F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
February 23, 2004

Ferrari Set For Head-To-Head Test
Ferrari's new F1 racer is set to go head-to-head with its rivals this week.

A lone Rubens Barrichello ran in the F2004 at Mugello on Saturday but the test was called off after just twenty-two laps when a torrent of rain struck.

The Italian team packed up the scarlet car and headed for the 'Enzo e Dino Ferrari' (Imola) circuit where it will resume test-running on Monday.


BMW-Williams, with its innovative 'tusked' FW26, is scheduled to unpack at Imola from Tuesday as are top-team rival McLaren-Mercedes and Toyota.

World champion Michael Schumacher denied claims late last week that Ferrari was 'hiding' from its rivals by staying-away from the majority action in Spain.

'Testing at home makes sense due to the vicinity of the factory,' said the German. 'Anyway, our rivals are very welcome to come here and test in Italy.'

* Ferrari chief Jean Todt insists that Maranello is ready for defeat in 2004.

'The laws of sport state that it is impossible to always win and we are prepared to lose,' said the Frenchman. 'But we intend to stay at the top.'

France Ramps-Up F1 Assault
France is ramping-up its race assault on Formula One.

After a close-call for the running of this season's event in rural Magny-Cours, organisers have now cut ticket-prices in a bid to attract more spectators.

You can now buy a ticket for race-day at just 80 euros, down from 100, and some grandstand seats are up to thirty-percent cheaper than last-year's figures.


On Friday, meanwhile, the local Burgundy council voted in favour of a further two million euros to boost the coffers of the embattled French GP-event.

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone nearly canned the 2004 race over money issues.

* F1 tester Franck Montagny visited the Renault Parts Division site near Paris on the weekend to mingle with staff and sign autographs ahead of season-2004.

'I am really happy to be here,' said the Frenchman ahead of his Melbourne debut, 'and to see the reaction of these fellow employees was a nice experience.'

Renault's Multi-Million Spanish Deal
F1 team Renault's new multi-year sponsorship agreement with Telefonica is worth eighteen million euros over the first two seasons, according to a source.

Flavio Briatore heralded the 'boost' to his Enstone-based team's coffers on the weekend in the form of a branding deal with the Spanish communications group.

'It is a significant step,' said the Italian, 'for us to welcome a major Spanish company such as Telefonica as our partner.'


The deal, the eighth new commercial agreement signed to Renault for 2004, depends on the presence of Oviedo-born driver Fernando Alonso, says our source.

'Our testing pace [with the new R24 car] has been promising,' Briatore continued in a press statement, 'and we look forward to successful seasons ahead.'

Alonso, the Spaniard, also signed a five-year personal deal with Telefonica.

It's worth nearly nine million dollars (in total) but its continuation may depend on which team the 22-year-old is driving for beyond season-2006.

Spanish media reports insist that the Telefonica deal, which will see logos on the R24's rear-wing from Melbourne, was held-up over terms disagreements.

* Toyota racer Cristiano da Matta reported a 'mixed' test-session in the new TF104 car from last week's work on development in Spain (Valencia).

'We encountered all sorts of small problems in different areas,' said the Brazilian, 'which was frustrating because reliability has been good so far.'

Stoddart Predicts Title To Topple
F1 team boss Paul Stoddart touched-down in his native Australia on the weekend expecting BMW-Williams to topple Ferrari from its dominating-perch.

The Minardi owner, however - at the Australian Motor Sport Show in Melbourne - reckons no-one can stop Michael Schumacher from making it seven titles in '04.

'I don't think [Williams] can win the drivers' championship because they would need to have one driver concentrating on it, as Ferrari will have,' he said.

Stoddart added: 'I think [team drivers] Ralf (Schumacher) and (Juan Pablo) Montoya will probably split too many races between them.'


The Aussie, born not far from Melbourne, doesn't rate Kimi Raikkonen as highly as some of the other drivers to line-up on the Albert Park grid next month.

