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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
February 24, 2004


BAR Tops As Final F1 Tests Begin
Takuma Sato, the Japanese Formula One driver, failed to cede BAR's recent occupancy at the top of the times as the pre-season period nears an end.

The Honda-powered star, albeit driving in the older 'concept' car, was faster than both grand prix team rivals - Renault and Jaguar - at Silverstone (UK).

Jarno Trulli ran-in two new gearboxes and shook-down the R24 cars in readiness for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in now less than a fortnight.

His Renault test-cohort Franck Montagny was next-best, in an older F1 racer, on his first visit to the Northamptonshire venue as he worked on front suspension.

Sources at the circuit said Spanish ace Fernando Alonso will join his race team-mate Trulli on Tuesday to conduct pitstop practice in the new Renault car.

'This week is really about checking everything is in order before leaving for Melbourne,' said engineering chief Pat Symonds, 'and we are on track so far.'

Jaguar's new 'third' driver Bjorn Wirdheim was slowest in the R5.

READY FOR HEAD-TO-HEAD

At the Imola (Italy) circuit, to be the scene of the other final pre-season action this week, Rubens Barrichello worked at the wheel of a Ferrari F2004.

The Brazilian is set to be joined on-track (Tuesday) by top-team Formula One rivals BMW-Williams and McLaren in the first such 'head-to-head' this winter.

Under cloudy skies, Barrichello lapped 98-times at the 'Enzo e Dino' facility after moving from Mugello, where snow flurries and rain had hampered progress.

World champion Michael Schumacher, to relocate Barrichello to an older F2003-GA machine, also joins the development action on Tuesday.








Michelin Predict Another Bridgestone Title
Just as Bridgestone reported renewed confidence for season-2004, French F1 tire-rival Michelin is expressing doubt that one of its drivers can be champion.

Competition chief Pierre Dupasquier told the Italian media that Ferrari's Michael Schumacher looks likely to cruise to an easy seventh drivers' crown.

'[He can] easily win the title,' the Frenchman told La Gazzetta Dello Sport, 'by coming fourth in every grand prix while our drivers take points off each other.'

Dupasquier fears that Bridgestone, supplier to only one top-team, can - unlike Michelin - effectively focus their sole-efforts on Ferrari and Schumacher.

BEST TIRES

There are, on the other hand, six manufacturer-backed F1 teams on Michelins.

Still, pundits and analysts alike agree that Bibendum appears to have produced the best new grooved dry-weather F1 tires ahead of the looming season-battle.

There is an element of doubt, Dupasquier hinted.

'Ferrari has so far only tested by themselves,' he said, 'so this doesn't allow us to really judge the work of our Japanese competitors (Bridgestone).

'But I think they've really improved their performance over a single lap, even if the same thing doesn't seem to have happened over longer runs.'

Dupasquier also warned that Michelin, trounced in the wet at Indianapolis last season, has produced a new line of rain tires that are on 'another planet.'








Schumacher Denies Quit Threat
Ralf Schumacher has denied ever threatening to quit F1 team BMW-Williams.

The German told Bild earlier this week that there was 'a chance' he would abandon Grove after talks regarding a new race-deal stalled over money.

'... I can't allow myself to be treated like that by Williams,' he said.

Schumacher, 28, says media publications misinterpreted his intentions.

'All I wanted to do was to ... counter press reports that implied that I was only interested in money,' Ralf wrote on his personal website.

He said: 'I'm sure everything ... will just work itself out.'

DOUBLE WHAMMY

The Williams-Schumacher saga completes a double-whammy for Sir Frank's squad as team-mate to Ralf, Juan Pablo Montoya, is itching to defect for McLaren in 2005.

Schumacher said he never-once told Bild that he was going to break a contract.

'My words [should not] be taken as a threat,' he continued.

The Kerpen-born star had complained to the Sunday-published newspaper that Williams failed to turn-up at a scheduled meeting at Suzuka last season.

Sources report that Frank had a chest-infection in mid-October.

Ralf reckons Williams knows he would happily cut his current salary 'in half.'

Sir Frank isn't being drawn on the issue, reminding British publication The Guardian that he 'never' makes comment about drivers' contractual matters.








Stoddart Laughs At 'Beggar' Remark
Formula One minnow Paul Stoddart laughed-off claims that he is a beggar.

Already in his native Australia for the season-opener, the Minardi chief reacted to Bernie Ecclestone's advice that he should stop pleading for cash hand-outs.

