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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
February 25, 2004


Never Better Prepared: Barrichello
Rubens Barrichello has never been more prepared for a new Formula One season.

The Ferrari ace, albeit driving the older F2003-GA at Imola on Tuesday, yesterday lauded Maranello's latest grand prix charger, the winglet-ed F2004.

'The [old car] was much more powerful than the 2002 version,' said Barrichello, who still lives in Sao Paulo, 'but it was quite nervous.'

Barrichello told Tuesday's Gazzetta dello Sport that F2004 has similar power.

MORE COMPLETE

'But, saying that, [the new car] is much more complete. I like driving it.'

Ferrari's pre-season preparation has been affected by steadily-poor Italian weather at test venues, but Barrichello reckons the F2004 is reliable.

'It showed itself to be better immediately,' said 31-year-old Rubens, who debuted the scarlet car's novel engine-cover winglets on Monday.

He added: 'Given that fact, we could focus more on reliability.'

Last year, prior to the season-opening Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park, Barrichello hit the headlines when he complained of a sore-back.

'It was because of all the testing we did,' he told the publication. 'This winter I have prepared myself better than I have ever done before.'

Rubens won two grands prix last season.








Weather Spoils 3-Way Head-To-Head
The only party not interested in a novel head-to-head test with Formula One's top three teams at the Imola (Italy) circuit on Tuesday was the weather.

A freezing three-degrees and a mix of rain and snow made comparisons of the new rival cars difficult but, for the record, BMW-Williams' FW26 came out on top.

TENTH FASTER

Ralf Schumacher's best time on the slippery circuit was less than a tenth of a second quicker than big-brother Michael who clocked just 32 laps in the F2004.

Schumacher Junior's tally of 57-laps was the most of anyone on circuit.

He also ran the new Michelin dry-tyre for Imola which is a 'useful step forwards,' according to BMW-Williams' chief operations engineer Sam Michael.

Ferrari 'number two' Rubens Barrichello was third-fastest in the older F2003-GA as he worked on Bridgestone tyre-testing, nearly a full second down the road.

As was most observers' prediction, McLaren lost the three-way battle for spoils as David Coulthard lapped his MP4-19 more than 1-second off the ultimate pace.

Toyota's Cristiano da Matta and Olivier Panis brought-up the rear.

* At Silverstone, Renault and BAR continued their pre-Melbourne shake downs.

Renault F1 drivers Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso wrapped up an extensive pre-season test campaign practicing pit-stops with the full race crew.

'We're looking forward to getting out to Melbourne,' said executive director of engineering Pat Symonds, 'and starting the season properly.'








McLaren To Sell Final F1 Road-Car
McLaren is set to break a record, but this one won't happen on the F1 circuit.

The team's road-division is releasing a final version of the world's fastest sports car, the McLaren F1, at a never-before-seen price of nearly $2 million.

Ahead of spring, when McLaren will start delivering the all-new Mercedes SLR sports car, the division has decided to sell the final five-year 'chassis 65.'

Never before has a new road car been priced so high, reported Auto Week.

CHASSIS 65

'Chassis 65' sat in a window in McLaren's showroom on London's Park Lane for many years until it was replaced by the speed-freak XP5 a few seasons ago.

'It's like something frozen in time,' said McLaren Cars' head of customer care, Harold Dermott. 'Here is an F1 with delivery mileage only - never sold.'

The McLaren F1 is powered by a 6-litre BMW engine that can propel the carbon-fibre monocoque chassis from zero to 60 mph in just 3.1 seconds.

Dermott defended the huge price-tag.

'We think it's reasonable,' he said. 'There is no requirement to sell it quickly. The right people know it's for sale.'

Car enthusiast and Tonight Show host Jay Leno denied he's eyeing the car.








Timekeeper Pulls Plug On Formula One
Official timekeeper TAG-Heuer has pulled the plug on Formula One.

The Swiss company, which has timed Michael Schumacher's entire grand prix career, says it decided to accept an offer from the US to collaborate with IRL.

'Our directors have decided to leave F1, knowing that we won't be able to guarantee an adequate service to both championships,' said Jean Campiche.

STAYS AS SPONSOR

The head of timekeeping confirmed that TAG stays as a McLaren F1 sponsor.

Speculation insists that TAG-Heuer sees the Indy Racing League as a tougher challenge because lap-times need to be discerned by 1 / 10,000th of a second.

F1 only requires times to within 1 / 1,000th.

The headline comes hot-on-the-heels of a timekeeping debacle at last year's Brazilian Grand Prix, in which Kimi Raikkonen was denounced as the winner.

F1's governing FIA didn't reveal a replacement for the official timekeeper but said the pull-out would not affect preparations for the upcoming race-season.

Sources report that Swatch is a likely successor.








