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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
February 19, 2004


F1 Test Notes: Imola And Valencia
BMW-Williams charger Juan Pablo Montoya set a new track record at Valencia on Thursday but Jaguar's Christian Klien was also getting noticed with third-best.

The Austrian said of the three-day planned session in the R5: 'We did a lot of laps today on aerodynamics setup, weight distribution and tire evaluation.'

Colombian Montoya's 1:09.103 bettered the previous-record established last month by BMW-Williams test-returnee Antonio Pizzonia, the young Brazilian.

McLaren again didn't look quick as Kimi Raikkonen and David Coulthard could manage just 6th and 10th-best times whilst encountering more technical dramas.

Raikkonen, the Finn, sat motionless as his practicing pit-crew extinguished a fire during a simulation while veteran Coulthard stopped with an engine failure.

At the Imola track (Italy), Jarno Trulli worked on the Melbourne-spec Renault engine. 'The car is very consistent on long runs,' said tech-head Pat Symonds.

RAIN FORECAST ON THURSDAY

Poor weather, including rain, is forecast at the Enzo e Dino track on Thursday.

Felipe Massa was a surprise second-best in one of two Sauber C23 cars but his race simulation was hampered by some hydraulic problems.

Team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella was testing Oz-spec tires and engineer Jacky Eeckelaert said Sauber was ready to 'make a good choice' for the season-opener.

For the first time in a while, Jordan was not bottom of the times but tech-chief James Robinson said Wednesday was 'more frustrating' than it appeared.

'We had a number of exhaust pipe failures,' the Briton said. 'Imola tends to throw you a new set of problems but we think we can get on top of this.'

Back at Valencia, BAR and Toyota also turned laps, while Minardi's Gianmaria Bruni brought up the lap-sheets in Imola by trailing the EJ14 of Nick Heidfeld.

'It's promising that we're less than a second off the Jordan,' said team boss Paul Stoddart, 'although there is still room to improve our performance.'








Verstappen To Revive Career In States
Jos Verstappen may revive his flagging race-career in the United States.

The Dutchman missed out on the final seat in Formula One last week when the exorbitant demands of his manager moved Jordan to plump for Giorgio Pantano.

He has ruled-out a return to back-of-the-grid employers Minardi and told his website that Champ Cars or the Indy Racing League are more attractive options.

SHAPES UP F1 TEST-DRIVE?

'We are talking with Formula One teams,' said Verstappen, although sources insist that all meaningful development-drives are sealed for this season.

Verstappen said earlier this week that the F1-paddock is aware of his unemployment and should consider his sponsors if a race-vacancy pops up.

He added: 'But [we're] also looking to America.'

Known for his hard-charging attitude and nickname 'The Boss', Verstappen insisted that 'nothing concrete' has been sorted for the looming 2004 season.

'But we will talk very fast,' he joked.








Why Is F1 Boss' Girlfriend So Glum?
Why is German supermodel Heidi Klum so glum?

Because her boyfriend, Formula One team Renault managing director and principal Flavio Briatore, has been spotted doing the dirty.

Klum is pregnant with the Italian's baby but photographs of Briatore kissing jewellery heiress Fiona Svarowski were sold to the media earlier this week.

BRIATORE SHOWN THE DOOR

It left 'the 30-year-old beauty with little option but to show Briatore the door,' according to a report in the Daily Express tabloid newspaper.

At Christmas, Flavio said he could 'imagine marriage' to Heidi Klum.

But the publication continued that the 54-year-old Briatore may already be dating a new beauty; Klum's look-alike teenage neighbor Vanessa Hilger (19).

Briatore's former courtship of supermodel Naomi Campbell was also well-known.








Ralf: No More Braking For Big Brother
Ralf Schumacher is not going to brake for his big brother any more.

Multiple Formula One world champion Michael, 35, intimidates his younger sibling on the world's GP race-tracks, according to widespread analyst wisdom.

It has led to claims that 28-year-old Ralf, who drives for top-team BMW-Williams, races his Ferrari-piloting brother less hard than other F1 rivals.

'Enough with the jokes,' he told German daily Bild.

