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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
February 18, 2004


Focus On Imola Circuit: Test Report
The focus of this week's pre-season testing action will be on a circuit named 'Enzo e Dino Ferrari'; otherwise the home of the San Marino GP, Imola.

On Tuesday, only three of an expected throng of Formula One teams were in action under sunny Italian skies; Renault led privateers Sauber and Jordan.

Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli, both driving new R24s, worked on set-up and suspension and also conducted tire-testing for the first races of the season.

Trulli, who trailed Alonso by a couple of tenths, also ran the Melbourne-spec RS24 engine and encountered 'no problems,' according to a team statement.

'Both drivers are reporting the new car to be a good improvement over the curbs relative to its predecessor,' said director of engineering Pat Symonds.

More than a second in Renault's wake was Felipe Massa, in the first of two new Bridgestone-shod Sauber C23 cars and followed by team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella.

SIMILAR TO ALBERT PARK

Chief race engineer Jacky Eeckelaert explained the selection of Imola as one of the final winter destinations for its similarities to Melbourne's Albert Park.

'We did some set-up work for Australia,' he said, revealing that Brazilian Massa will do a full race-simulation on Wednesday.

He concluded: 'We also tried some new parts and tires for Melbourne.'

Jordan fired out of pitlane with, for the first time, two running EJ14s but experienced German driver Nick Heidfeld was much quicker than Giorgio Pantano.

The Silverstone-based team welcomed the fact that all Bridgestone-clad teams will be at Imola this week for a 'comprehensive' development program.

Rookie Pantano, on his first team-outing since his formal signing, shook-down a second EJ14 which is planned to be his race-car for the first grands prix.








Sponsor Severs Trust In Verstappen?
Jos Verstappen's chief Formula One sponsor, Trust Computers, is likely to sever its ties with the Dutch racer and sign a deal with privateer team Jordan.

The company almost did a deal with Eddie Jordan but the failed negotiations are being blamed on 31-year-old Jos' 'intransigent' manager Huub Rothengatter.

'If any opportunities ... occur this year,' said Trust chief Michel Perridon, 'we'll go for it. We won't miss out because of the demands of management.'

Jordan said in a statement on Monday that it enjoyed 'excellent negotiations' with Trust but slammed the exorbitant wage-demands of ex-F1 driver Rothengatter.

Earlier, Perridon assured Verstappen's legions of fans that he was not about to do a deal with Eddie Jordan without the Dutch racer in the yellow F1-cockpit.

'The fans do not have to worry that I would agree a deal with Jordan without having Jos as a driver,' Perridon told the media earlier this month.

Now, the Trust chief says he would continue to support Verstappen, but not with his present management, and left open 'other options' if it didn't change.

Exclusive legal sources say it is an offence to directly urge Verstappen to break his contract in order to conclude financial-deals with other parties.

TO SUPPORT NEW TALENT?

Equally, Perridon didn't rule-out supporting a new Dutch driving-talent.

He said: 'There are sufficient [drivers] in the Netherlands who can drive in F1 in a short period of time, if they have the right sponsors and management.'








Montoya's In For A Tough Ride: Williams
Juan Pablo Montoya should not expect an easy ride at new Formula One employer McLaren, according to the team he will drive for this season, BMW-Williams.

One of the reasons for the Colombian's 2005-switch to the silver-clad team is that he feels Frank Williams favours his German-born star Ralf Schumacher.

'Juan is a difficult person,' said technical director Patrick Head.

'He likes to feel everyone in the team is focused on him. I'm not sure he'll get quite what he's wanting when he goes to McLaren.'

Head explained last week that he believed Montoya's switch was triggered by a in-car radio-row in which the racer accused his team of preferential treatment.

TO FIND MATCH IN RAIKKONEN

Team chief Williams thinks 28-year-old Montoya, and future McLaren team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, will start the 2005 F1-season with a similar level of pace.