'I don't think McLaren will have as good a year as many people think,' said Paul, 48. 'I'm not trying to be funny, I just don't rate Kimi as much.'

He does, however, rate countryman and former Minardi ace Mark Webber.

Stoddart concluded inside the Exhibition Buildings, whilst predicting problems for the Milton-Keynes based team: 'I think he's Jaguar's biggest asset.'

* Sauber has put another three-years on an agreement with DaimlerChrysler Switzerland for the provision of Mercedes F1 trucks and transporters.

'... We'll continue hauling our cars and materials to the circuits aboard the exceptionally reliable and safe Mercedes-Benz Actros trucks,' said Peter Sauber.

Williams 'Play Hardball' With Schumacher
BMW-Williams' owner and boss has admitted that the Oxfordshire-based team is 'playing hardball' with a cash-demanding Formula One driver Ralf Schumacher.

Sources insist that the German ace is asking for $24.5 million per-season on a new race contract and has now threatened to quit the team if he doesn't get it.

'It would be sad (to leave) but I can't allow myself to be treated like [this] by Williams,' the 28-year-old brother of Michael Schumacher told Bild.

Sir Frank Williams said the issue is 'purely down to cash.'

He explained further: 'The reason we're playing hardball is because we are the only team at the front of the grid which is not a public company.'


According to Ralf, Frank has accused him of being a 'money-grabber.

'I can only laugh at that,' said the racer. 'I wanted to sign. We had a meeting planned in Japan but Frank wasn't there and then he pulled the offer.

'On a human level I'm very disappointed with him.'

* Highly-rated young McLaren ace Kimi Raikkonen reckons future team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya is harder to pass than his current cohort Ralf Schumacher.

'Some drivers are harder to get past than others,' the Finn told ITV. 'Michael [Schumacher] is one of them. And Montoya is harder to get past than Ralf.'

BAR's In Trouble
Formula One team BAR-Honda is in a bit of trouble.

On a recent trip to new grand prix venue Bahrain, the Brackley-based outfit sent out a press-pack to journalists which included a bag of desert-sand.

But Australian-based F1 reporter Paul Gover, minus his sand, had to make-do with a terse letter from his country's Quarantine Inspection Service.


The letter said the Herald Sun hack could pay $42 to have his sand cleaned by radiation, pay to have it returned to BAR, or pay nothing and it'd be destroyed.

AQIS is not happy with the Formula One outfit.

Spokesman Carson Creagh told local publications in Australia, scene of F1's season-opener, that five bags of the sand mailed into Oz have been quarantined.

'We'll be in touch ... telling [BAR] not to do it again,' he said.

* 45 Bahraini track-marshals were trained by specialists from Australia's motor sport confederation (CAMS) in recent weeks ahead of their inaugural F1 race.

'There are more than 600 marshals registered in Bahrain and we trained 45 senior marshals,' said a spokesman who left Bahrain with the trainers on the weekend.

Montoya, Kimi, Forecast Gloom For Schu
Colombian rival Juan Pablo Montoya is predicting an end to reigning world champion Michael Schumacher's four-year run of Formula One titles this season.

The Williams star told German paper Welt am Sonntag that Schumacher, who drives for Ferrari, should not expect to claim yet another drivers' crown in 2004.

'Michael has never experienced really strong opposition,' said the 28-year-old.

Montoya concluded: 'That will all change this season because there are a lot of drivers who want to win races but actually can do it now.'


Juan was beaten to the runner-up prize for last year's Formula One drivers' championship by a young Finn and his future McLaren team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.

24-year-old Raikkonen doesn't think Schumacher is any harder to race against than most of the other nineteen highly-paid chargers on the GP-grids.

'Ferrari have had a good package for many years now and that's what makes them hard to beat,' the driver known as 'The Iceman' told ITV-F1's James Allen.

Raikkonen concluded: 'They have a strong car and they know what they are doing and he's a good driver. You need the whole package together to beat them.'

* Honda looks to have solved most of its pre-season engine dramas.

