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
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
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
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
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
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
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
'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
Now, the Trust chief says he would continue to support Verstappen, but
not with his present management, and left open 'other options' if it
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
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
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,
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
'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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Managing director David Pitchforth appeared to confirm speculation
that race-driver Mark Webber specifically requested extra-help for the
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
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
'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
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
'They had to invest to be a top team,' the man known as 'Bulldog'
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
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
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
Ralph is also considering a switch to the German touring-car category
DTM, even though most vacancies in the tin-top series are quickly
'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
'... 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
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
'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
35-year-old Michael reckons BMW-Williams, for whom younger sibling
Ralf Schumacher steers an innovative FW26, looks like Ferrari's
'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
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
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
He added: 'Ferrari exemplify amazing, efficient team-work.
'But that isn't to say that another team can't equal or better them.'
Symonds believes that last season uncovered many of Ferrari's
'I think when they were under pressure [the weaknesses] really came
'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
New regulations require that each car use a single powerplant all
'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
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
'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
'The teams have had several meetings,' said a source, 'but produced
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
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
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
He reckons the younger sibling of Ferrari-driving world champion
Michael Schumacher has the ability to win the championship and is
'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
'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
At the Ferrari-owned Mugello track in Italy, scarlet world champion
Michael Schumacher turned another 66-laps in the recently-launched
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
Tester Luca Badoer starts a program in an older car at Imola on
McLAREN AT VALENCIA
Meanwhile, at the sunny and twisty Valencia circuit in Spain, David
Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen lapped together in separate new McLaren
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
Sources reported fewer technical glitches than in recent test
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
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
'I am absolutely gob-smacked by what I have read,' Huub told Jos'
'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
Verstappen is split between his two closest supporters but has
confirmed that Huub Rothengatter will continue to organise his
'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
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
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
He also confirmed a single-season contract with the Milton-Keynes
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
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
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
'It's also incredibly reliable,' he told the Financial Times, which
should boost Toyota's chance of emerging triumphant from new long-life
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
'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
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
First, oil firm MOL, disappointed that Baumgartner had signed a
Minardi (as opposed to Jordan) contract, retracted nearly $1.6 million
The Hungarian government followed suit, swapping $4m for just $286,000
because the country's people were 'divided' over the issue of F1
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
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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