckon it's likely that sponsor B&H retracted its offer to release more funds if the second-driver was British.

The news serves as a blow to Scotsman Allan McNish and Jordan race-incumbent Ralph Firman Jnr who had hoped to partner a rated 'Quick Nick' on the '04-grid.

Pantano was German F3 champion three years ago, has tested F1 cars with McLaren, Minardi and Williams, and most recently won races in support-category F3000.

Analysts agree that he is talented and the best of EJ's alternate pay-drivers.

Jordan Zip-Up New Agreements
Cash-strapped F1 team Jordan has zipped-up a couple of new agreements.

The first signature was that of artificial-intelligence specialist Scientio Inc., who will supply software to be used in the analysis of technical data.

'The first project ... concerns an important area of performance which over time should reap some interesting results,' said head of vehicle science James Key.


On Monday, an agreement was also announced with TMA - a strategic marketing agency - for the provision of design services to the Formula One team.

'2004 will see the rejuvenation of Jordan, and a strengthening of [its unique] brand positioning,' said Mike Hall-Taylor, head of marketing at Jordan.

Fans In For Sterling Season: Williams
Fans of Formula One are in for a peerless brand of grands prix this season.

That's the opinion of BMW-Williams' chief operations engineer Sam Michael who is convinced that up to four teams will tussle for the title throughout 2004.

'It is going to be a hard year, and for viewers of the sport, it is going to be very close,' said the young Australian, one of F1's brightest minds.

Last season, only 16-points separated the top-three teams, also including McLaren and Ferrari, in the latter's victorious constructors' championship.

But after studying the pre-season form of his rivals this winter, Michael reckons there may be even less in it for the new-season of F1-competition.


'I think the key will be how quickly they can develop their cars,' he said.

Williams' new racer, the FW26, is visually-innovative and was launched - and tested - about a month earlier than its second place-getting predecessor.

'We are pushing hard now to be in an advanced state before Melbourne,' said Sam.

So far in 2004, the British team has already completed twenty-days of testing.

One of Williams' racers, Juan Pablo Montoya, shares his boss's opinion that McLaren's highly-developed MP4-19 and the new Renault R24 are both in the fight.

'Ferrari are consistent,' said the Colombian, 'and Renault are improving. It will be a hard-fought championship with many players - great for the fans.'

Trulli Completes Half-Marathon
When Jarno Trulli completes twenty-one kilometres of running in a single day, most Formula One journalists agree he's not going to be particularly happy.

But on this occasion, the Renault racer was just puffed-out ...

... Trulli, from Italy, competed in a half-distance marathon in chilly and windy Wokingham on Sunday as a compliment to his grueling pre-season training regime.

'It went pretty well,' the local resident said afterwards.

He added: 'I took it quite easy at the beginning but by halfway, I realized I was behind schedule, so started pushing a bit more.'

The only real problem was due to the typically-inclement English weather.

'I know it's February,' Jarno Trulli joked, 'but I still wasn't prepared for it to be quite so cold and windy!'


On Tuesday, the racer returns to the tracks for 3-days at Jerez in the recently-launched R24, which was evaluated by team-mate Fernando Alonso last week.

'Everything looks pretty good so far,' Trulli revealed.

He added: 'The reliability is good and Fernando told me that although we can make improvements, the car seems quick. I have high expectations for testing.'

Raikkonen Plays Down Ferrari Link
Runner-up F1 champion Kimi Raikkonen has played down rising speculation that his future is as Michael Schumacher's successor at the Italian Ferrari team.

The Finn's McLaren boss, Ron Dennis, said recently that his scarlet-clad rivals are 'testing the temperature' on potential driver-replacements for the German.

Moreover, Ross Brawn - technical wizard at Ferrari - mused that of the rising-wave of F1 young-guns, Kimi 'Raikkonen is the one who impresses me most.'

But the 24-year-old suggests that there is little truth to the speculation.

'I have a contract with McLaren, and when that expires we'll see what happens,' Kimi told La Gazzetta Dello Sport. 'But Ferrari haven't even talked to me.'


Raikkonen, who has yet to have an 'option' signed on his McLaren contract for 2005 and 2006, doubts that 35-year-old Michael Schumacher is eyeing retirement.