'They both have phenomenal car control,' the wheelchair-bound Englishman said.

Frank added: 'I don't know what [Raikkonen's] strengths and weaknesses are, but he obviously looks blindingly quick. But then so does Juan.'

Williams reckons Montoya has an unprecedented ability to 'do the unexpected' and find overtaking-opportunities that are 'invisible' to his nineteen track rivals.

'It will be interesting,' he concluded. 'Juan is hard-headed and fears no-one.'








Palmer Sacks Race-Track Workers
Former Formula One driver Jonathan Palmer has sacked more than thirty percent of the workforce at his new acquisition, the Brands Hatch race-circuit in England.

The Briton, who is also manager of laid-off grand prix ace Justin Wilson, has removed 40 of the circuit's (120) staff as he tries to make the venture viable.

LOSING $5m PER YEAR

'The group had been losing a lot of money for the past couple of years,' Dr Palmer said in a statement, 'and it has also lost [F1 venue] Silverstone.'

Jonathan said the Brands Hatch workers used to service Silverstone but the latter grand prix venue is now no-longer part of his new company of UK tracks.

'Those extra staff have only now been reduced,' he told the media.








Wirdheim Claims 'Third' Jaguar Seat
Reigning F3000 champion Bjorn Wirdheim has taken a crucial step closer to F1.

On Tuesday, the Swede was confirmed as Jaguar Racing's new 'third' Formula One driver and he should reside the spare-car at all eighteen grands prix of 2004.

It is believed that Californian Townsend Bell would have brought sponsorship to the role but the team believes Wirdheim is better able to help develop the R5.

TO DRIVE SPARE IN AUSTRALIA

Wirdheim has 'immediately' started work at Jaguar, according to a spokesman, and sources confirmed that he is scheduled to contest free practice in Melbourne.

'There are some really good people in the team and I have settled in quite quickly,' the 23-year-old said from Stockholm at a news conference.

He added: 'There is a lot of work ahead but I am excited about this and look forward to contributing to the continued development of the R5 [car].'

Managing director David Pitchforth appeared to confirm speculation that race-driver Mark Webber specifically requested extra-help for the car's development.

Webber's 20-year-old team-mate Christian Klien, nonetheless highly-rated in the F3 Euroseries, was signed mainly for his $8 million in Red Bull sponsorship.

Pitchforth said Wirdheim should be a 'great asset' throughout 2004.








F1 'Bulldog' Aims For Toyota Top-Four
Mike Gascoyne is relishing the challenge of hauling big-budget Formula One team Toyota into the 'top four' competitors in order to attack the championship.

The Briton, praised for his work in the late-90s at Jordan, was lured from fourth-placed Renault to Cologne on the promise of an annual seven-digit salary.

'One of the attractions of coming here is that the top-4 teams have been the same for a long time,' he said also referring to Ferrari, Williams and McLaren.

Toyota, on the other hand, ceased its World Rally and Le Mans projects at the turn of the new millennium in order to attack grands prix for the first time.

BIGGEST BUDGET IN SPORT

It is rumored to feature the biggest-budget in Formula One; higher even than the up-to $400 million (per annum) coffers of Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes.

Gascoyne defends the investment: 'If you look around the [big team] factories they're impressive - but they've had twenty years to build it all up.'

He told Financial Times that Toyota has built a similar infrastructure capable of taking the fight to the world championship within the space of three-years.

'They had to invest to be a top team,' the man known as 'Bulldog' continues.

So what can Gascoyne's contribution be? Many believe that as 'technical director' he still has a huge influence on the actual lay-out of the F1-racer.

Mike reckons his main input is perhaps more organizational.

'My strength is being able to prioritize the things which make you go quickly.'









Firman Disappointed To Be Out Of F1
Ralph Firman is naturally disappointed about not being retained by Formula One team Jordan; but it's mainly because he didn't fulfil his potential in 2003.