'The idea of a beggar is true,' Ecclestone told us. 'It's not good for people to walk around looking like they're begging. It's no good even for them.'

Bernie also denied ever taking a money-stake in the Faenza-based stragglers.

Stoddart, 48 and a multi-million dollar aviation tycoon, laughed when asked in home-city Melbourne if he was offended by the beggar-description.

'You should hear how I describe Bernie,' he smiled at Australian journalists.

Paul concluded: 'I'm not stupid enough to tell you [what I call him].'

TWO-SECONDS PER LAP

The Italian-based F1 owner said Minardi had picked-up around two seconds per lap with its new PS04B challenger, set to debut in next month's Melbourne opener.

'But unfortunately, everyone else has probably done so as well,' he said.

Stoddart, who brought Mark Webber onto the F1 circuits in 2002, also hinted that countryman Ryan Briscoe, the Toyota tester, might have a future at Minardi.








Motor Sport Condemns Working-Hour Limit
The motorsport industry in Britain has taken a significant formal step in condemning the European Commission's desire to restrict long working-hours.

A report issued by the 'National Motorsport Employers Group' reckons the Working Time directive would have a 'negative impact' on all motor sport companies.

The Group met at Stoneleigh Park and appealed to individual motor sport companies to express their views on the matter through the Industry Association.

After the meeting, an unnamed member of the Group explained how 'further implementation' of the EU law would place 'undue restrictions' on companies.

NO NEED

'As responsible employers,' the source said, 'we value our staff and have no need for further legislation to compel us to treat them with consideration.'

The EU says the directive is designed to protect the 'health and safety' of European workers by limiting long hours and 'disruptive shift patterns.'

EU Commissioner for Employment, Anna Diamantopoulou, said she appreciated freedom of choice but strives for a solution that 'balances' all interests.

The directive seeks to limit workers to a 35-hour working-week.

F1 team chief Eddie Jordan reckons most of his employees at Silverstone work at least 60 hours a week because motor racing is their 'passion and their hobby.

He asked: 'How can you possibly justify spending millions on a wind tunnel when you are restricted to the hours someone can work? It's madness.'







DC Not Motivated To Win: Rival Boss
David Coulthard is unlikely to challenge for this year's F1 title.

That's the frank opinion of back-of-the-grid team principal Paul Stoddart who has been chatting to journalists after touching-down in Australia for the GP.

Asked if DC, the veteran driver of McLaren, is really a genuine challenger for the 2004 drivers' world championship, Paul said: 'I don't think so.

'I can't see the motivation. He knows he is being replaced.'

Stoddart, the principal and owner of stragglers Minardi, said everyone in Formula One knows that Coulthard is to make-way for Juan Pablo Montoya in '05.

FUTURE CHAMPION

Where there is no doubt of a genuine charger, however, is in the boots of 48-year-old Stoddart's Aussie compatriot and Jaguar star driver Mark Webber.

Paul said the 27-year-old is 'one of the greatest talents' in F1 today.

He told Australian journalists: 'If he does end up at Williams, I believe that he will be world champion as early as 2006. Maybe 2007.'

But what about F1's perennial world champion, Michael Schumacher?

Stoddart is adamant that Webber and his charging rivals will de-throne the German because, with six titles on his CV, Schu's got 'nothing left to prove.'

'Schumi won't last forever,' said Paul, 'and I'm not being derogatory.'








Jordan Supports Malaysian Driver
Eddie Jordan is pushing-on the race career of a young Malaysian driver.

21-year-old Fairuz Fauzy visited the Irishman's Formula One team headquarters at Silverstone this week where he earned the 'endorsement' of Jordan Grand Prix.

The former Asian kart ace made the recent move to the United Kingdom to contest the competitive British Formula 3 series, 'which is a big step,' said Jordan.

OPPORTUNITIES

EJ added of the Kuala-Lumpur born driver, now based in Northampton just down the road from Formula One venue Silverstone: 'I wish him all the very best.

'I'm confident Jordan will find opportunities to bring him on in the future.'

Fauzy insisted it is 'good for Malaysia' to have a driver involved in F1.

'And it's also good for Jordan to have an involvement with a Malaysian driver,' the youngster smiled whilst sitting on the new yellow EJ14 in England.

'I look forward to developing my relationship with the team.'