'I am not going to brake for Michael any more. I am not going to take my foot off the pedal for him. I will give my all just like Michael taught me to do.'

LESS RESPECT FOR MONTOYA

Ralf's team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya believes 'Schumi Junior' has more on-track respect for his big-brother than most of his other driving-rivals.

The Colombian added: 'Sometimes you see him racing me harder than with anybody else. You don't see [Ralf] blocking Michael on the straight, do you?'








Badoer Unhurt After Big Imola Crash
Ferrari tester Luca Badoer walked away from a big shunt in his F2003-GA car on Wednesday as the famous marque got up-and-running at Italian circuit Imola.

Track-observers said the left-hand side of the chassis was destroyed after Badoer, from Italy, lost control and came off the track at curve Variante Alta.

INJURIES 'RULED OUT'

He underwent some checks, according to a spokesman, but any medical problems were 'ruled out' and doctors cleared Badoer to drive in the session on Thursday.

* A lone Michael Schumacher was still in action at the nearby chilly Autodromo Mugello as he clocked up another 63-laps on development of the brand-new F2004.









Michelin Teams Charge For F1 Victory
Formula One's Michelin-shod teams aim to turn out at the Australian Grand Prix in just over a fortnight and charge immediately towards season victory.

Head of the tire-marque's F1 programme Pascal Vasselon admits that the temporary road-circuit near Melbourne has not always been suited to Michelin's product.

He said: 'Let's say that our advantage there has not been quite so impressive. We've tried to make the most of our testing to provide an optimum performance.'

Pascal spoke from Imola (Italy); the centre of one of the final pre-season tests of the winter and another circuit on which Michelin hasn't always shined.

The Frenchman said Melbourne-spec choices will be finalized this week.

'This test also allows us to take a look at the first European race of the season,' continued Vasselon. 'Our predictions are becoming more reliable.'

SIGNIFICANT PROGRESS

Pascal insisted that Michelin, which supplies top-teams including BMW-Williams, McLaren and Renault, has made 'significant progress' since Suzuka 2003.

'When our [teams] confirm a good development, that becomes our new benchmark,' he said, 'and we try and improve our product from that baseline.

'We have gone through several different levels on this scale [over the winter].'

* A new EU law seeks to limit the use of certain cancer-causing oils, used to increase grip in wet-weather, in the manufacture of motorsport-spec tires.








Ralf Reckons He Can Shade Montoya
Ralf Schumacher reckons he can again put his F1 teammate in the shade even if the single-lap qualifying format has undergone more changes this season.

The German, who had an edge over Juan Pablo Montoya in the Friday / Saturday design of 2003, is looking forward to the revised back-to-back Saturday system.

'I don't see a huge difference,' the BMW-Williams driver told British broadcaster website ITV-F1, 'even if there's less time between the two sessions.

'I'm looking forward to proving myself twice within a few minutes.'

The 28-year-old had problems early last season in getting the most out of his Formula One racer over just a single-lap in the quest for pole position.

Schumacher improved mainly by increasing concentration for the session.

'It's something I probably learned from my time in Japan,' he concluded.

FORMAT ENDS TRUE QUALIFYING

Montoya, who'll see out his BMW-tenure this year, worries that the new format is set to put to an end to all-out 'true qualifying performance' in F1.

'The first run will be low-fuel but [with] race-setup,' the Colombian also told ITV-F1. 'It means the car will understeer all over the place.'

* American F1-fans will again be given the chance to check-out pitlane at Indianapolis this season with the confirmed return of the 'USGP pit walkabout.'

'Many teams asked us after the [2003] race how they can get more involved this year,' said vice president of business affairs at Indy, Joie Chitwood.








Pantano Thanks Cash For F1 Debut
Giorgio Pantano has thanked his sponsors for getting him to Formula One.

Dutch veteran Jos Verstappen, who had $10 million in tow, was favorite to land the final Jordan seat until negotiations involving his management broke down.

Enter Giorgio, and the support of an Italian fashion-house.

He told La Gazzetta dello Sport: 'It would be foolish to deny reality.

'These days people look a lot at the aspect of money. And it's right, because there are teams with difficulties.'