'He's under contract until 2006,' said the quiet speedster, 'and I don't think he'll quit before then. We'll see - I see no reason to change out of McLaren.

'I feel really good here.'

Jean Todt, boss of the Ferrari team, mused recently that his Maranello-based marque is 'active' in the search for the next Formula One world champion.

'We look at what is happening with young drivers,' said the Frenchman.

Webber: Who Knows What Ford Will Do?
Grand Prix racing-sensation Mark Webber has reacted to theories that American car-maker Ford, owner of Jaguar, is 'long overdue' to pull out of Formula One.

Commenting on the signing of the Australian's paying team-mate Christian Klien, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone wondered: 'How much longer can Ford go this way?

'They have made a big cut in costs - no wonder they hired a driver with money.'

The 73-year-old continued that if Ford was serious about getting to grips with its opposition, it should pump in more bucks or else 'not be in it' at all.


Webber was asked by a teleconference of Australian reporters whether he believed the diminutive Englishman, Ecclestone, had been too hard on the team ...

'... Probably Bernie knows more than what I do about what [Ford] are up to,' said the speedster. 'Time will tell. No-one really knows what they'll do.'

Jaguar's budget is around $150m - less than half the coffers of top-teams including world champion marque Ferrari or Mercedes-backed McLaren.

'It's how you spend your money that makes the car perform well,' said Mark, 'and what we have is a very healthy budget to do our championship for this year.'

Webber believes Ford are committed to making Jag-Rac work 'as best they can.'

He concluded: 'I'm not really in a position to talk about what their involvement is going to be. What they do in the future, I think no-one really knows.'

Finn Confused By Privateers' Plight
Mika Hakkinen is confused about the plight of F1's most-struggling privateers.

The retired double world champion, who quit McLaren in 2001, doesn't know why Minardi are always slowest and reckons Eddie Jordan makes some 'odd' decisions.

'I don't understand Jordan,' Mika started in F1 Racing magazine.

'It's very sad, because Eddie is a great guy. F1 needs guys like him - he's a motivator. He's the kind of guy that that gets the best out of a driver.'

On the other hand, Hakkinen muses, opting to sue Vodafone was 'very odd.'


He said of the failed action that not only cost Jordan several million dollars, but a slating from the Judge: 'That wasn't a good idea at all.

'Like EJ himself,' Hakkinen continued, 'Jordan are inconsistent. But I guess consistency is difficult to maintain if your best engineers keep leaving ...'

Mika Hakkinen is also confused about back-of-the-grid minnows Minardi.

'My question is this,' he asked in the magazine. 'Why are they always so bad?'

The 20-grand prix winner, Hakkinen, acknowledges that the Faenza-based team, owned and run by Aussie Paul Stoddart, is short of money - 'I know that.'

But Mika concludes: 'That doesn't explain why they're always so bad. It's almost as if there's an unwritten law that says they must always be last.'

Ferrari Aren't Falling Apart: Rival Chief
Ferrari won't fall apart, a rival F1 team's chief engineer has warned.

Australian-born Malcolm Oastler, who was fired by BAR a couple of seasons ago, doubts that the pecking-order will shift dramatically between 2003 and 2004.

Now a Jaguar employee, he said: 'Ferrari did have a patch of less than dominant performances [last season], but they were strong again at the end.'

The latest Ferrari-headline is that number-two driver Rubens Barrichello has smashed a two-year old circuit record at Mugello in the newest F2004 car.

'They're clearly back on form,' Oastler noted. 'There's a lot of inertia in F1 so I do think Ferrari will probably win the title again this season.'


Oastler believes that the Ferrari 'dip' of 2003, which resulted in a close down-to-the-wire battle for the drivers' title, actually highlighted their strengths.

He said: 'They didn't disappear into their corners and start slagging one another off. They rallied. They've obviously got depth in their personnel.'

The only chance McLaren, BMW-Williams and Renault have of winning the championship, said the engineer, is if they produce clearly better challengers.

'And I think having fewer teams won't exactly help Bridgestone,' Oastler added.

