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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
February 17, 2004


Williams Want Webber
BMW-Williams' bosses are raving about Australian F1 ace Mark Webber.

The Grove-based Formula One team is on the look-out for a new driver after Juan Pablo Montoya recently confirmed his switch to rivals McLaren for 2005.

'We've always thought Mark was very good,' said Frank Williams.

Patrick Head, team technical director, added of the 27-year-old currently under-contract to Jaguar: 'It's fair to say that we rate Mark very highly.'

Webber also has links to top-team Renault through agent Flavio Briatore.

Head sees the Queanbeyan-born challenger, Webber, as a bit like Nigel Mansell, Williams' world champion of 1992 - 'a great charger,' said the Englishman.

OBLITERATED TEAMMATE PIZZONIA

Frank Williams continues: 'In Austria last year, Mark did the fastest lap of the race on the final lap, even though he was running in something like eighth.'

Webber obliterated Williams' new tester Antonio Pizzonia as a team-mate in 2003.

'If he's the best part of a second quicker than Antonio, who was as fast as our race drivers in testing,' Head mused, 'then Mark must be pretty damn good.'

Head also lauded Webber's commitment and fitness. 'He drove some pretty good races last year. He's very committed and one of the fittest guys out there.'

Sources report that Webber has a crucial clause in his new two-year deal that would annul the contract if Jaguar does not hit certain performance targets.








Jordan Slam Verstappen Agent
F1 team Jordan has blamed ultimately-doomed negotiations with race-driver Jos Verstappen on the 'outrageous' demands of his agent Huub Rothengatter.

The Silverstone-based operation issued a statement last night vowing to 'put the record straight' in the face of criticism from Verstappen's native Holland.

Jordan said it enjoyed 'excellent negotiations' with the 31-year-old's main sponsors Trust, courtesy of Michel Perridon, and also Harrie Muermans.

'However, the hard work of these two loyal sponsors was undone by the intransigence of Huub Rothengatter, manager of Jos,' the statement read.

JORDAN WANT SPONSORS

Because Jos backed Rothengatter's obstinacy, the move has been interpreted as an attempt by Jordan to sign Trust and Muermans as sponsors without Verstappen.

Jordan continued that Huub, who drove 25 grands prix in the 1980s, insisted on taking an 'exorbitant commission' on team sponsorships or an 'outrageous wage.

'At the same time all requests by the team for Verstappen to have a seat fitting and fitness assessment were rejected,' the team statement explained.

Boss Eddie Jordan, desperate for cash to boost a stunted 2004 budget, confirmed that he had reached a 'good faith' agreement with Verstappen's sponsors.

'It isn't good ... for such valuable people to be treated this way by an agent.'








Schumacher Eyes Jump On F1 Rivals
F1 championship-hopeful Ralf Schumacher hopes to jump ahead of the field in Melbourne's season-opening Australian Grand Prix in just three weeks.

The German driver has a highly-innovative BMW-Williams FW26 racer with which to attack the often bumpy surface before two following 'flyaway' grands prix.

'If you've got a few points in your pocket before coming back to Europe it makes life a whole lot easier,' he said in reference to races in Malaysia and Bahrain.

Ralf, younger brother of champion Michael, has been on the podium twice in Australia; first in 1999 and then a year later in the first BMW-powered racer.

NOT GETTING OVER-CONFIDENT

He refuses to predict all-out race-victory in 2004, though.

Ralf told us: 'It's hard to predict where we are against the other teams because you can't really say what has been the actual result from [winter] testing.'

Schumacher highlighted the importance of damper and spring set-up on the temporary street-circuit at picturesque Albert Park, south of city Melbourne.

'There are quite a few bumpy bits,' he continued, 'and particularly on Friday the surface is very dirty and it's very easy to spin the car.'

He concluded: 'The only overtaking point is at the first corner.'








BAR's Pre-Season Pace Is Real: Button
BAR is not artificially flattering its pre-season test pace by deliberately running on low levels of fuel, according to team driver Jenson Button.

Sources in the Honda-powered outfit's F1 rivals reckon the Briton has also steered to steadily better lap-times by emphasising soft-rubber qualifying runs.

Button, 24, said the new 006 challenger is just as radical as top-team rival BMW-Williams' FW26 even if it does not boast an innovative 'tusked' front nose.

'That's just bodywork you see with the Williams,' he explained.

OTHER TEAMS ARE TRAILING

The Englishman declined to comment on the 'low fuel / soft tires' observation but insisted that his Brackley-based factory has made big gains for 2004.

'I think our step is even bigger than I personally anticipated,' said Button. 'Or maybe the other teams haven't made such a big step - I don't know.'

But he flatly denied that McLaren might be 'sandbagging' - or deliberately failing to turn in fast winter times - in a bid to hide their true potential.

