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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
February 12, 2004


Bahrain Scraps F1 'Tent City' Plan
Bahrain has put a novel plan to accommodate nearly two-thousand Formula One fans in a massive desert 'tent city' on hold for at least another year.

Project chief Rayan Kazerooni told Gulf Daily News that there now wasn't time to get everything organized ahead of April's first-ever race in the Middle East.

'It has been shelved, but we are going to do it next year,' he said.

'It has been put on hold because of the late time - we have to market it worldwide. We will be addressing it immediately after the first F1 race.'

Kazerooni's plan, given a shortage of hotel rooms in the tiny country, was to erect five separate 'tent' camps in Sakhir each capable of hosting 300 people.

'We will review the plans in May,' Kazerooni, who is also business development manager at the Bahrain International Circuit, told the publication.

B & B NETWORK ALSO CANNED

Appeals to local residents to allow F1-visitors into their homes has also been scrapped because time has run-out before the looming 2004 Bahrain Grand Prix.

Kazerooni said: 'All parties were supportive from the demand and supply side, but when you look at what is involved there is nowhere near enough time.'








F1 Doomed If Costs Aren't Cut: Ecclestone
Formula One faces certain-doom if its competing Formula One teams cannot cut costs immediately, according to the sport's president Bernard Ecclestone.

The 73-year-old told journalists in a telephone hook-up from London that car manufacturers won't stick around if their investments aren't financially viable.

'If we don't reduce the costs dramatically, the current car companies in F1 who are at the top may say, 'We've spent enough and we're leaving'.

'We've got to come up with some ideas this year. It's just that simple.'

Bernie believes cash-strapped teams like Minardi and Jordan will never claw their way up the grid unless the big-budgets of McLaren and Ferrari are reduced.

'To get the regulations changed in order to bring down the costs of the McLaren team to somewhere near Jordan would be attainable and easy,' he explained.

BIG TEAMS NOT INTERESTED

But the cash-laden pacesetters aren't interested in change, he said.

'They've got an awful lot of money invested, and as long as they have it, they'll spend all they have to win,' said Ecclestone.

But he revealed that the FIA was currently working on a plan to cut costs via the technical rules; an engine-formula slash from 3.0 to 2.5 liters V10.








Minardi Spread Wings To Asia
F1 backmarker Minardi is set to expand into Asia.

The little Italian outfit announced on Wednesday the formation of 'Minardi Team Asia' following the signing of an agreement with Eurasia Motorsport.

As well as maintaining its F1 presence, then, Minardi will help enter Asian drivers in the Formula BMW Asia and Asian Formula 3 series this season.

Headquartered in Hong Kong, Eurasia Motorsport will run cars in both series in Minardi's distinctive black, white and red colors.

'There has often been talk of F1 teams helping to popularize motorsport in Asia, but up until now, nothing has been done,' said Minardi boss Paul Stoddart.

ASIAN DRIVER TO ENTER F1?

The Australian chief said, given the population of Asia, a young driver will almost certainly be uncovered via this program and urged onto F1's road.

>From a commercial perspective, the plan is to give Minardi's F1 sponsors the opportunity to be associated at a regional level in the global Asian market.

Stoddart met Eurasia's Piers Hunnisett through former Malaysian ace Alex Yoong.

'Minardi Team Asia will announce its 2004 driver line-up in the near future,' read a statement issued by the back-of-the-grid Formula One outfit.








Montagny To Finally Draw Breath
Next week, Franck Montagny will finally get time to draw breath.

The Frenchman, signed late last year as Renault's new official tester, has been at every pre-season session for the Enstone-based team so far in 2004.

'I've driven over 7500kms but there are still plenty of little things I need to learn each day,' he told reporters from his latest test-venue - Jerez (Spain).

Finally, Montagny has been scheduled a breather early next week.

'I'll watch from the pits,' Franck confirmed, 'and that will give me time to take a step back, analyze and understand. It's a bit like a study course!'

JARNO AND FERNANDO ARE DIFFERENT

But he's already learned a lot - like just how different race pilots Fernando Alonso, of Spain, and F1 veteran Jarno Trulli, the Italian driver, are.

'We leave the hotel in the morning and you can be sure Jarno's already at the track, and he stays until nine at night. That's his way of working.'

Montagny says youngest-ever winner Alonso, however, needs more time to relax.

'That's my way too,' he continues. 'That's how we perform at our best. Working with both of them teaches me new things every day. It's important.'