The speedster will turn his attention to open-wheeler series Champ Car or IRL this season after sponsored-driver Giorgio Pantano was given the nod in F1.

'I've been aware of what's going on [at Jordan] for some time,' Firman said.

Jordan readily acknowledges that Firman's EJ13 was the team's 'worst' racer in thirteen years of F1, but insists that Ralph Jnr also wasn't up to scratch.

STRUGGLED IN QUALIFYING

Sources at Silverstone point to the Briton's troubled time in 1-lap qualifying, in which he struggled to match teammate Giancarlo Fisichella's strong pace.

Firman, who may also return to the F-Nippon series he conquered in 2002, added: 'I'm most disappointed about the difficulties with last year's Jordan car.

'It made it impossible to do anything significant in my rookie season.'

Ralph is also considering a switch to the German touring-car category DTM, even though most vacancies in the tin-top series are quickly being filled.

'I'm fascinated to race [in DTM],' said Firman of the series which will be contested by former F1 aces Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Jean Alesi in 2004.

He concluded: 'The cars are so sophisticated.'








Schu Doesn't Fear McLaren
Michael Schumacher does not fear the new McLaren MP4-19.

The German superstar believes BMW-Williams and Renault are shaping-up to pose a challenge to his crown this season but isn't sure about the racers in silver.

'I see Williams and Renault as really strong,' he told the Italian media.

'... Probably more than McLaren.'

Woking's new Mercedes-powered '19' was the first to hit the pre-season test tracks but, particularly in recent sessions, has not set many quick lap-times.

ARE THEY SANDBAGGING?

Schumacher admits that, in spite of speculation that McLaren are encountering chassis/engine-integration problems, something more sinister might be at play.

'It's hard to judge [as] no-one knows what they're really doing,' he said.

'McLaren aren't setting fast lap times, that's true, but maybe they aren't looking for it. So it's too early to talk about these things now.'

35-year-old Michael reckons BMW-Williams, for whom younger sibling Ralf Schumacher steers an innovative FW26, looks like Ferrari's strongest 2004-rival.

'Maybe they and us are going better than others,' he told Gazzetta Dello Sport, 'but everything depends on the current times that are already now set.'








No 'Number One' At F1 Team Minardi
There's no such thing as a 'number one' race-driver at Minardi.

Team boss Paul Stoddart made the promise to new-signings Zsolt Baumgartner and Gianmaria Bruni as his two-seater racer roared around the streets of Budapest.

'Everyone will be treated equally and fairly,' the Australian said.

'There is no ranking between the drivers - both have proved they have what it takes to be on the Formula One grid so now let's get on to a good season.'

SPARE FOR QUICK QUALIFIER

Senior team engineer Andy Tilley, also in Hungary for the '04 'launch' event, added that the spare-car would be prepared for the highest-qualifying driver.

But Zsolt and Gimmi, the rated Rome-born Italian, would get the spare at their respective 'home' races, so that Bruni has priority at both Imola and Monza.

'Minardi has a tradition of hungry drivers who go on to bigger things,' Stoddart concluded. 'There's less pressure here and it's a good proving ground.'








Watch Out Ferrari, Here's Renault
Watch out Ferrari, here come your meaner Formula One rivals.

That's the warning of executive director of engineering at fourth-placed team Renault as he expects a new constructors' champion to be crowned in 2004.

'This sport is not about past statistics,' said Pat Symonds, referring to the Maranello-based Ferrari team's run of five consecutive constructors' titles.

He added: 'Ferrari exemplify amazing, efficient team-work.

'But that isn't to say that another team can't equal or better them.'

WEAKNESSES REVEALED

Symonds believes that last season uncovered many of Ferrari's vulnerabilities.

'I think when they were under pressure [the weaknesses] really came out.

'We'll keep hounding them and we'll try to keep getting the results.'

Renault, with Spanish driver Fernando Alonso, won its first race as a modern F1 constructor last season and has impressed all with a striking new R24 car.

