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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
February 13, 2004


Renault Crack BAR's Grip On Jerez
Renault, and tester Franck Montagny, broke BAR-Honda's stranglehold on the top of the timesheets on Thursday as most F1 teams wrapped-up the Jerez session.

The Frenchman was driving the older R23 contender and went just quicker than Japanese racer Takuma Sato as BAR team-mate Jenson Button concluded his duties.

Felipe Massa and Giancarlo Fisichella, both in new Sauber racers, nearly matched each others' times as they worked on set-up and cooling configurations.

'Considering that we ran nearly 2000kms in three days with both cars we can say that we reached our set target of this week,' said the team's Jacky Eeckelaert.

14-RUNNERS ON SUNNY DAY

McLaren got some decent laps in with Kimi Raikkonen (108), but the new silver-painted MP4-19 was still a handful of tenths off the ultimate test-pace.

In another '19', tester Alex Wurz encountered technical difficulties.

BMW-Williams' Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher sat back in the testing-times as they aimed for a number of shorter runs to try different settings.

German-born Ralf had a few problems with his FW26, but he carried out some 'valuable' aero-work and practice starts, according to test manager Tim Newton.

Jaguar, Ferrari and Jordan were also on track, the latter's sole runner Nick Heidfeld bringing up the times despite clocking a valuable 91 laps in the EJ14.

BAR's Anthony Davidson was second-last as he got his first-taste of the new Formula One charger but he didn't turn many laps due to a seating-problem.

* Meanwhile, at the Mugello circuit in sunny Italy, Michael Schumacher continued development work on the all-new F2004 Ferrari and will drive it again on Friday.








Coulthard Is Too 'Intense': Former Boss
What's wrong with David Coulthard? - is he just inconsistent, or too intense?

His former boss, BMW-Williams' technical director Patrick Head, reckons both afflictions shape the problem with McLaren's soon-to-be-dumped Scottish veteran.

Head, who worked with DC in 1994 and 1995, notes that during Coulthard's nine-year career at McLaren he's been outperformed by both of his Finnish team-mates.

'That will count against him,' said the Briton when asked if the 32-year-old was likely to get another shot somewhere on the grand prix grid in 2005.

ANALYSES THINGS TOO MUCH

Head told The Mirror: 'Maybe he's too intense. He analyses things too much. When he's looking for a job, there has to be a question mark because of that.'

David, then a test-driver, started his career in one of Sir Frank's Renault-powered racers a decade ago after the death of team racer Ayrton Senna.

Patrick Head reckons that when Coulthard is 'hot, he is almost perfect.'

But at the next race he might be ordinary. 'He puts a huge amount of effort into his fitness and he's intelligent - he thinks about everything,' he added.

'Maybe if he relaxed it would allow that brilliance to come out more.'








Williams And Button
Sir Frank Williams has reinforced his affection for former team racer Jenson Button as he mused a short-list of replacements for the vacant 2005-seat.

'He's a great driver,' said Williams, who brought Button into F1 in 2000.

The young Englishman, however, was pushed off in the Renault/Benetton direction in 2001 and 2002 and last year started a long-term tenure at BAR-Honda.

Button's BMW-powered seat was filled by the now-defecting Juan Pablo Montoya.

WILLIAMS COULD HAVE KEPT HIM

Williams said: '[Jenson] was charming and uncomplicated and seems more mature. We could have kept him in 2001 but we had invested so much in Juan Pablo.'

The team principal also admitted 'a few' talks with Rubens Barrichello.

Moreover, F1-supremo Bernie Ecclestone likes what he sees in the recharged Button who fended-off the attacks of former champion Jacques Villeneuve in '03.

'To be honest with you, I've never really been a Button supporter,' Ecclestone said this week, 'but it looks like he's doing a good job now.'

Williams called Mark Webber, under contracts to Jaguar and Renault, as 'a real charger' and that despite all the rival agreements, 'anything is possible.'

Frank admitted 'money problems' with the contract-renewal of current racer Ralf Schumacher but said he would take his time about 2005 and 'look at all options.'