'I don't know,' said Jenson. 'I would doubt that a team like that would not test in the correct format. No-one wants to drive around slowly on purpose.'








Montoya: Radio-Row Didn't Trigger Switch
A pre-season spat is shaping-up between BMW-Williams and defecting team driver Juan Pablo Montoya in the handful of days before the looming Australian GP.

Technical boss Patrick Head told the press-ranks last week that the Colombian ace had decided to switch to McLaren in 2005 after a radio-row in Magny-Cours.

'I think [he] was not impressed at having his knuckles rapped,' he said, 'and ... the decision to sign with McLaren was taken within a few days of that.'

Passionately-driven Montoya, 28, says that explanation is rubbish.

LOTS OF THINGS TRIGGERED SWITCH

'No,' the Bogota-born cruiser told us. 'It wasn't like that, just like that. I was angry but that's not why I'm leaving. It's a lot of things, really.'

Montoya said the decision to switch ranks could more accurately be put down to a kind of 'gut' feeling that his dreams can be achieved at Ron Dennis' operation.

'What I got out of Williams has been fantastic,' he continued. 'Frank (Williams) has been really good to me. Everybody has treated me really well.'

Juan reckons a change of scene, pure and simple, might extract more potential.

'I think that just by going to a different team, to experience different people, to work with new people, I can develop even further ... I really believe that.'








Williams Cool Gearbox-Gremlin Fears
BMW-Williams has downplayed the severity of a reported pre-season technical glitch on its all-new FW26 racer's seven-speed gearbox and differential.

'We did experience some minor problems,' chief operations engineer Sam Michael confirmed after last week's five-day test at Jerez de la Frontera (Spain).

He said: 'But we think we're making progress towards solving them.'

Grove's chassis team, for the first time since the BMW-collaboration started in 2000, worked closely with the German carmaker on the new gearbox / drive-train.

It is more compact, to compliment better aerodynamics, and to make best use of new long-life engine regulations, it boasts seven speeds as opposed to six.

NEW PARTS FOR VALENCIA

Michael said the performance of FW26 is 'getting better' and revealed that a new range of parts will be fitted to the car in-time for this week's Valencia test.

The new parts are designed to 'run in Australia,' the young engineer confirmed.

After a five-day Jerez test, Williams has already selected one Michelin tire-choice for Albert Park and the second will be finalized later this week.

The Oxfordshire-based team gets running again in Spain on Wednesday.








Mosley Detests F1's Tire-War
Max Mosley detests Formula One's raging 'Bridgestone versus Michelin' tire-war.

The FIA president wants to see just one supplier of the four-black-round-things but not only to prevent Michael Schumacher from being lapped in Budapest.

Mosley, the 64-year-old Briton, thinks his plan would also cut costs and make it easier for back-of-the-grid teams to compete with their grandee F1-rivals.

'The greatest controllable waste of money in F1 is testing,' he told Autosport.

TESTING IS WASTE OF MONEY

Max said if there was only one tire-supplier, the governing-FIA could simply introduce a new sporting regulation that reads: 'No tires for testing.'

'And that would be the end of it,' Mosley, whose father Sir Oswald Mosley controversially led the British League of Fascists in the 1930s, added.

F1 team boss Sir Frank Williams told this publication yesterday that the single biggest obstacle to reducing the quantity of testing was Scuderia Ferrari.

'It fights for it,' he said, 'because it has a track right outside its factory.'

But moves are foot, despite the objection of F1's world champions, to curb the proliferation of track-testing which Bernie Ecclestone brands as 'crazy.'

Said the F1-supremo: '[Some teams] take 100 people to private testing.'








Williams Roast Schumacher
Ralf Schumacher should up his game at grands prix meetings before asking for huge additions to his annual retainer, according to BMW-Williams bosses.

Talks over a new race-agreement for the German have stalled because Ralf, 28, is asking for $24.5 million per season after his contract expires late in 2004.

According to technical whiz Patrick Head, Schumacher is actually not very good at 'turning it around' if he arrives at a circuit with a badly-tuned F1 car.

He said: 'Ralf must get his head around limiting the damage.

NEEDS POSITIVE ATTITUDE

'If the car isn't optimum for the track, [he] needs to immediately switch into the mode of saying: 'How can I do the least damage to my championship?

'He's got to have positive attitude to it.'

Sir Frank Williams recalled that at some races last season - notably Japan and Hungary - Ralf was on-fire and would 'pass people as if they weren't there.'

But Schumi Junior is also 'funny,' according to the Grove-based team owner.

'I guess he's not aggressive enough sometimes,' principal Williams mused. 'But it's easy to be critical. He's fearsomely quick in the right circumstances.'








Minardi Vote For Reliability Over Power
Paul Stoddart has deliberately robbed new Minardi steerers Gianmaria Bruni and Zsolt Baumgartner of about twenty-horsepower on their new Cosworth V10 engine.