'We have been encouraged by the reliability,' said BAR tester Anthony Davidson at twisty circuit Valencia, 'as we haven't had any major problems.'

Tech-director Geoff Willis said two race-spec engines reached their full grand prix distance in Spain even if some problems struck on the first test-day.

Union Threatens F1 Season-Opener
A Trade Union is threatening the smooth running of the Australian Grand Prix.

The Australian Services Union (ASU) said electrical workers in Melbourne may not service the Albert Park circuit because of an industry dispute over wages.

ASU secretary Michael Rizzo said: 'Our bans say if there are power disconnections, we may not put them on again.'

Grand Prix promoter Ron Walker is, however, unconcerned.


'There are many unions that could bring the [race] to a halt, but it's never happened before,' he told the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

State (Victoria) premier Steve Bracks promised to safeguard the running of the event by pledging the help of the army in the event of any power-trouble.

The ASU's industrial action has already hit factories in south-east Melbourne.

Victorian energy minister Theo Theophanous also vowed that the government 'would not allow' an industrial dispute to threaten an international sports event.

Rizzo said there was a 'high chance' that power faults would occur at the GP.

* Following a one-year absence from the calendar, F1 teams are looking forward to returning to the much-loved Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium) circuit in August.

'It's a challenging venue,' said BMW-Williams' Sam Michael, 'and it's undulating nature means the cars need to be stiffer to avoid hitting the ground.'

Pantano: I'm Not Ready For F1 Limit
F1 rookie Giorgio Pantano doubts that he'll be on-the-limit in Australia.

The Italian, who raced in F3000 last season, is set to debut a Ford-powered Jordan at Albert Park but he warned that Melbourne will be all about learning.

'[It is] probably going to be a case of getting more feeling for the car,' he told Autosport, 'and then after two or three races I'll nearly be ready.'


The 25-year-old doubts that early-season points are in the offering.

'But if they come,' said pay-driver Pantano, who beat Dutch veteran and favourite Jos Verstappen to the final F1-seat, 'it will be quite good for me.'

Boss of the perennially back-of-the-pack Minardi team predicted in Melbourne on the weekend that Jordan will also occupy the final rows of the Albert Park grid.

Pantano said: 'It will be difficult to get points, but I must do my best.'

* The Dubai-based A1 Grand Prix series will be launched in March.

Founded by Sheikh Maktoum, the open-wheeler category - to have similar cars to Formula One - is aiming for a debut in the winter of 2005, pending FIA approval.

Bridgestone Vow Catch-Up In Tyre War
Bridgestone has vowed to catch-up in the race for Formula One's fastest tyres.

The Japanese marque, suppliers to Ferrari, won the championships last season but most agree that F1-rival Michelin has the upper-hand in hotter temperatures.

'We have found a way to counter it,' technical manager Hisao Suganuma said.

He told Autosport: 'That probably will not happen with immediate effect, but at least by the summer in Europe, we should have some good solutions in place.'


Where Bridgestone does have an upper-hand, however, is in the rain.

But Fernando Alonso, the Renault-steering Michelin driver, said he has been 'most impressed' with the evolution of Bibendum's new range of slippery tyres.

* Malaysia has shifted into top-gear in preparation for its F1 race (March 21).

The Sepang International Circuit near Kuala-Lumpur has now been official closed with manager Ahmad Mustafa saying only F1-preparation is allowed on the track.

'It is going to be very busy at the track from today,' he said, 'especially with the setting up of the tents and canopies for the TV and communication crews.'

McLaren Boss To Attend NASCAR Race
Why has McLaren principal Ron Dennis scheduled a trip to a NASCAR race?

The English F1 boss reckons the US-based stock-car oval series is 'boring as hell' but they've got more spectators at the races and more cash flowing-in.

He told Reuters: '[NASCAR] is working and yet we've got a much better show.

'If something is as successful as that then you'd be a fool if you didn't go and try to understand what the ingredients are.'