Verstappen Back In The Running
The logos of Jos Verstappen's sponsor disappeared from the new Jordan this week but the remaining 'Lazarus' sticker might be about to take on a new meaning.

According to sources, race-favorite Giorgio Pantano's slow-to-confirm backers may have left the door open for Verstappen to revive his bid for the drive.

Jordan's unconfirmed seat alongside Nick Heidfeld is the final available job on the Formula One grid ahead of the season-opener in Australia (March 7).

Reports indicate that Pantano, the F3000-winning Italian, is still waiting on letters of credit from his sponsors and that is holding up a contract signing.

And those hold-ups, say this publication's sources, may have prompted Jos 'The Boss' and his sponsors to make a last-ditch offer to slide on yellow overalls.

Pantano promises about $4.5 million from an Italian fashion-house but Verstappen may bring about double that figure despite the tougher demands of his sponsors.

SMALL MILESTONE FOR EJ14

Jordan claimed a 'small milestone' had been achieved at Jerez on Thursday.

The new EJ14, albeit still on the bottom of the timesheets, completed over 400kms with Nick Heidfeld at the Spanish track on 'parts' of a race simulation.

'The car stopped on the track just before the end of the session,' said head of race engineering James Robinson, 'however we know why it happened.'

Heidfeld said he was 'confident' the glitches could be sorted before Melbourne.








Ferrari: A Tough Act To Follow
Ferrari is a tough act to follow, according to a BMW-Williams chief.

'They'll be the strongest competitor,' chief operations engineer Sam Michael said of the Michael Schumacher-led team of scarlet-clad world champions.

Meanwhile, the Australian's boss, technical director Patrick Head, agrees that the Maranello-based outfit, Scuderia Ferrari, is an 'incredible class act.'

He told reporters at his Oxfordshire-headquarters in Grove on Thursday: 'Anyone who manages to beat them will have done a stunning job.

'I hope it will be us who does it first.'

OTHER TEAMS CATCHING-UP

Other teams, however, are catching up and putting pressure on Ferrari.

BAR's chief race engineer Craig Wilson reckons his team's switch from Bridgestone to Michelin will hurt Ferrari's tyre development a little.

'But they always did most of the testing,' he said, 'so [the effect] might not actually be that huge.'








Test Uncovers 'Problems' With New BAR
Despite again dominating the timesheets at the recent pre-season tests at Jerez, F1 team BAR-Honda has uncovered a number of 'problems' with its new 006 racer.

24-year-old Jenson Button has been the main-man in Spain as the team worked mainly on Michelin tire-work and preparing the two race-cars for Melbourne.

'It's been pretty consistent,' he said. '[The test] has reinforced the fact that we're heading in the right direction. But we've got a few problems.'

NEXT TESTS ARE 'VITAL'

Button said the next couple of tests, to start with a three-day session in Valencia next week, will be 'vital' to sort the technical issues out.

Track-spotters say Button, and car-cohorts Takuma Sato and tester Anthony Davidson, have hardly completed a fully-successful long-run with the new 006.

The Jerez-session was Japanese racer Sato's first proper time in the car.

'I've done two race simulations,' he reported, 'and learned lots about the car - it is fast and it's reliable. We have a good complete package now.'

But technical director Geoff Willis confessed a raft of 'small problems.'

He continued: 'We're addressing them, but overall the car continues to have competitive pace both on new tyres and on long runs.'








Row Triggered Montoya Team-Switch
An 'impulsive' Juan Pablo Montoya made the decision to ditch Formula One employers BMW-Williams after a fiery argument at last season's French GP.

Technical director Patrick Head said the Colombian, who will join rivals McLaren in 2005, screamed at team members over the radio during the race at Magny-Cours.

Head said Montoya 'incorrectly' assumed that the team had deliberated called team-mate Ralf Schumacher in to pit to favor the German's charge for victory.

ABUSED TEAM FOR 10-MINUTES

'He was pretty strong on the radio abusing the team verbally for the next 10 minutes,' the burly Englishman told reporters at Williams' Grove factory.