But the Italian nonetheless thinks he deserves his spot on the F1 grid.

DESERVES SPOT ON GRID

'It's not by chance that Jordan looked for me,' he said. 'I don't deny, however, that my hiring has been eased thanks to the sponsors I brought.'

Otherwise, GP followed a 'classic' path to Formula One; first in karts, where he was world champion, then German F3, and finally with multiple wins in F3000.

He also tested a McLaren F1 car in 2001 - but regrets it.

'I wouldn't do it [the same] again,' he said. 'The car had no project behind it - it was an error. At the end of the day, what was the point of it?'

Pantano notes that Jordan has launched the F1 careers of highly-rated drivers.

'Like [Giancarlo] Fisichella,' he said of the Roman who won in Brazil in 2003.

'I want to learn quickly, be competitive and win.'








Klien To Learn Tracks On PlayStation
Christian Klien has vowed to spend as much time on his Sony PlayStation as on the Formula One test-tracks in the fortnight before Melbourne.

The rookie, backed by sponsor Red Bull, said his first priority for his debut season at the pinnacle of motor sport will be to learn the race-circuits.

'I haven't driven on most of them before,' the Austrian said at Jaguar's annual NSPCC charity night at the Browns Lane facility in Coventry on Monday.

'As far as Australia goes,' he added, 'my target will be to get used to the circuit, have a solid qualifying run and finish the race.

'Until then I'll be playing a lot of PlayStation to get used to the track!'

BIG STEP FROM F3 TO F1

Another of 20-year-old Christian's targets is getting-up to race-spec fitness.

'I'm training quite hard,' said Klien, 'especially in the upper body and neck region. That's one of the biggest adjustments going from F3 to Formula One.'

* Malaysia's ex-F1 ace Alex Yoong has signed to host a series of preview and review shows of the 18-race GP-calendar with Asia's broadcaster ESPN-Star.

'[The deal] allows me to record the programs from wherever I may be,' said the 28-year-old, 'which is important as I will still be racing this year.'








Is Montoya Worried About Raikkonen?
Surely, even though Juan Pablo Montoya is relishing his move to McLaren, the Colombian lays awake at night worrying about future team-mate Kimi Raikkonen ..?

'I'm not thinking about that,' this season's Williams ace told ITV-F1.

He added: 'It will be good if we can work together. But I obviously feel that I can beat him if I have an equal car.'

Montoya, who has not actually had his next team-mate confirmed by McLaren, knows that 24-year-old Raikkonen is one of the very best young chargers in F1.

'I don't think I'm quicker than anyone else,' said the 28-year-old, 'but I don't think I'm slower either. There will be times when we both beat each other.'

BLOWN-AWAY BY RALF

The Bogota-born ace referred to 2001, when - as a Formula One rookie - he was significantly beaten by current team-mate Ralf Schumacher.

'For the first six months, he blew me away,' said JPM, who thinks F1 will have a new champion in 2004. 'But since then I seem to have had the better of him.'







Lauda: No Pressure To Emulate Father
Rising open-wheeler sensation Mathias Lauda feels no pressure to replicate the feats of his triple Formula One world championship-winning father Niki.

The Austrian, 23, has just signed a contract to race with F3000 operation Coloni in 2004 having impressed in the World Series By Nissan (Lights) last year.

Lauda said he would be happy if his season on the F1-tracks this season impresses grand prix racing-bosses and inspires a graduation to the big-league.

But he told the ANSA network: 'I don't have any great ambition or feel any obligation to reach Formula One and repeat the success my father had.'

FATHER DROVE 14 SEASONS

Lauda Senior, now 55 and still scarred from a near-fatal shunt at the Nurburgring (1976), drove for Ferrari and McLaren in a 14-season GP career.

His son concluded: 'If I do have success and move up to F1 I'm certainly going to be happy. And I'm sure my father will be happy about it as well.'








Sheene Cheers For Brits And Aussies
Stephanie Sheene can't decide who should win the upcoming Australian Grand Prix.

On the one hand, the widow of much-loved motorcycling-legend Barry is a Brit so would enjoy watching BAR's Jenson Button roar to her waved chequered-flag.