'Ferrari were not the quickest at every race last year, and probably won't be in 2004 either,' Pat said. 'But this season will be all about reliability.'

New regulations require that each car use a single powerplant all race-weekend.

'Whether we can fight [with Ferrari] consistently this season, we'll have to see,' said Symonds. 'But we hold out real hope that we can do it.'








Jordan Gives Up Cost-Cutting Quest
Eddie Jordan has 'given up' a quest to cut costs in Formula One.

The Irishman, whose Silverstone-based team runs on the sport's second-smallest budget, is disillusioned by his richer rivals' reluctance to embrace change.

Asked by F1 Racing magazine what he's thinking about next to reduce spiraling expenditure for all teams, EJ said: 'I don't know. I've given up.

'Every time anybody suggests anything it gets brushed to one side.'

Last season, EJ's former technical deputy Gary Anderson suggested that the GP-weekend could be cut to just two days to reduce the associated costs of racing.

And EJ is a staunch-supporter of mandating reduced levels of testing.

FIA SLAMS LACK OF PROGRESS

The governing FIA has also criticized the lack of progress, a spokesman confirming that teams recently rejected a raft of federation-proposed ideas.

'The teams have had several meetings,' said a source, 'but produced nothing.'

Jordan reckons the only reason big teams like Ferrari and McLaren want to keep ten competitors in F1 is so they don't have to field a third car in grands prix.

'They don't care if we're uncompetitive,' he told the magazine.







BMW Chief: German Driver Is 'Bonus'
BMW has detained speculation that Formula One chassis-partner Williams has been muscled into a corner in negotiations with Ralf Schumacher over nationality.

The Munich-based marque's competition director Dr Mario Theissen said is was simply a 'bonus' if Frank Williams puts a German in the racing cockpit.

Talks with Kerpen-born star Schumacher over a new race-agreement beyond 2004 have stalled because the German wants a sizeable $24.5 million per season.

Speculation said BMW demanded at least one German F1 pilot.

'We just want the best drivers available to us,' Theissen insisted.

He added that if one of the occupants of the 2005-specification FW26 'happens to be German, then that is just a bonus for us.'

HAPPY WITH SCHUMACHER

Nonetheless, Theissen makes it clear that BMW is happy with 28-year-old Ralf.

He reckons the younger sibling of Ferrari-driving world champion Michael Schumacher has the ability to win the championship and is still improving.

'I think Ralf has learned a lot in the past few years,' said the German, 'and in the way he approaches his work, he is getting better too.

'I think his talent level has not leveled off yet.'








Ferrari and McLaren Test Privately
Top-teams Scuderia Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes ran their respective 2004 Formula One race-challengers at private pre-season test locations on Tuesday.

At the Ferrari-owned Mugello track in Italy, scarlet world champion Michael Schumacher turned another 66-laps in the recently-launched F2004 contender.

On day one of this program, the German worked on the car's ongoing development and will continue at the circuit on Wednesday in the sole new racer.

Tester Luca Badoer starts a program in an older car at Imola on Wednesday.

McLAREN AT VALENCIA

Meanwhile, at the sunny and twisty Valencia circuit in Spain, David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen lapped together in separate new McLaren MP4-19 cars.

The former Scot was fastest in a Mercedes-powered car that boasts most of the technical innovations that will be raced in Australia in under three weeks.

Sources reported fewer technical glitches than in recent test track-sessions.

BMW-Williams, Toyota and BAR join the Spanish action on Wednesday.








Verstappen To Stick By Slated Manager
Jos Verstappen's agent Huub Rothengatter is 'gob-smacked'.

What has got the former F1 ace so worked up? - he can hardly believe what he's read on the internet in past hours in reference to his managerial skills.

Jordan called the Dutchman 'intransigent' and suggested that he was asking for an unreasonable commission on new sponsorship deals as part of a JV-drive.