New Ferrari Grows Wings
Ferrari fulfilled a promise to alter the appearance of its new F2004 racer on Tuesday when Michael Schumacher sped around the final winter-test at Imola.

The Maranello-based team ran the scarlet car with a 40cm-wide winglet on the engine-cover, just behind the 35-year-old world champion drivers' head.

When F2004 was unveiled, designer Rory Byrne swore that it would not look the same, especially in terms of aerodynamics, at Melbourne's opener in Albert Park.

'They'll be fairly substantial change to the aerodynamic components,' said the South African chief designer, 'most obviously ... at the rear of the car.

SUBSTANTIAL CHANGE

Observers noted that Ferrari's development resembles an engine-cover mounted wing run by the Cologne-based Toyota F1 team last year on the streets of Monaco.

Schumacher, as he continued development on the snow-lined track on Tuesday, trailed his brother's pace in the new BMW-Williams FW26 by less than a tenth.

Team-mate Rubens Barrichello had debuted the little-wing a day earlier.

'I really like driving [F2004],' the Brazilian told Italian reporters.

Rubens said the older F2003-GA was more powerful than the 2002-version but it was quite nervous. 'This, keeping the power,' he added, 'is more complete.'








Ralf Tries Diversionary Talk
Ralf Schumacher has tried to toggle attention from a speculated-split from BMW-Williams to the tough upcoming battle for a new Formula One world championship.

The German said earlier this week that his F1 employers were under a 'big deal' of pressure to re-sign him in light of Juan Pablo Montoya's decision to quit.

Team principal Sir Frank Williams, who reportedly called Ralf a 'money grabber', decided recently to halt all talks with the 28-year-old until at least June.

But Schumacher told Bild that he holds the upper-hand in negotiations.

REAL PROBLEM

He said: 'If [Williams] lose their second driver for 2005 after Montoya (leaves), they have a real problem.'

Ralf, however, moved to extinguish the resultant fire of team-quit tittle-tattle when he switched his attention to next-week's season-opener in Australia.

'All of [the speculation] has absolutely nothing to do with what we are working for at the moment,' the German told his personal website ralf-schumacher.de.

He added: 'Everyone's focus is only on the start of the season.'

Ralf hinted that he was ready to sign a new contract at Suzuka last October that would have agreed to an annual salary pay-cut of around fifty per cent.

'That's what the contract said,' he earlier explained, 'and it was ready to be signed for a long time. But Frank did not come [to a planned meeting].'








Schu's Getting Better With Age
Six-times a champion Michael Schumacher reckons he's getting better with age.

The master of Formula One's eighteen race-tracks issued the warning to his rivals as he tested the continually-evolving new Ferrari F2004 at Imola.

Schumacher, who first raced in F1 at Spa in 1991, is now 35-years-old but he insists that he's more like a bottle of fine-wine than a carton of milk.

'I'm like a good bottle of wine,' said the German - 'the older the better.'

March 7, at Albert Park, starts the thirteenth full-season of F1 for Michael but, even though six of them netted a drivers' title, he still wants another.

JUST AS HUNGRY

'I am ready,' said Schumacher, 'for the new challenge. I am as hungry as [I was] at the start of my career. I want to win the title again.'

Schumacher has signed a new contract through to the end of 2006 but he told the Malaysian 'Star' that he may even get his pen out for another stint beyond that.

He added: 'I feel that I can match the others well and that a few nice years lie ahead of me. If I feel like I do now then it's quite possible that I'll go on.'

Most agree that the length of Schumacher's career from now depends on success.

But even if Michael fails to win another title, the German master hinted that he might not find an alternative he loves more than climbing into a scarlet racer.

'I must be competitive,' he said, 'but that doesn't mean winning everything.'








Schumacher As Ambassador
Swiss watch manufacturer and BMW-Williams partner 'Oris' announced that the Formula One team's driver Ralf Schumacher has become its new ambassador.

'Mechanical watches fascinate me,' said the German ace.

* F1 team Jordan has announced Quiksilver as a new official supplier.

The Silverstone-based outfit said the Australian-founded surf company would supply eyewear and time-pieces during the 2004 world championship.

'We strongly believe Quiksilver share the same values [as Jordan] when it comes to products,' said the brand's general manager Pierre Agnes.

SENNA STATUE

Swedish media are reporting that artist Richard Brixel has been asked to build a statue of the late F1 racer Ayrton Senna to be auctioned for street children.

AFP claims that the 15-foot bronze statue will be of Senna, who died ten years ago, standing beside a McLaren Formula One car with arms raised in victory.

Sources also hint that Imola, EMI and F1 officials are involved in the project.








Threat On Aussie GP Dropped
A threat to disrupt the Australian Grand Prix has been dropped.

This publication reported earlier that the Services Union (ASU) was threatening to leave electrical faults un-repaired in the build-up to the big F1 race.