Mrs Sheene has accepted an invitation to greet the Albert Park F1-winner in Melbourne next month as a tribute to her husband who died of cancer in 2003.

'Jenson [is] the favourite driver of my daughter Sidonie, son Freddie and me,' she told the media. And the young charger was a friend of Barry's, too.

'It would be lovely to wave that flag as an Englishman won his first GP.'

ADOPTED AUSSIES

But the Sheenes were also 'adopted' as honorary Australians, particularly after, in the 1980s, they moved to the sunny Gold Coast to ease Barry's arthritis.

'I'd love to see Mark Webber, the Aussie, do really well too,' said Stephanie Sheene, 'especially as he's racing for Jaguar, a great British name.'

Barry Sheene, the double 500cc champion, lost his fight with cancer aged 52 on the day after last-year's season-opening Formula One race in Australia.

'Motor racing was Barry's life,' said his wife.








F1 Must Cut Costs Or Die: Industry Expert
Formula One must cut costs or risk extinction, according to an industry expert.

Nicky Samengo-Turner, of a banking boutique specializing in motor industries, says F1's major players are racing around with their 'heads in the sand.'

'[F1] is far too expensive in every possible facet,' Samengo-Turner, at Touchstone Securities, told the BBC world service.

'The costs need to come down in order for [the] media to get its value.'

METEORIC GROWTH

Samengo-Turner notes that the world is witnessing 'meteoric growth' in engineering skills in parts of the world other than Europe and Britain.

The expert is a close associate of F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone who also agrees that the pinnacle of motor sport is doomed unless immediate action is taken.

'We've got to come up with some ideas this year,' he said. 'It's that simple.'








Ralf's Never Had A Better F1 Racer
Ralf Schumacher has never had a better Formula One title-weapon.

Last season, the German's BMW-powered FW25 Williams was an under-developed machine that didn't win a race until June's Monte-Carlo event of Monaco.

But the innovative FW26 is ready, according to the youngest Schu.

He told ITV-F1: 'I would say it's the best one I've ever had at the start of a season. A car has to be competitive when it first comes out of the factory.

'We missed it last year, but we had a satisfying start this year.'

NEW OPPONENT

Ralf, 28, warned that Ferrari - headed by big-brother Michael - is again the team to beat but downplayed the threat posed by fourth-placed Renault.

BAR-Honda has also surprised the BMW-Williams star; even if he reckons some of the Brackley-based team's sterling test-times have been 'for show' only.

'[But] even if they were on low fuel,' said Ralf, 'they are fast.

'If their car really is like that, there's a new opponent.'








Webber's Ego Kept In Check 'Down Under'
Mark Webber's ego is kept in check by his Australian supporters.

The local lad returns to Albert Park for the third time as an F1 driver next month and admits that attention has increased 'massively' since his debut.

He finished fifth for Minardi in 2002 'and last year I was running 5th with Michael ahead and DC behind before my driveshaft broke,' said Webber.

Mark was speaking at Jaguar's annual NSPCC charity-night in Coventry.

LOTS OF EXPECTATION

'It's been a very good race for me,' said Mark, referring to Melbourne.

Racing in front of a home contingent obviously raises the pressure, Webber confirmed; 'it's a very busy few days - lots of expectation and things.'

And the 27-year-old reckons Aussies know all about the 'tall poppy syndrome.'

'They've been known to tell you if you're getting too big for your boots so it certainly keeps your feet on the ground. I think we put on a great race.'








Bernie Doubts Success Of 'New' CART
Bernie Ecclestone doubts that a rejuvenated CART series can stay the distance.

The F1 supremo told us that Champ Cars, which emerged from bankruptcy on Wednesday with a new owner (OWRS), 'lost its way' several years ago.

73-year-old Ecclestone was last year linked with a buy-out of the embattled open-wheeler series based in the United States, but talks came to nothing.

Bernie said CART used to be a 'good domestic series' that shot itself in the foot because it wanted to globalize and act as a rival to Formula One.

WANTED TO MERGE IRL

'We'll have to wait and see how they survive,' he continued. 'I was hoping to get them together [with the IRL] and then I think it would have worked.'

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