Physically, Franck says he has adapted to driving Formula One cars even if his seating-position isn't yet perfect at the wheel of 'his' older R23 chassis.

'My shirt collar has gone up a size,' he laughs, 'but my back's a bit sore because the seat isn't perfect - it's made me realize how important it is.'

Most important is that Franck's times are comparable to Jarno and Fernando's.

'It's nice,' he smiles. 'It may take me a bit longer to get there than those guys, but that's just a question of experience - driving F1 is great fun!'








Button, BAR, Still Reigns At Jerez
Jenson Button continued his reign at the top of the testing-timesheets on Wednesday as fifteen Formula One runners circulated at Jerez in Spain.

The BAR ace was trailed by Franck Montagny in an older Renault, Button's team-mate Takuma Sato and BMW-Williams ace Ralf Schumacher in the innovative FW26.

A race-simulation for Sato ended when a front-wheel fell off after a pitstop.

'Both [Ralf and Marc Gene] concentrated on set-up work,' said Tim Newton, who confirmed that Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya will replace Gene on Thursday.

Jarno Trulli, also on a race simulation, was next-best in the R24 followed by the first of McLaren's two drivers, Kimi Raikkonen, in the still-slow MP4-19.

JAGUAR RUNS OZ-SPEC AERO KIT

Australian ace Mark Webber tried Jaguar's definitive R5 aero-package.

'We didn't do enough laps,' he said, 'but this car is better than the old one.'

Ferrari had Luca Badoer on a big tyre program, ahead of Christian Klien and Sauber's Felipe Massa and Giancarlo Fisichella who both had engine dramas.

Jordan's likely race line-up of Nick Heidfeld and Giorgio Pantano continued to share the single EJ14 contender and brought up the times after 75 total tours.

* Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher continued development on the new Ferrari F2004 at Mugello while Minardi wrapped-up a session at the nearby Misano track.








Bernie Not Sorry About 'Beggar' Remark
F1 president Bernie Ecclestone has refused to apologize for calling Australian-born Minardi chief Paul Stoddart a 'beggar'.

It was reported mid last-season that the 73-year-old impresario had taken a stake in the Faenza-based stragglers in a last-ditch attempt to save the team.

First, Ecclestone denied this in a telephone hook-up with Aussie journalists.

SUPREMO DIDN'T BUY MINARDI STAKE

'I made certain guarantees for them,' he said, 'but I didn't buy anything.

'The idea of a beggar is true. I said it's not good for people like Paul to walk around looking like they're begging, it's no good even for them.'

And from a business point-of-view, said Ecclestone, it's even worse because Minardi will never claw-up the F1 grid if backers aren't sure of their strength.

Bernie added: 'I said to Paul, 'You've got to shake things up'. I think he's got a budget now that's going to be ok and he should start building the company.

'But he shouldn't be walking around looking for handouts.'








Ralf Fighting Over Money: Frank Williams
Eponymous team principal Sir Frank Williams has revealed that fights over money stalled contract-renewal talks with Formula One racer Ralf Schumacher.

He told British broadcaster BBC that the German-born star's current contract, which expires at the end of this season, will be reviewed around mid-2004.

'Ralf is our preferred choice,' Frank told the website.

Williams continued: 'Once the second half of the season is underway we will see where we are in the championship and get back to fighting over the money.'

Last month, 28-year-old Schumacher - who won two grands prix last season - denied that delayed talks with Williams had anything to do with money.

GERMAN COULD LEAVE TEAM

His manager Willi Weber clarified that the dispute is about exposure of lucrative personal sponsors and serious enough to see Ralf leave the team.

'If we can't find a way to continue together,' said a source close to the Austrian-resident, 'Ralf will look for another cockpit in Formula One.'

Toyota advisor Ove Andersson said he would 'seriously' consider Ralf Schumacher if the highly-rated driver came knocking on the Cologne-based team's door.








Bruni Shines In New Minardi
MISANO, Italy: Gimmi Bruni lopped a further second-and-a-half off Minardi's former record at the Autodromo Santamonica on Wednesday in the new PS04B car.

The Roman took-over from 2004 teammate Zsolt Baumgartner on the Adriatic coast and clocked 64 laps in the Cosworth-powered racer whilst testing tyres.

'The new chassis is very good,' said Gianmaria, 'and I'm happy with the small innovations. I feel happy with the time I set and I look forward to Imola.'

Team chief Paul Stoddart noted that Baumgartner and Bruni covered almost two full race distances in the plain-painted black car without major problems.

'Reliability is something that all F1 teams will be striving for in 2004, so the indications from this test are very positive,' he said after the 2-day test.