Sir Frank Williams and Head, after the race, reprimanded the 28-year-old racer for screaming at hard-working personnel while he also should have been focused.

'He wasn't impressed at having his knuckles rapped,' said Patrick, 'and I know the decision to sign with McLaren was taken within a few days of that.'

Head reckons Montoya 'sulked' after his cockpit-spit and cruised to the end of the race whilst losing around 15 to 20 seconds to his winning teammate.

'Had Juan been on [Ralf's] tail he might have won,' the Briton added.

Patrick Head thinks the defecting-ace will probably win championships in his career but criticized him for sometimes coming to 'impulsive' conclusions.








Toyota Shelved Bravery: Brunner
If Toyota's evolutionary-new Formula One racer settles in the mid-field this season, Gustav Brunner might rue his decision to shelve design-bravery.

'I think it's still a little early in our history to be too brave,' said the Austrian, who hailed the TF103 is a very clear evolution of its predecessor.

Earlier this year, top-team BMW-Williams unveiled its new FW26 with a radical front-end section which makes best-use of the novel 'twin keel' chassis system.

NEVER CONSIDERED WILD-NOSE

Brunner, whose Cologne-based employers finished last of F1's seven-competing manufacturers in 2003, never seriously considered trying either innovation.

'We're doing minor stuff right now,' he said, 'not re-inventing the wheel. 'We looked at twin-keel, we looked at the noses, but for now we stay conservative.'








Rivals Worried About Renault
Renault's rivals are worried that the French-owned marque is, for the first time since 1997 as an engine-supplier, on the verge of returning to winning ways.

'Leaving aside our drivers,' team owner Sir Frank Williams told the BBC, 'I would say Michael [Schumacher is favorite] and maybe [Fernando] Alonso.

'The Renault is a very impressive car,' he said.

Autosport magazine completed an analysis of top-teams' recent pre-season race simulations and concluded that 22-year-old Alonso was the grand prix winner.

In the new R24, he beat Luca Badoer's Ferrari and Ralf Schumacher's FW26.

R24 IS STRONG ON LONG-RUNS

'Renault is looking strong on long runs,' Jaguar's Mark Webber agreed. 'The Williams is a good car but Renault is strongest over a race distance.'

Williams added that Ferrari is likely to be the team to beat this season but said Renault is all set to cause 'a few major problems' from the season-opener.

Team racer Ralf Schumacher, however, isn't so sure.

'I don't see them winning the championship,' the German told ITV, 'as I imagine they will have problems with the engine. But they are looking quite strong.'

Renault's own director of engineering, Pat Symonds, agrees, insisting that the Enstone-based team has a way to go before hitting a title-winning potential.

'We're looking reasonable,' he said at the Jerez test-circuit, 'but I don't think you should expect us to win it. We're not at the top quite yet.'








'Cranky' Law To Spark Imola GP-Boycott?
'Cranky' European laws would be to blame if Formula One teams boycotted this year's first race on the continent, the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.

The shadow of new European Arrest Warrants legislation means teams including Eddie Jordan's Silverstone-based outfit may not be prepared to race there.

Asked if confirmed driver Nick Heidfeld would contest the Imola grand prix, Jordan told Autosport: 'As a sports person and a racer ... yes he will.

'But as a businessman with the responsibility I have, I am saying there is a question-mark. That part of me says no, we should not go.'

TEN-YEARS SINCE SENNA DEATH

May 1, just a few days before this year's scheduled Imola race, will mark a decade since Ayrton Senna was killed in his Williams at the San Marino GP.

It's a prime example of how the 'cranky' EAW laws could now see team personnel jailed in foreign countries to await investigation and trial, said EJ.

F1 supremo Ecclestone agrees that the issue is 'quite serious.

'It's like a lot of the other cranky things that we have in Europe at the moment,' the Briton told reporters - 'over-regulated, for the wrong reasons.'








Raikkonen's Better Than Montoya
Kimi Raikkonen is a better F1 speedster than Juan Pablo Montoya.