Most F1 pundits are dismissive of the stock-car technology but Dennis and managing director Martin Whitmarsh intend to keep a keen-eye on the circus.

'... Every single team wants F1 to be bigger by having more things at the circuit, more things to entertain the public,' Dennis told the news agency.

The McLaren chief reckons one of the main problems is in the financial-ownership of the Formula One series which markets itself as the 'pinnacle' of racing.

75 percent of F1's commercial aspects are owned by three banks.

Dennis explained that the banks 'don't want to put any money in ... and are only looking for a way to get their money out.'

* Mercedes-Benz boss Jurgen Hubbert is to be replaced.

DaimlerChrysler announced that Dr Wolfgang Bernhard will take over on May 1 while Hubbert takes on the role as head of the Executive Automotive Committee.

Iceman Predicts Zero Points
It's 'unlikely' that a McLaren will reach the end of the Melbourne GP.

That is the new forecast of doom from the Mercedes-powered team's biggest championship-hope Kimi Raikkonen ahead of next month's 2004 season-opener.

Last week, the 24-year-old Finn was praying for more horsepower.

Now he's telling La Gazzetta Dello Sport that McLaren's all-new and visually-radical MP4-19 is also sputtering-along in the pre-season reliability stakes.


'I don't have big expectations [for Australia],' he said. 'If the car gets to the finish I think a good result is there but at the moment it seems unlikely.'

Raikkonen, however, at least showed a new turn of pace during last week's winter test at Valencia (Spain) when he smashed the new BMW-Williams' track record.

But Kimi's also keen to play down that rapid achievement.

'We don't know what our speed is like when you put all the top teams together,' he said. 'One day we're faster, the next the Williams is much faster.'

Raikkonen said his new F1 racer has 'various' technical problems.

* Silverstone (England) and Imola (Italy) are set to host the final pre-season Formula One tests of the winter-period before the opening Australian Grand Prix.

Ferrari's Run To End In 2004: Button
Ferrari's multiple-year run of F1 world championships will end this season.

That is the forecast of young British hopeful Jenson Button who has been setting pre-season test venues on fire in his new Honda-powered BAR 006 charger.

'I don't think Ferrari will win it this time,' he told the Telegraph, 'and McLaren haven't been quite on the pace of Williams, who look very strong.

'The other team who have impressed me are Renault, especially on long runs.'


Another Briton, former McLaren driver John Watson, agrees that F1 'needs' a new world champion after four successive years with Michael Schumacher in charge.

'It is a phenomenal record that speaks for itself,' said the Irishman, 'but the sport needs refreshing. But it's very hard to bet against him.'

Jenson Button, meanwhile, still wants his first podium-finish.

'It would be nice to do it in Melbourne,' he said, referring to Stephanie Sheene's prediction that she'll wave a Briton home after 58 laps at Albert Park.

Button, 24, said: 'We've been quick in testing, but testing can be deceptive because you don't really know what the others are working at.'

Renault Lose Start-Line Advantage
Renault has lost a crucial advantage ahead of the new Formula One season.

Previously, the Enstone-based team's launch-control technology was legendary and ensured Jarno Trulli a fast and easy get-away from the world's race-grids.

In 2004, launch-control is banned.

'It's a good challenge,' Trulli, the Italian ace, told ESPN.

'It will be down to the driver now, using the clutch and the throttle.'

Team-mate Fernando Alonso agrees that losing a technical-edge off the grand prix start-line is a major blow for a team that had perfected such a launch-system.

'It's up to us now to improve ourselves,' said the Spaniard, 'and do a good manual start. We have the traction-control on it, so it is not that difficult.'


Geoff Willis, technical director at rival team BAR-Honda, agrees that Formula One's rule makers have succeeded in increasing the work-load of the driver.

'There is a greater chance of making mistakes,' he added.

Fully-automatic gear-changing is also gone ahead of the new F1 season, moving grand prix technical teams to educate drivers in the art of moving forward.