* British F1 broadcaster ITV has replaced its lost million-dollar support of coverage-sponsor Toyota with the country's 'The Daily Telegraph' newspaper.

'F1 is a superb fit with the Telegraph,' said marketing director Mark Dixon who also confirmed reports that the deal is worth around 4.5 million pounds.








Coulthard Is McLaren's Number Two
David Coulthard has been asked to act as McLaren's 'number two' F1 driver.

The Scot, who does not have a silver seat beyond this season, is charged with the role of helping team-mate Kimi Raikkonen win, according to a former ace.

1982 season runner-up John Watson, from Ireland, reckons McLaren has done away with its equal-status policy on drivers, 'even though they won't admit it.'

He told The Mirror: 'They claim to have equal number one status but in reality they know Kimi gives them the better chance of winning the championship.

'That's why he's staying next year and David isn't.'

EQUAL STATUS

Finnish-born Raikkonen told the media last week that Ron Dennis, McLaren CEO, gives both drivers equal status and that ideal is represented in his contract.

Watson doesn't appear to disagree with the 'one driver' philosophy, so demonstrably successful for Ferrari and Michael Schumacher's string of titles.

He added: 'It was clear [when Kimi joined McLaren] that he represented the team's future. It will not be David's job to be world champion this year.'

58-year-old John Watson said BMW-Williams' genuine attitude in allowing its F1 drivers to race is to be admired, but it could cost them the world championship.

'They have the team and the car, but the driver side of things is highly unpredictable,' he said, adding that it plays into the hands of their rivals.








Montoya On Target For F1 Title
Juan Pablo Montoya's quest for an F1 championship has never looked so likely.

The Colombian has an apparently matchless new BMW-Williams FW26 racer with which the attack for race-victories should begin from the opening race in Melbourne.

Montoya reckons a win was not a reasonable target for last year's grand prix.

'Unlike last year [in Australia], we can fight for victories from day one,' said the 28-year-old. 'We have a great car and I'm as proud as anyone at the team.'

FINAL TEST

On Tuesday, the Grove-based team starts its final test before Australia at the Imola (Italy) circuit in a novel head-to-head with rivals McLaren and Ferrari.

Team sources say the test will focus on FW26's set-up options for Melbourne.

But Montoya reckons the biggest ace up his sleeve might be Michelin tires.

'Tires are very important,' he said, 'and the tests have shown that we've got better and better, which is going to be a great help.'

One of Juan's biggest obstacles to success is his BMW-Williams team-mate.

Former BMW motorsport director and ex-F1 ace Gerhard Berger reckons 2004 is shaping-up to stage a 'constant battle' between Montoya and Ralf Schumacher.

'I'm sure it's going to be a closely fought championship,' said the Austrian.








McLaren Working On Technical Bugs
While top-team rivals focus on how to best set-up their cars for Melbourne this week at Imola, McLaren are still ironing-out technical bugs in the MP4-19.

Reporters wanted to know why Finnish ace Kimi Raikkonen had to leap out of his Mercedes-powered car when it caught fire at the most recent Valencia session.

'A wire broke,' the monosyllabic 24-year-old shrugged, 'causing a fire during a pit stop simulation. The mechanics could not work on the car.'

Kimi said McLaren was 'too busy' with a race-simulation for team-mate David Coulthard, perhaps highlighting the frenzied focus on pre-season reliability.

VARIOUS PROBLEMS

Raikkonen reckons his visually-radical car 'often has various' problems.

Kimi added, while a spokesman confirmed his participation in this week's final Imola session, 'We need to solve those before concentrating on its speed.'

The runner-up world champion, Kimi, is worried about the 19's ultimate pace.

'To be honest we don't know [how quick it is],' he said. 'Ferrari are always testing in Italy with their new car, but I'm certain about their strength.

'Renault has also shown to be fast and reliable.'

Raikkonen, nicknamed 'The Iceman', likes the Albert Park track for Australia's season-opener but he isn't sure if the McLaren will last the race's 58-laps.







Webber: New Racer Is Up To Scratch
F1 star Mark Webber has poured cold water on suggestions that his new Jaguar R5 challenger is not up to the task of competing for consistent points in 2004.

The Australian's former (Minardi) boss Paul Stoddart said earlier this week that the team in green looks likely to fight with him for the grid's lower positions.

'It's fair to say the car didn't run as reliably as we would have liked straight out of the box,' admitted Webber, 27, just two-weeks out from his home opener.