Then there's the 'Michael-factor' - Oastler believes Schumacher's crew would lie down and let him run over them if they thought it would make his car faster.

'That's an asset - the way he galvanizes the team - that is hugely powerful,' said the Aussie, 'and it's way beyond what most other drivers can comprehend.'

Now 'Iceman' Slams Ferrari Team-Orders
Finnish racer Kimi Raikkonen has backed the recent claims of his McLaren predecessor that Ferrari's approach to team orders is not good for Formula One.

Retired champion Mika Hakkinen, whose ex-engineer and trainer now work for Kimi, said he only agrees with orders to boost the final throes of a title-campaign.

Kimi, 24, is linked to an eventual move to Michael Schumacher's Scuderia, which enraged the racing world in 2002 when it robbed Rubens Barrichello of a win.

'I wouldn't race for a team where the second driver is pre-determined,' Raikkonen told Italian sports magazine La Gazzetta Dello Sport.

Kimi said he 'couldn't stand' to be forbidden the chance to race on even-terms.

But, like mentor Hakkinen who tips Raikkonen for the 2004 drivers' crown, the 'Iceman' doesn't mind team orders if they're used at the tail-end of a season.

'I can understand helping a teammate if one had an awful season and the other had a chance to win the title,' the Espoo-born racer, Raikkonen, concluded.


Mika Hakkinen won his first of twenty grands prix because of team-orders.

Raikkonen's current team-mate, David Coulthard, was moved over by the Mercedes-branded bosses at Jerez, in late 1997, to give Mika a better shot at the leader.

'Mika deserved his first win,' Coulthard, the veteran-racing Scot, said at the time. 'He was faster than me so the team ordered me to let him through.'

Webber Geared-Up For Home Grand Prix
Aussie driver Mark Webber is all geared-up for his third home Formula One race.

The Queanbeyan-born star debuted in a Minardi two seasons ago and completed a 'fairy-tale' weekend by earning an astonishing two points for fifth place.

'I'm very lucky,' said the 27-year-old Jaguar Racing ace who, with his nineteen GP-rivals, will start their 2004 campaigns in Melbourne in less than a month.

He continued: 'Others like Kimi Raikkonen, Montoya and [Austrian team-mate] Christian Klien don't get a home grand prix so I'm very fortunate that I do.'

Webber calls the race in Melbourne 'one of the best' on the F1 calendar.


'It's probably not the best race for me in terms of off-track activities,' he smiled - 'I'm stressed a little bit, to be honest, but it's a phenomenal event.'

Fans at Albert Park, the temporary road-style circuit, are very knowledgeable, said Mark, and understand the mid-field situation he's in at the moment.

'I think Melbourne loves sport - they get out and support it and [the grand prix] gets huge attention nationally as well. It's a great event for me.'

But Webber warned a throng of local reporters in an Aussie 'teleconference' from England not to expect a Jaguar-Ferrari 'head to head' with Michael Schumacher.

'Well, them and us - we're in two different categories,' he said in reference to the champion Ferrari team. 'We don't often talk about them at our factory.'

Rubens Admits 'Gap' To Michelin Rivals
Rubens Barrichello isn't buying-into claims that the latest 'Bridgestone versus Michelin' Formula One tire-war is already a foregone conclusion.

Many analysts agree that the pre-season form of Michelin-shod McLaren and BMW-Williams is about a second-per-lap healthier than Ferrari's Bridgestone pace.

The Ferrari driver, Barrichello, won't play the guessing-game.

'It's difficult to estimate the performance of two tire companies without having tried them both,' he told reporters after his run in the F2004 on Monday.

The Brazilian insisted he's 'not worried' about the allegedly unbeatable Michelin contest, but appeared to concede a 'gap' to his French-made rivals.

Barrichello, after smashing the unofficial lap-record at Italy's Mugello track, said: 'Honestly, we don't believe the gap is anywhere as large as some suggest.'


The only other reasonably-funded F1 team also running on Bridgestones this season, Sauber, support claims that the Japanese supplier is fighting back.

'Last year, the situation was that the [tire] performance was not always consistent,' said the little Swiss team's technical director Willy Rampf.

He added: 'But I think they're doing a lot of development work now.'

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