'We'll keep a close eye on clutch-life throughout a weekend,' said Willis.

* Just two weeks after closing down F1 Magazine, racing-supremo Bernie Ecclestone has called-time on his other print publication, EuroBusiness.

A bid to take-over the magazine was received in recent days, but Ecclestone turned it down because it didn't agree to take on EuroBusiness' liabilities.

Nearly Lost Control: F1 News Shorts
Sauber test-driver Neel Jani nearly lost-control of his Formula One racer at speeds approaching 300kmh during a street-demonstration in Bahrain last week.

'It was so slippery out there,' he said after the first five-laps of a course lined with enthusiastic fans near the under-construction new F1 circuit.

Organisers called-off the second planned run of another 5-laps.

'It was like driving on a marble floor,' the Swiss teenager continued.

* The final day of testing at Valencia last Friday was hampered by rain.

BMW-Williams' drivers focused on traction-control and manual-start procedures while F1 rivals Jaguar Racing packed-up and left the track altogether.

Two Toyotas and a BAR amassed 19 combined laps in the impossible conditions.


Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen does not feel sorry for beleaguered McLaren team-mate David Coulthard, who is to be shunted out of the team in 2005.

'I'm sure he will find something to do afterwards,' the 24-year-old told ITV. 'Maybe his problems were with set-up - the car was quite difficult last year.'

Alonso: Don't Gamble Much On Me
Fernando Alonso has warned his supporters not to splurge too much in gambling-cash on his season-opening victory at next month's 2004 Australian Grand Prix.

The Spaniard said last year's main problem with the older R23 car-design was its engine - not powerful enough and prone to breaking-down in a plume of smoke.

'[The new one] has more power and is more reliable,' Fernando said in Spain.

But Alonso admitted that the new-architecture, 72-degree V10 RS24 is still 'far from the top teams' engines including BMW, Scuderia Ferrari and Toyota.


He added: 'We may suffer [from] that on the tracks with long straights.'

Australia's Albert Park venue is one of the quickest on the F1 calendar, so does Alonso think bookmakers can mark him out of the equation for a second GP win?

'I always go out thinking I can win,' he said. 'But after the [pre-season] tests with the R24 we can see there are many favourites.

'The races will put everyone in their place.'

Fernando, 22, insists that after two full seasons of racing and a year of testing, he is no longer a rookie and capable of winning the world championship.

* Jenson Button sees a role-model in world champion Michael Schumacher.

The Briton has been linked with a top-team return to BMW-Williams but he reckons a more worthy route to success would be in building a winning F1 operation.

'Michael is the only driver in recent years who's been prepared to work at doing that,' said the BAR-Honda driver. 'That has got to be far more satisfying.'

Don't Be Fooled: F1 News Shorts
Don't be fooled by Ferrari, Juan Pablo Montoya has emphasized.

The Colombian, who drives for top-team rival BMW-Williams, says the racing world should not take note of the scarlet champions' most recent pre-season test pace.

'They appear to be more than a second off the pace,' said the 28-year-old in reference to Ferrari in Spain, 'but they don't look too concerned - do they?'

* Jordan planned to give F1 rookie Giorgio Pantano a full grand prix simulation at Imola late last week but called it off when the rain came down so heavily.

'We'll do it in Silverstone next week,' said James Robinson, while observers noted that the slippery day was spent practicing pitstops and car-procedures.

Similarly, new Jaguar tester and F3000 champion Bjorn Wirdheim was sent-home from Valencia on Friday when the Spanish session with the R5 was washed-out.


Organizers of this year's inaugural Chinese Grand Prix believe more than fifty-thousand spectators from abroad will join the ranks of local fans in Shanghai.

* Both of BMW-Williams' drivers are capable of winning the world championship.

That's the opinion of former BMW motorsport director Gerhard Berger who reckons Juan Pablo Montoya 'would love' to win it but can't afford to 'ignore Ralf.'

Berger said 28-year-old Ralf, from Germany, is getting 'better and better.'

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