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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
February 16, 2004


F1 Has Seen Last Of 'Jos The Boss'
Formula One has probably seen the last of Jos Verstappen.

The Dutchman came close to taking his $10 million purse of sponsorship-backing to Jordan but that final vacancy has now been snapped-up by Giorgio Pantano.

Jos's 2003 boss, Minardi owner Paul Stoddart, reckons 'that's it' for 'The Boss' if he can't slide into the full-time line-up within the first few grands prix.

'It's going to be very hard for him, much as I love him,' said the Aussie.

He added: 'But I would not give up on Jos yet.'

'BLOODY GOOD' AT RACING CARS

Stoddart insists that Verstappen is 'bloody good' at what he does and still - after nearly a full decade of F1 racing - has the talent and the motivation.

'He's no fool,' said Paul - 'and [he] knows how to race.'

Verstappen told his website that Eddie Jordan 'didn't want to give in' to his 'fair' wage and sponsor demands and feels hurt by a lack of 'appreciation.'

'I'll continue to focus my efforts on F1,' he pledged. 'It won't surprise me if some seats become available at some point during the season.

'They all know I'm on the bench with some nice sponsors.

'I want the world of F1 to know that I haven't said goodbye.'








Pantano Completes F1 Line-Up: Official
Italian-born F3000 ace Giorgio Pantano has beaten Jos Verstappen to the chequered-flag in winning the final spot on this season's Formula One grid.

The 25-year-old, with $5 million in backing from an Italian fashion-label, completes an all-new line-up at Jordan with German speedster Nick Heidfeld.

Pantano is a former world kart and German F3 champion, a race-winner in F1's support-category, and has tested F1 cars with three other grand prix outfits.

'I'm so happy,' said the man who has stalled the careers of seat-hopefuls Jos Verstappen, Ralph Firman and Allan McNish.

'Thanks to Jordan for giving me the opportunity.'

Giorgio is scheduled to test one of two EJ14s at Imola this week.

'I'm looking forward to driving some more,' he continued, 'and then I'm really, really excited about my first grand prix in Melbourne in a few weeks time.'

READY FOR CHALLENGE OF F1

Team boss Eddie Jordan insists that Pantano, a consistent and accomplished pace-setter for three years in F3000, is ready for the challenge of Formula One.

'In our [new] drivers I believe we have the best possible combination of youth, experience and natural ability,' the Irishman continued.

'Giorgio and Nick are seriously quick and hungry for success, which is exactly what we need to rejuvenate the team and lead Jordan's fight-back in 2004.'








Williams Lose Chance To Land Button
Jenson Button has stomped on claims that his management last week commenced talks with BMW-Williams about a return to the title-charging team in 2005.

He told the Sunday Mirror: 'People keep going on about Williams but I have had no contact with them and I'm genuinely not looking to leave BAR.'

Button, now 24, started his career at Sir Frank's Grove-based squad but he's now under a tight-contract to David Richards' Honda-powered BAR operation.

WANTS TO WIN TITLE AT BAR

He said he wants to win his first championship at Brackley.

'We are building something here,' the Briton explained.

'If I can achieve [the drivers' title] at BAR, it will mean a lot more to me than if I had walked straight into a team that guaranteed me a winning car.'

Meanwhile, JB's admirer - Sir Frank Williams - admitted at his Oxfordshire base late last week that he is about to lose his chance to reclaim the Englishman.

Williams put the speedster under a five-year 'option' contract in 2000.

'It ends this year,' said Frank, who also declared his interest in Mark Webber, 'so unless BAR don't take up their option there's not a lot we can do.'








Michelin 'Catch-Up' On Intermediates
Michelin are playing 'catch-up' to raining tyre-rivals Bridgestone.

The French-brand is ahead on a dry-lap in this pre-season's testing attack but Bridgestone still has an upper-hand with its line of wet-weather products.

Last season, Bibendum didn't even have a worthwhile 'intermediate' design.

Late last week, the Jerez track in Spain was artificially-watered for three Michelin runners while Toyota slid around a similarly dampened Paul Ricard.

ARTIFICIALLY WATERED

'The tests in these very wet track conditions were perfect,' said Michelin competition boss Pierre Dupasquier, who commented on the new intermediate.

He said: 'The cold weather made testing [it] a little difficult.'

Toyota F1 veteran Olivier Panis confirmed a 'big test programme' in full swing this winter aimed at improving Michelin's rain tyres for wet grands prix.

'They are trying to play catch-up on intermediate tyres,' said the Frenchman, who added: 'They aren't slacking-off and I have confidence in the big work.'