That's the belief of another of Jackie Stewart's purported 'top five grand prix drivers in the world today,' Jaguar Racing ace Mark Webber, of Australia.

Webber reckons Kimi, 24, is 'slightly stronger' than Montoya.

BOSS-WEBBER WOULD PICK KIMI

Mark said if he was a team boss, he'd pick Kimi over Colombian Juan Pablo, 28.

McLaren principal Ron Dennis, however, has picked both to head-up his team's title-charge of 2005 after wooing Montoya from current employer BMW-Williams.

'There's not much in it,' the Australian continued, 'and they're both such different characters in terms of how they go about their racing.'

But both aren't on the same-level as Webber's F1-hero, Michael Schumacher. 'They've got a long way to go to get to that,' 27-year-old Webber concluded.








Teams Gamble Safety For Ballast: Former Chief
Formula One teams are gambling car-safety for better performance and handling, according to Jordan's former director of race engineering Gary Anderson.

The Irishman told Autosport that the current trend is to produce as light a chassis as possible in order to add large amounts of moveable ballast.

Distributing ballast in an optimal way allows race-drivers to better set-up their cars for the demands of very different circuits like Monza and Monaco.

But the ballast - usually a high-density metal amalgam - is not fixed to the car as properly as some other permanent parts and could come loose in an accident.

AS MUCH AS 100/600 KILOGRAMS

Anderson said some teams, who must present a car/driver combination with a minimum weight of 600kgs to stewards, add as much as 100 kilograms of ballast.

Renault's new R24 is a good example of a team using the technique.

Their new 72-degree engine produces a higher centre-of-gravity this season but putting plenty of ballast near the bottom of the car minimizes the effect.

Toyota designer Gustav Brunner confirmed the usefulness of maximizing ballast.

He said: 'The weight distribution [of the TF104] is slightly more forward, but it is something you vary with ballast from day to day and from track to track.'








Is It Time To Write-Off McLaren?
Is it time to write-off Formula One team McLaren?

The Mercedes-powered outfit was the first to get its new MP4-19 challenger running this winter but it has not really impressed the testing timesheets.

'It's difficult to say where they are at the moment,' rival technical director Patrick Head, of the Grove-based BMW-Williams team, said on Thursday.

Particularly over long-runs, team racers Kimi Raikkonen and David Coulthard don't look special, perhaps due to some niggling new-engine bugs.

MERCEDES ENGINE TURNED-DOWN

'We've heard that,' said the Briton, 'and that maybe they're running with it turned down. But I've learned never to underestimate a team like McLaren.'

Williams' racer Ralf Schumacher agrees that, despite adverse reports from the Spanish testing-venues, McLaren will fire-up in Australia 'very strong.

'Believe me,' the German told ITV-F1. 'They have had enough time to prepare their car and even with their so-called old-car they were very competitive.







Bernie Coughed Bucks To Get F1 Deal
Racing-commander Bernie Ecclestone had to cede a few more dollars to the disgruntled manufacturers in a bid to seal the long-term future of Formula One.

The 73-year-old head of F1 Management confirmed reports that a 'tentative agreement' has been reached to quell the threat of a breakaway-series.

'I suppose like all agreements there are things still to be ironed out in the end,' said Ecclestone, 'but I'm sure we are going to get there.'

In terms of the likelihood of a GPWC (carmaker)-run series to be set-up in 2008, however, Bernie says everyone is 'very happy' with the way things currently are.

To get a deal, BE admits a 'few more dollars' had to be promised to the teams.

NOT SURE IF THREAT WAS REAL

'But that's normal,' he added. 'And we're going to put some people with veto rights on the board so I don't do silly things, which I haven't up to now.'

Bernie isn't sure just how serious the threat of F1-split was.

'The [manufacturers] are competing in the marketplace, they're competing on the track - how were they ever going to agree to rules and how to run the race?'








Schumacher To Visit New Zealand
Ralf Schumacher is set for a rare visit to New Zealand in March.

The BMW-Williams F1 pilot will be in major-city Auckland prior to next month's Australian Grand Prix to unveil the latest BMW road-model, the 6-series.