The Faenza-based chief said his decision, based also on certain 'financial considerations,' was made in the interest of boosting car-reliability.

Stoddart, who is a customer of the Cosworth Racing operation, confirmed in Budapest that he was offered the same-spec 2004 engines as Jaguar and Jordan.

'Many people noticed that Jordan had a lot of engine failures last year, but we had only one for the whole season,' said the 48-year-old Australian.

'We had a [different] way and went for more reliability,' he confirmed.

HOPES FOR EARLY POINTS

Stoddart said he was hoping to pounce on one or two early-season engine dramas of the bigger teams and snatch a few championship-points for Minardi.

He added that a better team-budget in 2004 will allow more money to be put into areas including research and development, track-testing and wind-tunnel work.

'All the things we didn't do a lot of last year,' Paul noted. 'We believe we have a nicely balanced budget this year to put money where need to put it.'

Stoddart said Jordan would be the 'natural' closest-rival of Minardi in 2004.








Button Predicts Five-Way F1 Battle
Jenson Button is predicting a five-way battle for victory in 2004.

The 24-year-old driver, perhaps the most-impressive pre-season performer with his new BAR-Honda, said he had never seen a more competitive situation in F1.

'There are going to be a lot of teams winning races this year,' the Englishman forecast. 'I think it will be a very exciting first race.

'Looking at testing, it's going to be very competitive.'

He said Brackley-based BAR - with its 006 car - has joined Ferrari, BMW-Williams, McLaren and Renault in a 'top-five' of teams capable of winning races.

BAR IS UNDER PRESSURE IN 2004

'And I think all 10 [of those] drivers can win races.'

Button is basing his prophecy on the results of pre-season winter testing even if BAR has been accused of running low-fuel and soft-tires to veil true pace.

Sources confirm that of the ten grand prix teams, BAR is perhaps under the most pressure as it stares-down its sixth season in the sport without a race-victory.

Furthermore, engine-partner Honda will review its mere participation in the series later this year when a five-year agreement with Brackley comes to an end.

'All the top-five teams have been very close,' Button promised.

'It's very unusual for winter testing.'








Montoya Eyes Albert Park Victory
Juan Pablo Montoya is hoping to avoid a hat-trick of second places when he accelerates his new BMW-Williams FW26 away from the five-lights at Albert Park.

The Colombian racer, 28, stood on the second-rung of the post-race podium at the 'Down Under' season-opener near Melbourne both last season and the year-before.

In 2003, he spun out of the lead with just eleven laps to go.

'Fortunately,' he told the team website, 'I still managed to finish in second.

He added: 'As I also came second the year before it would be great to improve and maybe win this year.'

ALBERT PARK IS FIRST TEST

It might be construed that, after a long winter of pre-season testing, teams and drivers know their new challengers pretty well by the time of the first race.

Montoya doesn't necessarily agree.

'The Albert Park track is pretty unique,' said the star who is driving a final season at Williams, 'and quite unlike any other circuit on the calendar.'

He concluded: 'More importantly, it is very different from anywhere that we test during the winter so it's always interesting to see what the new car is like.'







Minardi Shakes Streets Of Budapest
Back-of-the-grid F1 team Minardi shook the streets of Hungary on Monday.

In front of 30,000 fans, the country's first grand prix driver Zsolt Baumgartner chauffeured eight of his countrymen around city Budapest in a two-seater F1.

The 'race track' led from the city's Heroes-Square, closed by police.

ZSOLT TO DO FANS PROUD

'It was really great to be able to bring F1 to the streets of my own city,' said Baumgartner, who was confirmed as one of Minardi's race-pilots in 2004.

Team owner and boss Paul Stoddart, also at the event, said the youngster was sure to do his country proud when he races for Minardi starting at Albert Park.

Minardi's final test of the pre-season takes place at Imola this week.

* In other quick F1 news, McLaren ace Kimi Raikkonen will visit Dubai prior to the season-opening Australian GP in his capacity as a TAG Heuer ambassador.

Wajdi Abdul Hadi, of TAG Heuer Middle East, said: 'We can expect to see a lot more of this young man as he has quickly become one of the fastest drivers.'








Todt Handed Honorary Degree
Ferrari F1 principal Jean Todt now has a degree in mechanical engineering.

The University of Florence conferred him the honorary tribute in respect of the institution's involvement in technology-research in collaboration with Ferrari.

Rector Augusto Martinelli lauded the number of ex-university students who went on to work at the winning Formula One team's headquarters in nearby Maranello.

PREPARED FOR DEFEAT

'Motor-racing has always been my great love,' said ex-rally navigator Todt.

He added: 'When I came here in 1993, many people believed - even myself - that I would not last long. At Ferrari, we have worked hard to achieve our success.'