Dupasquier admitted an approximate 1.5-second deficit to Bridgestone in the wet.

'Over the winter,' project chief Pascal Vasselon said after the resounding Indianapolis GP- defeat, 'we'll be putting more resources into wet [tyres].'








Montoya In For A Shock At McLaren
If Juan Pablo Montoya thinks all his problems will be solved in a switch from BMW-Williams to top-team rival McLaren-Mercedes, he's in for a bit of a shock.

That's the opinion of Grove's technical boss Patrick Head who last week revealed that JPM made the decision to swap teams after a radio-row at the French GP.

'I think we'll be able to put it all behind us - we're all adults,' Head explained in the run-up to the Colombian's final season at Williams in 2004.

He added: 'Of course, it's a shame he's going but that's Formula One.'

McLAREN FAVOR RAIKKONEN

Head, the often-gruff and moody Englishman, revealed his belief that Montoya, 28, thinks his new Formula One employers are set to 'pour everything into him.

'Everyone knows that Williams treats both drivers fairly,' he added.

But Patrick reckons what is waiting for Juan Pablo at Ron Dennis' Mercedes-powered team (team-mate Kimi Raikkonen) is not quite what he has in mind.

'They have a lot of affection for Kimi,' said Head.

Another, less likely, option is that McLaren 'change' to accommodate Montoya.

Head told The Sun: 'It will be an interesting change. McLaren are not shy in saying how happy they are with Raikkonen but Montoya is not shy of a challenge.'








Williams Say 'No' To Ralf's Cash-Demand
The game's up, Ralf Schumacher - you're not going to get $24.5 million per year.

That is the sentiment of technical director Patrick Head as he explained BMW-Williams' reluctance to cede the German racer's new salary demands.

Schumacher, 28, knows that with a new five-year agreement with his country's car manufacturer BMW, Williams is clearly under-pressure to keep the German ace.

But Head told The Telegraph that Ralf's demands are unreasonable: 'Frank [Williams] has always been very firm about the limits beyond which we won't go.'

He continued: 'It is partly because of that, that we are still here as opposed to being a statistic in the history of Formula One.'

THE SEARCH IS ON

So, then, the search ensues for at least one driver in 2005, as a replacement for McLaren-bound Juan Pablo Montoya, and perhaps even two in Ralf's absence.

Williams doubts that son-of-a-world-champion Nelson Piquet Junior is ready.

But he added, whilst making no reference to Nico Rosberg: 'He's raced karts since he was 7 and has done 500 races. It's astonishing - a new phenomenon.'

Dumped Jag ace and Williams tester Antonio Pizzonia, meanwhile, is 'very quick.'

But, perhaps significantly, Frank concludes: 'I was surprised by [Mark] Webber's performances last year. He is a great charger, like [Nigel] Mansell.'








Trulli Plays Down Renault Hype
Jarno Trulli has advised the racing world against getting over-excited in the face of recent hype about Renault's imminent assault on the new F1 season.

Heading Enstone's plaudits of the striking R24 car last week were BMW-Williams heads Frank Williams and Patrick Head and world champion Michael Schumacher.

'I see ... Renault are really strong, probably more than McLaren,' the latter Ferrari ace, whilst testing the F2004 racer, told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

But Trulli, team-mate to Renault winner Fernando Alonso, said F1 commentators need to be 'careful' whilst contemplating performance during the off-season.

He added: 'But I think we are competitive, especially on long runs.

FINE-TUNING OVER SINGLE-LAP

'For the single qualifying lap, we still have some fine-tuning to do to get the car exactly where we want, but there is still time left for that.'

Some analysts, meanwhile, doubt if the new RS24-engine, with a different architecture for new rules, will be up to speed with its rivals in Melbourne.

But Trulli insists that the 72-degree powerplant is already 'much better' than its 109-degree predecessor. 'It is also more driveable,' the Italian added.

At Imola this week, the Melbourne-spec 'A' unit will run for the first-time.

* Trulli told Autosport magazine that Renault could be the 'dark horses' to take out the 2004 championship. 'I'm extremely confident,' he added.








McNish And Firman Ride Out Of F1
British F1-hopefuls Allan McNish, of Scotland, and Ralph Firman are disappointed about missing out on the final slot on the 2004 grand prix racing-grid.

Ford-powered team Jordan has announced Giorgio Pantano as a team-mate for Nick Heidfeld so McNish, 2003 Renault-tester, is off to race again at Le Mans.

'You never know what's around the corner in this business,' said the 34-year-old, 'but I have to recognise that it's unlikely that I'll get another F1 drive.