He is scheduled to take the wraps off the car on March 1, just days prior to opening his 2004 championship-account on the streets of Melbourne.

Ralf, 28, will be the guest of honour at an exclusive private luncheon in NZ where signed memorabilia will be auctioned, before jetting-off for Albert Park.

Boss of BMW Group NZ, Geoff Fletcher, said it was 'exciting' to have one of the world's 'most recognisable' sporting figures in New Zealand for the launch.

In the past decade, only Mika Hakkinen (2000) and Heinz-Harald Frentzen (1997) have crossed the Tasman to take in the sights of beautiful New Zealand.

BAHRAIN READY FOR GRAND PRIX

Meanwhile, chairman of the Bahrain F1 project Shaikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa reckons the Middle Eastern country is ready to host Formula One.

After a high-level meeting, he said construction-work was ahead of schedule and, according to Gulf Daily News, the race is heading for a 'resounding success.'

* And the organising committee for September's inaugural Chinese Grand Prix has been set-up, according to the country's state news agency Xinhua.

>From scene-of-the-race Shanghai, organisers also revealed that the television rights of the event are expected to fetch up to $12 million US dollars.








More Hope For Imola Survival
Bernie Ecclestone has distanced himself from recent statements suggesting that Imola will definitely stage its last-ever Formula One race in 2004.

The track in Italy, host of the annual San Marino GP, has just one-race left on its contract and is in pole-position to make way for more non-European events.

Bernie, F1 supremo, told an Italian magazine that from 2005, Imola will no-longer stage the event because 'Italy will have only one race [at Monza].'

Turkey is tipped to join the F1-schedule as early as next-season.

MAYOR TO MEET SUPREMO

But Imola mayor Massimo Marchignoli reckons he recently spoke to the Briton on the phone during which conversation he was told the matter is still 'open.'

'[Bernie] said there is a chance to continue hosting the grand prix next year,' said Marchignoli, 'and he asked me to meet him in London next week.'

Ecclestone now appears to give Imola hope of getting a new race-agreement.

He told Australian journalists earlier this week: 'After the race in April [2004] we will have to have a look and see where we go with that.'








What Is 'Centre Of Gravity'?
What is a Formula One car's 'centre of gravity'?

Whatever 'COG' is, sources close to the Enstone-based team report that it is about 10mm higher in the pre-season-pace-setting new Renault R24 car ...

... and this might pose a problem when its drivers turn the steering-wheel.

The lower a car's centre of gravity, the better it will handle on track in terms of stability because it is closer to physical 'equilibrium'.

A new engine architecture, incorporating a narrower V-angle on the long-life design, has forced the R24's COG up a bit, admitted technical boss Bob Bell.

But he said it shouldn't have an overly-adverse impact.

LOSS CAN BE GAINED-BACK

He told ESPN: 'What is lost in one area can be gained back elsewhere.

'Thus the COG may be slightly higher than in the R23 [the new car's predecessor], but the engine/chassis integration is still extremely good.'

Team driver Jarno Trulli dismissed the whole notion that 10-millimetres, even in the scheme of F1's millimetrically-perfect world, makes or breaks a race-car.

'It's difficult for us to sense any change,' said the Italian, 'because we feel the whole car overall. We've done a lot of laps and the balance is there.'








Australia To Stay On F1 Map: Bernie
Australia will stay on the Formula One-map, Bernie Ecclestone has pledged.

The nation 'Down Under' has staged a grand prix since 1985 and in its current format, in Melbourne at the Albert Park street-layout, since 1996.

'I think as long as [race chairman] Ron Walker keeps delivering it the way he delivers,' said the London-based F1 supremo, 'we're happy to be in Australia.'

MUST LOSE EUROPEAN RACES

Ecclestone also maintained that Formula One, given its recent trend into new markets such as Asia and the Middle East, must lose more races in Europe.

'Either we get everyone to agree to more races,' said the diminutive Briton, 'or we have to lose them somewhere. And it's not going to be America or Asia.'
 

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