Minardi's final pre-season session takes place next week at Imola.

AIRPORT MISPLACED CAR-PARTS

Meanwhile, at the busy Jerez tests, Jordan aces Nick Heidfeld and Giorgio Pantano endured a trying day as development miles were put on the new EJ14.

A spokesman said airport and airline baggage handlers 'misplaced for an entire day' small but significant car-parts sent from the Silverstone factory.

Head of engineering James Robinson thus defended Italian race-hopeful Pantano's sluggish times over his series of 'reconnaissance laps' in the morning.








F1 To Crown New Champion: Bernie
Ice-cool Finn Kimi Raikkonen is the young man to halt Michael Schumacher's run of four consecutive Formula One drivers' world championships this season.

That's the earnest belief of F1 supremo and president Bernie Ecclestone who actually doesn't think the sport (necessarily) needs a new track-conqueror.

'What Schumacher has done has been very good for us,' said the 73-year-old. 'It's good to have a superstar. When people think Schumacher, they think F1.'

Bernie reckons Schumacher and Ferrari, who are likely to succumb to a pre-season tyre-deficit to pacesetters Michelin, will struggle to do it again in '04.

'With my dollar,' he told journalists, 'for what it's worth, I'll back Kimi.'

WEBBER TO EMULATE SCHUMACHER

Ecclestone also told the swarm of Aussie reporters in a phone link from London that their own racer, Mark Webber, is one of the very best in Formula One.

'I don't think we've seen the best of him,' he added of the Jaguar star who has been named as a likely candidate to join BMW-Williams as early as 2005.

Bernie said: 'If he was in a Ferrari, how much better would he be?'

The Briton concluded that he 'suspects' Mark has the ability to emulate the feats of F1's German-born champion, Schumacher, in motivating his entire team.








Jordan Expect Pantano Deal
Giorgio Pantano is '99 percent' certain, and now potential employers Jordan-Ford are reporting confidence that the Italian will race a yellow F1-car in 2004.

Sources hinted that the F3000 ace would feature on a press-release naming Nick Heidfeld's team-mate late on Wednesday, or at the latest some-time Thursday.

Jordan's director of business development Ian Phillips told new agency Reuters: 'We are now just waiting for everything to fall into line.'

He added that the 25-year-old's management had told F1's Silverstone-based team that guarantees on driver-sponsorship should be in place by late Wednesday.

WAITING ON CASH GUARANTEES

Phillips said: 'Until that is in place the deal is technically still not done of course, but we are confident it will be.'

The Jordan man denied reports as 'inaccurate' that Pantano brings a backer-purse of up to $5.5m, but he is believed to have the support of Italian companies.

Internet sources believe the money is coming from a well known fashion-brand.

Scottish ace Allan McNish pulled out of the race for the Ford-powered race drive as he announced on Wednesday that he'd contest the Le Mans endurance series.

'I would have loved to have raced with Jordan,' said last season's Renault tester, 'but I've always believed in what I can do and not what I can buy.'








Button On Pole For Williams Return
Jenson Button is favored to land Juan Pablo Montoya's soon-to-be-vacated F1 seat and complete a return to the BMW-Williams team he left three years ago.

British broadcaster BBC is reporting that the 24-year-old BAR-Honda grand prix driver's management has held 'initial talks' with old boss Sir Frank Williams.

Williams said of the racer who's currently setting the testing pace: 'Jenson is obviously a very fine driver but I wouldn't admit to talks if I'd had them.'

UNLIKELY TO LEAVE BAR

Button was shifted out of the Grove-based team after his debut season in 2000 and is now under firm-contract to David Richards' BAR squad, said Patrick Head.

Williams' tech-chief added: 'Drivers want a fast car and the money they would like. If he gets that at BAR, he would probably have little reason for leaving.

'But we would regard him high on the list of contenders if he was available.'








Melbourne To Lose Season-Opener In 2006
Australia will not open the Formula One world championship of 2006.

That year's 18th Commonwealth Games, to be staged in the same Victorian city of Melbourne, is set to relocate the race at Albert Park to later in the F1-season.

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, author of the annual grand prix calendar, said a draft plan for the 2006 series is already drawn up with Melbourne at the start.

SOURCES PREDICT LATE-RACE

'The contract is clear, and we didn't know what was going to happen in 2006,' he explained, 'so it's something we need to have a look at now.'

Sources already predict that, to assure decent weather in the Southern Hemisphere country, the 2006 grand prix will be held very late in the season.