But Webber said the most recent car-preparations have been 'encouraging.'

BUILD RELIABILITY

'Since we've had a second R5 [chassis] up and running,' said Mark, born in Queanbeyan, 'we've been able to build on the reliability quite quickly.'

He said the new car is 'definitely much better' than its predecessor.

It's also showing all the signs of a car that is able to be dialled-in and balanced, in terms of chassis set-up, at any of the eighteen race-venues.

Webber, and rookie team-mate Christian Klien, amassed a full six grands prix distances in two days whilst pre-season testing at Spanish winter tracks.

'It gave us superb information,' said highly-rated Mark Webber, 'for both (engine partner) Cosworth and ourselves as we head into the first few races.'








BAR's Knocking On 'Top Four' Door
BAR is knocking-on the door of the top-four F1 teams, according to a rival boss.

Backmarker Minardi chief Paul Stoddart told reporters that the battle for 'best of the rest' behind Ferrari, BMW-Williams and McLaren should be hotly contested.

Last season, Brackley-based BAR finished fifth, 62 points behind Renault.

But the Honda-powered squad, particularly in light of stonking pre-season test pace, is likely to close - and even exceed - that gap to finish fourth in 2004.

SURPRISE OF YEAR

Stoddart said: 'It's going to be a real toss but I think BAR will be the surprise of the year. It's going to be an interesting season of racing.'

The Australian told reporters in his native Melbourne that midfielders Sauber, Renault and Toyota will all be 'thereabouts' in the battle for regular points.

And tyres are likely to play a 'massive part' in this year's championship.

Certainly, BAR driver Jenson Button expects a big step forward in 2004.

'The team are progressing all the time,' said the Briton on a recent break from smashing pre-season lap records in his new 006 Formula One challenger.

He added: 'But there's no point in putting extra pressure on ourselves by saying we're going to be on the podium from the very first race [in Melbourne].'








How Does BMW Build Best F1 Engine?
How does BMW build arguably the best V10 engine in Formula One?

Motorsport director Dr Mario Theissen will tell you that it's not just about the P84's architecture and design, but what goes on behind-the-scenes in Munich.

'I think mainly [our advantage] is in the specific design of certain areas of the engine,' the German said of the new long-life unit to debut in Australia.

'But if you look it's about team effort, competence ... the approach we take.'

BMW, with a new five-year works supply arrangement to British-based WilliamsF1, has built up a team of about two hundred-and-fifty engineers and technicians.

LONG-TERM PEOPLE

Most of them are long-term BMW people, 'which is very important to us.'

Theissen continues: 'We didn't want to hire people who are just committed to F1, we wanted to build up a team of people who are dedicated to BMW and Williams.'

Less than ten percent of the BMW workforce has worked for another F1 team.

The engine-manufacturer is also good at playing hardball, as Frank Williams and Patrick Head will testify to in reference to the new contract extending to 2009.

Theissen said the 'tough' talks were designed to strengthen the partnership, which now includes a joint project for the development of the transmission.

'I think both sides realized that we hadn't harnessed the resources available to us to best effect in the past,' sole director Mario Theissen concluded.








Close-Call On Bahrain Track Completion
Bahrain's new F1 circuit will be ready just 48 hours before its deadline.

Local media reports in the Middle East revealed that two days before it is handed-over to the FIA, the third layer of track tarmac is set for completion.

'The circuit is in its final stages,' said Housing Minister Fahmi Al Jowder.

Jowder denied speculation that Bahrain looked likely to miss all circuit-deadlines and that city-infrastructure could not cope with the race.

'We have many ... projects which will help in the [race] operation,' he said.

Circuit contractor Cebarco Bahrain will use the two-days between March 5 and the deadline - the Australian Grand Prix - to clean-up the $150m facility.

'We have worked very hard to ensure that the project is ready on time and is up to the government and people's expectations,' Fahmi Al Jowder concluded.

SPONSOR STAYS

F1 team Jaguar has announced that Pioneer has stayed-on as a sponsor.

'We're aiming to be a world class technology company,' said managing director David Pitchforth, 'and Pioneer's support will help accelerate the process.'

* F1 boss Jean Todt was in Modena last Friday to present prizes to drivers and teams who participated in Ferrari Corse Clienti's various racing programmes.

'... Customers are important,' said the Frenchman, 'as they tackle a wide variety of events with passion and enthusiasm for the marque.'

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