'It's been frustrating but there's no point getting bitter.'

FIRMAN EYES AMERICA

Meanwhile, Ralph Firman - the yellow-clad incumbent at Silverstone - has vowed now to turn his attentions to a new category of racing ahead of the new season.

'My first choice would be a single-seater series such as Champ Car or IRL in America,' said the Norfolk, born ace, 'but I'm also interested in DTM.'

He added: 'The Jordan announcement is a setback, but as a professional race-driver you do endure ups and downs from time to time. I wish the team well.'








Schu Shelves New-Ferrari Niggles
Michael Schumacher has played down a reported series of technical niggles on his F2004 model by re-asserting Ferrari's plan to race the new car in Australia.

Italian sources suggested that gearbox and engine dramas whilst testing at Mugello last week had triggered a 'plan-B' of preparing the 'older' F2003-GA.

'There is no reason why we should not use [F2004],' said the 35-year-old German.

He added: 'We are absolutely confident in this regard.

'There are no signs whatsoever that we should have a problem with that - the car is good, it is solid and handles well, it is also faster and it reacts better.'

NO HEAD-TO-HEAD WITH RIVALS

Team-mate Rubens Barrichello, who switched between two older F2003-GA at Jerez late last week, completed a program of Melbourne-spec tyre evaluation.

He said on Friday: 'Our times might not be fastest, but we weren't far off the others. It's encouraging but we don't really know what the others are doing.'

A spokesman, meanwhile, confirmed that Ferrari will snub the week's busy Imola test meaning that F2004 won't go head-to-head with its rivals before Australia.








Only Ferrari Resist Test-Limits: Boss
Only Ferrari are resisting a proposal within the ten teams in Formula One to cut costs by reducing a 'ridiculous' amount of testing, according to Frank Williams.

The top-team principal reckons a year of testing will cost his Grove-based operation more than traveling and racing at 18-grands prix venues in 2004.

'Ferrari has a test track right outside its factory and they are fighting to keep testing,' he told reporters outside the team-factory in Oxfordshire.

He added: 'I understand that but costs are being driven up.'

DOUBTS GPWC-AGREEMENT

One suggestion to make competing easier for the smaller, privateer-run operations is to allow them to buy complete chassis' from the F1-leaders.

'We don't mind,' said Williams.

So while he sees Minardi making it through the next few years, getting Bernie Ecclestone and the GPWC-group of carmakers to agree is another matter entirely.

'The prospect of peace in our time is very slim,' he Williams who, since 1986, has been in a wheelchair. 'It is not going to be sorted out in a few months.'








Button: Who Says I'm Not The Real-Deal
Britain's top F1-driver Jenson Button has hit back at the belief of a former double world champion that he is not the real-deal in Formula One racing.

Mika Hakkinen, the retired 1998 and 1999 title-winner, branded the English media's predictions of Button as the next Ayrton Senna as 'ridiculous.'

Button said: 'I suppose Mika's got nothing else to do now he's retired. He seems to have had a go at just about everybody except Kimi Raikkonen.'

The Brackley-based speedster said Mika's attack didn't bother him at all.

'I've got far more important things to think about,' he smiled at the end of last week's test at Jerez de la Frontera during which he was fastest of all.

Button says the new Honda-powered 006 is quick, but not yet perfect.

'We have a lot of work to do before Australia, when the season starts.

'We need to make real progress this year.'

SHEENE TO WAVE CHEQUER

Meanwhile, Stephanie Sheene - widow of the late motorcycling legend Barry Sheene - hopes 24-year-old Button wins the season-opener at Albert Park in three weeks.

'Jenson's a friend and it would be lovely,' said the Australian-based Briton who has been asked to wave the chequered-flag at the upcoming Melbourne F1 race.






Williams Doubts Middle East Exodus
Sir Frank Williams has cast doubt on a threat by fellow British Formula One team chiefs including Eddie Jordan that a mass-exodus to the Middle East is likely.

He said: 'All I know is that the know-how is all in Europe and it has very limited availability. Any good business depends on its people.'

* Williams then poured cold water on suggestions that Juan Pablo Montoya, who's off to McLaren-Mercedes in 2005, won't put in one-hundred percent this season.

'We'll give him a car,' he said, 'show him the track, and he'll get on with it.'

SCHU NOT IMPRESSED BY McLAREN

* World champion Michael Schumacher is not impressed with McLaren's new MP4-19 challenger and thinks Williams and Renault will do a better job in 2004.