'There are a few other events that need to be taken into consideration,' Ecclestone continued. 'They've also got dates fixed they're happy with.'







Ford Are 'Silly' About Jaguar Project
Bernie Ecclestone reckons car-giant Ford is being 'silly' about its F1 project.

The sport's supremo wonders why the American manufacturer, which offers an incomplete budget for Jaguar Racing, are happy to run at the back of the field.

'I really don't know,' he told Australian journalists.

Jaguar's budget for this season, around the $160 million mark, compares to the nearly $400 million annual fares for championship-rivals Ferrari and McLaren.

'Ford have got to decide what they want to be,' said Bernie, who notes that since the Leaping Cat started racing in 2000, it has scored only two podiums.

MARQUE HAS ALWAYS FALLEN-SHORT

He added: 'Do they want to be competitive or do they want to race the private teams? It seems a little silly to me that they're not where they should be.'

73-year-old Ecclestone, president of the Formula One Management group, says Ford has always fallen short 'at the last dollar' when it came to grands prix.

'It's simply a case of how much they're prepared to pay,' he concluded. 'They have never, ever, created the budget that is necessary to get the job done.'

Ecclestone expressed an ardent desire to see Ford's US-owned rival manufacturer General Motors in F1. 'Maybe they're working on it,' he offered as a hint.








Switzerland To Lift Ban On F1 Racing
With one swift and timely stroke, Switzerland could instantly become one of the most attractive destinations for a future Formula One race.

British media sources are reporting that the country's National Council has taken the first steps towards ending a nearly fifty-year ban on motor racing.

Reports said The Swiss Traffic Commission voted 14-8 in support of a motion to remove legislation that has forbidden all competitive track-action since 1955.

The ban came down after the tragic Le Mans accident of the same year in which a Mercedes-Benz race-car flew into the crowd and killed around 80 spectators.

WILL BUILD F1-STYLE CIRCUIT

The publication has learned that once motorsport is allowed in Switzerland, it would almost certainly build a circuit capable of hosting F1 grands prix.

Presently, the only race-circuit of note in Switzerland is at Lignieres, on a mountain plateau, but it's only about a mile long and not suitable for F1.

Switzerland is not part of the European Union and therefore the looming ban on tobacco advertising in 2005 could make a Swiss Grand Prix very attractive.








Fisichella And Webber Eye Williams Seat
F1 guns Giancarlo Fisichella and Mark Webber are on a list of potential candidates for the spare BMW-Williams seat of 2005, the team has admitted.

Technical director and team-partner Patrick Head described Roman-born Fisichella, under two-year contract to Sauber, as 'a very talented driver.'

He added of Webber: 'He has a contract with a team which has certain clauses in it. We will have to see if those are met. He's obviously a candidate.'

But Englishman Jenson Button, thanks to his nationality and Sir Frank Williams' affection for him, is probably in pole-position for Juan Pablo Montoya's seat.

Asked why Williams favored JB over Fisichella, who thrashed him at Benetton in 2001, Head said the 24-year-old showed well against Jacques Villeneuve in 2003.

'... and against Jarno Trulli at Renault in 2002,' he continued.

COULTHARD NOT A CANDIDATE

McLaren veteran David Coulthard drove a Williams in 1994 and 1995 but, even though he'll be available next season, he's not really in with a shout.

Head told the BBC: 'There is a vacancy and we're ready to be impressed.

'But there has to be a question-mark about the number of years in which David has been outperformed by a team-mate in terms of points at the end of the year.'








There Are No Alternate 'Supremos'
There are no alternate 'F1 supremos,' according to Bernard Ecclestone.

The 73-year-old president of Formula One Management warned his detractors not to bother limbering up for his high-powered job until he has called it a day.

'As long as I'm here,' he told a teleconference, 'it would be difficult to put anyone around me that would be meaningful.'

Bernie said viable hopefuls will step into his shoes 'as soon as I'm not here.'

RETIREMENT WILL CROWN SUCCESSOR

He added: 'But if you went out right now to try and choose a person, it would be very difficult. This is the kind of job you sort of have to grow into.'

Ecclestone has been at the pinnacle of his series since the 1980s but started life as a used-car salesman before stepping into F1 by fronting a team.

So, having fended off triple heart-bypass surgery and seemingly all disbelievers, what could topple Mr. Ecclestone from the top of F1's tree?

'I'd be happy to hand my gloves in and stand down if I don't feel I'm delivering, or I don't feel able to do what I should be doing,' he concluded.

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