And Verstappen sponsor Trust Computers said it would go ahead with new opportunities in the F1 paddock despite the huge-demands of poor management.

'I am absolutely gob-smacked by what I have read,' Huub told Jos' website.

'I don't want to give any comments at this point.'

HUUB AND TRUST FELL-OUT

Sources close to Verstappen confirmed that Trust boss Michel Perridon and Rothengatter fell-out at some point during race negotiations with Jordan.

Verstappen is split between his two closest supporters but has confirmed that Huub Rothengatter will continue to organise his race-driving career.

'Many things have happened thanks to Michel, but Huub too,' he said.

'I have said it before, Huub will stay my manager. It is thanks to him that I have been in Formula One for such a long time. He'll always be part of it.'








Wirdheim To Use Role As Shop-Window
F3000 champion Bjorn Wirdheim intends to use the free practice sessions at F1 grands prix this season as a shop-window for his driving talents.

According to a source, the Swede - given his signing as Jaguar's 'third' driver in 2004 - will steer the spare-car at all eighteen GP-venues on the calendar.

The 23-year-old said at a news conference in Stockholm: 'This was the best solution for me this year. It gives me a chance to get into Formula One.'

ONE-YEAR CONTRACT

Wirdheim added that the exercise would be used to gather experience of the Formula One circuits and circus and 'see what it takes' to land a race-drive.

He also confirmed a single-season contract with the Milton-Keynes team.

Bjorn drove for Arden in F3000 last season and is managed by team principal Christian Horner, who said the new role is a 'perfect platform' for his charge.

Jaguar had hoped to sign ex-racer Justin Wilson to the role but a new regulation requires that 'third' drivers have less than six grands prix on their CV.

'We will have a third car at every race,' MD David Pitchforth said recently.








New Toyota Engine Is Best In F1?
Toyota's new RVX-04 V10 engine is perhaps the very best in Formula One, according to the team's new 'technical director chassis' Mike Gascoyne.

Recent wisdom of the past few seasons put BMW's powerplant, and perhaps the 90-degree Ferrari, at the top of the tree in terms of power and driveability.

But the new Toyota, designed by the team at Cologne (Germany) headed by Italian Luca Marmorini, is a 'championship winner,' Gascoyne insisted.

'It's also incredibly reliable,' he told the Financial Times, which should boost Toyota's chance of emerging triumphant from new long-life engine regulations.

TOP-TEAMS MAY STRUGGLE

Gascoyne reckons even the top teams will 'struggle' with the rule which has required engine-designers to effectively double the life of their V10 units.

'It's an area we could capitalize on,' he added.

The no-nonsense Englishman's job, however, is on the chassis-side of things.

'They've produced a sound car, and I've got to make it a quick one,' Gascoyne said of the evolutionary design dubbed TF104 and based on its predecessor.

He said: 'Until we get the bits to make the car competitive, what we have to do is make the most of what we've got and the engine will allow us to do that.'








Baumgartner's F1 Seat Is Guaranteed
Zsolt Baumgartner will drive the full Formula One season with Minardi.

Team owner and principal Paul Stoddart fended off claims that clawed-back sponsorship dollars had thrown the Hungarian-born charger's debut into question.

The Aussie said in Budapest: 'He'll do the season. He's a great talent.'

First, oil firm MOL, disappointed that Baumgartner had signed a Minardi (as opposed to Jordan) contract, retracted nearly $1.6 million in support.

The Hungarian government followed suit, swapping $4m for just $286,000 because the country's people were 'divided' over the issue of F1 driver-funding.

DONATIONS SAVED DRIVE

... but to the rescue came Zsolt's legions of fans.

The 23-year-old said, in light of donations also from local companies, 'I want to thank Hungarians for all their help in making me a Formula One driver.'

Stoddart declined to divulge the 'confidential' contents of Baumgartner's one-year contract but said both 2004 drivers were 'guaranteed' a seat all season.

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