'But it's hard to judge as no-one knows what they are doing at McLaren,' said the Ferrari-driving world champion who'll test again at Mugello on the 17th.

* Last year's Sauber car will scream on the streets of Bahrain this Tuesday.

'F1 must become more global,' said team chief Peter Sauber who has dispatched tester Neel Jani for the job, 'therefore I welcome this new race in Bahrain.'

* Jos Verstappen, whose sponsors failed to win him the spare Jordan drive, has declined to back-track on an earlier harsh assessment of former team Minardi.

'I don't want to be the car with the red lantern,' the Dutchman told his website. 'Trailing is not something a driver of my skills should have to do.'








Bridgestone: Brave Face On Pre-Season Defeat
A recently-renewed engine contract with Munich-based manufacturer BMW has not given Sir Frank Williams leave to revel in complacency.

The Briton said: 'We haven't got cozy and bosomy with them. They are tough hard-bargainers. That is why they are such a successful company.'

* Williams, F1 team owner, still admires his 1992 champion Nigel Mansell.

'Every year his name comes up,' said the wheelchair-bound boss - 'a remarkable guy, brilliant driver, amazing; with a great talent. One of the best.'

* Stephanie Sheene, widow of the late motorcycling legend Barry, has emotionally accepted an invitation to wave the chequered flag at this year's Australian GP.

'He was looking forward to the honor last year,' she said, 'but unfortunately he wasn't well enough to do it. I feel a sense of duty to do it for him.'

* Bridgestone is still putting a brave-face on what most commentators consider has been a pre-season defeat to French-based tyre-supplier rivals Michelin.

'We've set some good times in Mugello,' said Hisao Suganuma of Ferrari's private sessions in the F2004, adding that there's still time for fine-tuning tweaks.

BUTTON TAKES ON VILLENEUVE'S ROLE

* British F1 racer Jenson Button is ready to take-on the team-leading role that fired world-champion Jacques Villeneuve fulfilled at BAR-Honda until 2003.

'He was good in that way because he said what he thought,' said JB, 'but I can also be tough and forthright when I have to be. I can give criticism too.'








Ralf Doesn't Try Hard Enough: Williams
Ralf Schumacher doesn't try hard enough when his F1 racer is not a winner.

That's the criticism of BMW-powered bosses Sir Frank Williams and Patrick Head as contract-renewal talks stall over the German racer's exorbitant wage demands.

'He's not aggressive enough on [some] occasions,' said Frank.

* BAR's Takuma Sato was fastest of three runners on Saturday as his team and BMW-Williams completed wet-tyre testing on an artificially-dampened Jerez track.

Tester Antonio Pizzonia wrapped up the session for Williams on Sunday.

A day earlier, both Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher - driving new BMW-powered FW26 cars - experienced incessant and incurable gearbox problems.

NOT THINKING ABOUT RETIREMENT

* Sir Frank Williams is not yet thinking about retirement.

The Briton, wheelchair-bound and due to turn 62 this season, said he will 'decide for myself' in the next few years when it's appropriate to step down.

'I'm sure those around me will give me the hint,' he beamed, 'with a big H.'

* Renault might be leading the long-runs, but BMW-Williams' 'tusked' FW26 is still king of the Formula One tracks when on single-lap qualifying simulations.

So said the R24's pilot, Jarno Trulli: 'Williams are very good on low fuel,' the Italian noted, 'so we still have some work to get there in qualifying.'








Aussie GP Has Eye On ... Women
The Australian Grand Prix Corporation has its eye on ... women.

Organisers of the annual F1 race at Albert Park estimate that about 70% of track-spectators are men, so are marketing to the opposite-sex ahead of 2004.

'There'll be more appeal to a female audience - more fashion, more glamour and more sophistication,' said chief executive Steven Wright.

* Beer brand Foster's has pledged its long-term commitment to the event.

VP of sales John Murphy said: 'We're an Aussie company, our base is Melbourne. We're in our third year of a deal which has options for up to 10 years.'

* More than 100,000 litres of water was last night carted from Melbourne Exhibition Centre to Albert Park and sprayed on the grass verges of the track.

'The Swimming Pool and Spa Association has an obligation to make good use of the water after its Expo ... and we're happy to receive it,' said Wright.

FRIGHTENED BY SAFETY LAPSE

* Former Jordan tech-boss Gary Anderson is 'frightened' that the Technical Working Group appears to have 'forgotten' about the death of Ayrton Senna.

He said some teams add up to 100kg of ballast to cars but the Irishman reckons if that weight was added to safety structures, 'you'll have a safer car.'
 

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