Todt said his scarlet ranks were 'prepared for defeat' in 2004 even if the goal was to extend the 'Ferrari era' which has seen five consecutive championships.








Toyota Simulate Grand Prix
Toyota moved to prepare for the upcoming eighteen-race Formula One season last week by completing a full 'grand prix weekend simulation' at Paul Ricard.

Team racers Cristiano da Matta and Olivier Panis participated in the four-day test which was split into free practice, qualifying and the race itself.

TRACK ARTIFICIALLY WATERED

'The days ... were very successful for the team,' said manager Ange Pasquali.

He added of the test, which also included a 'wet' day: 'The infrastructure here allowed us to really organize the days as if we were in a grand prix.'








Williams Will Look After Montoya
Less than three weeks until the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Formula One team principal Sir Frank Williams is a 'worried' man.

What about? Just how strong the opposition in 2004 might be, of course.

'You never know,' he told the Sunday Telegraph. 'Teams have been known to conceal their pace in testing and you never get the picture until the races.'

According to Williams, his team will be a leading competitor this season.

But some are questioning the amount of effort Juan Pablo Montoya will be putting into his final stint at the team before switching to McLaren ahead of 2005.

Technical chief Patrick Head agrees that it might be an issue.

'If he's not in contention [for the title], maybe. But in truth the most difficult area will be marketing. I don't think we'll have a problem on track.'

COLOMBIAN WON'T KNOW SECRETS

Williams confirmed that Montoya will get frozen-out of late-season development.

'Obviously,' said the Briton, 'he won't get to see what we're looking at for the future, but he'll get the latest developments. He just won't know why ... '

Team-mate Ralf Schumacher backed-up his bosses claims that both drivers are needed in Grove's search for its first world championships since 1997.

'There's no reason to not look after Juan as good as they do after me,' he said.








Another Champion's Son Eyes F1
Another son-of-a-world-champion is moving closer to Formula One.

Austrian Mathias Lauda, whose father is triple world champion Niki, will step-up from the World Series Lights series to F1 support-category F3000 in 2004.

'The move [to Coloni] is a very good one for me,' said the youngster.

NOT WORRIED ABOUT STEP

'I'm not worried that it's a big step up because I've already driven a few tests and also drove the V6 Nissan car which has a similar performance.'

Lauda's first test-session will shortly take place at Jerez (Spain).

Nelson Piquet's similarly-named teenage son recently tested a BMW-Williams F1 car as did 1982 world champion Keke Rosberg's seventeen-year-old lad Nico.








Aussie Accents At Albert Park
Take a stroll in the paddock at Albert Park next month, and you'll notice a lot more Australian accents than that of Queanbeyan-born Jaguar star Mark Webber.

Paul Stoddart, born not far away from Melbourne (Coburg), introduced the 27-year-old racer to the field in 2002 for his back-of-the-grid team Minardi.

22-year-old test-driver Ryan Briscoe, who grew up in a Sydney suburb, is under long-term contract to Toyota Racing and has confirmed his flight 'Down Under'.

On the pitwall, West Australian Sam Michael is one of the upcoming names in the pinnacle of motor sport and is chief operations engineer at BMW-Williams.

ONLY SAUBER HAS NO AUSSIES

Bendigo-boy Chris Dyer, a Victorian like Stoddart, helps Michael Schumacher tune his title-winning car as chief race engineer on the German's side at Ferrari.

Mike Negline is a lesser-known hero but he is team co-ordinator at McLaren; he grew up in capital city Melbourne and served an apprenticeship as a mechanic.

Sydneysider Malcolm Oastler was fired by BAR a few years ago but you can now find him chatting with Mark Webber as a chief engineer at Jaguar Racing.

Melbourne's Willem Toet is a lauded aerodynamicist at Brackley-based BAR.








Jordan To Keep Building Own F1 Car
Eddie Jordan has vowed to keep-on building his own Formula One cars.

A new regulation, tipped to get the go-ahead in coming months, would sanction the sale of complete-cars from manufacturer-backed teams to their lesser rivals.

'We don't mind,' said Frank Williams of the touted cost-cutting measure.

But EJ reckons 'doing a deal' with a bigger team compromises independence.

'Much as I would love to do a deal with [McLaren's] Ron Dennis, or whoever,' the Irishman told F1 Racing magazine, 'I must remain master of my own destiny.'

SAUBER HAS SOLD INDEPENDENCE

Jordan said Dennis builds 'very good' racing cars.

But he hints that, for example, Peter Sauber may have given up his chance of winning F1 races by launching the 2003 Ferrari-clone C23 ahead of this season.

'I admire him as one of the finest men in F1,' Jordan told the publication.

'But I wonder if he would ever be allowed to win if it meant beating a Ferrari.'
 

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