Victorian secretary Michael Rizzo maintains that a ban will begin on Wednesday but said certain exemptions are to be granted on health and safety grounds.

EXEMPTION

Sources said the Albert Park event qualifies for a ban-exemption.

'The ban will still apply to industrial users,' added Michael Rizzo.

ASU is negotiating a 5% pay-rise with electrical workers and the six energy providers in the Australian state of Victoria, in which Melbourne is capital.

* According to speculation, ex-Formula One driver and retired co-motorsport director at BMW, Gerhard Berger, is eyeing a return to the tarmac.

Sources say the Austrian will test a BMW M3 GTR at the Monza (Italy) venue in preparation for the marque's entry in the 24-Hours event of Nurburgring.








Kimi Does Learning On F1 Tracks
Kimi Raikkonen doesn't waste too much time in new-circuit simulators.

The Finn's F1 employer McLaren has a state-of-the-art computer simulator at Woking but so far he's turned down all offers to try-out Bahrain and China.

'I haven't even looked at drawings,' he told official website F1.com.

'When I go to a new track, I generally walk or cycle around it first.'

Raikkonen, 24 - who learned more than a dozen F1 tracks as a rookie in 2001 - reckons once he drives, it doesn't take him very long to learn a new layout.

RIGHT SET-UP

He added: 'Then, it's a case of working on finding the right car set-up and build up speed as you get used to it.'

The runner-up champion is looking forward to the new race-challenges of Bahrain, the first Middle Eastern host, and Shanghai, to stage F1 in September 2004.

'It means more travelling outside Europe,' said Kimi, 'but I find it interesting to go to new circuits and to visit cities I haven't seen before.'







F1's New Rule-Changes
After the overhaul of last season, Formula One has introduced a few more changes to the regulations ahead of next week's season-opener in Australia.

Most significant is the one-engine-per-weekend rule.

According to the new decree, each car/driver combination can run only one fully-reliable V10 powerplant from Friday practice to Sunday's chequered-flag.

Failing to do so results in a ten-grid qualifying demotion.

McLaren veteran David Coulthard is unconvinced of the change's merit.

He quipped: 'Do you think the public are going to go: 'I really like F1 now because the engines last for 700 km instead of whatever it was'?

DOESN'T CARE

'I don't think the public cares that much.'

Technical changes have also taken-place with all new Formula One challengers running larger engine-covers and modified rear-wings on the winter test-tracks.

The FIA is requiring that the wing sport only two - not three as in 2003 - main carbon-elements and a larger rear-wing end-plate to increase space for sponsors.

One-lap qualifying has not escaped the Formula One rule-revisions.

The old Friday-session, and 'Heathrow' test, are gone, replaced by a back-to-back double qualifying session on Saturday to decide the order of the GP-grid.

Drivers will take to the circuit in the finishing-order of the previous race, and then in the second-session - just two minutes later - slowest ace first.








Malaysia Predicts F1 Thriller
Ahead of its sixth Formula One race next month, Malaysia is predicting another down-to-the-wire battle for this season's world championship.

The impressive Sepang track, near Kuala-Lumpur, is finalising preparations for the second-race of the year, to take place after Melbourne on March 19 - 21.

RACE TO FINISH

General manager Ahmad Mustafa predicts another 'race to the finish.'

He said in a statement on Tuesday: 'With cars now being regulated further ... and rule-changes, I foresee another race to the finish.'

Mustafa said the one-engine decree and parc ferme rules mean that the need for 'new and ingenious strategies' should come into play in the Malaysian event.








Lauda Dents F1 Chance
Mathias Lauda's quest for the Formula One grid took a dent last week.

The new F3000 signing, and 23-year-old son of triple champion Niki Lauda, tested at Jerez but could only debut behind the pace of his team-mates and rivals.

Lauda was third on the first day, but he later clipped a kerb.

'It was a shame for Mathias,' said a Coloni team spokesman, 'because he could not express his potential. He went wide and ... damaged his front wing.

'He was on new tyres and therefore could not show what he was capable of.'

McNISH QUICK

At Road Atlanta, former F1 racer and tester Allan McNish impressed in his Audi R8 prototype as he prepared for a new career in the sports car category.

The Scot was quicker than all team-mates including another ex-GP star Johnny Herbert and Frank Biela, Jamie Davies, Pierre Kaffer and Guy Smith.

'First, I got used to driving a sports car again,' said McNish, 'and the differences to an F1 car - like right-foot braking, the gears and added weight.'








Bahrain: Free Two-Week 'F1 Visas'
Got a passport and a ticket to the first-ever Bahrain Grand Prix?

Then you nearly qualify for a free 'visiting visa' to the tiny Middle Eastern nation as Sakhir works feverishly to complete the $150m project ahead of time.

A statement provided to this publication explained that a return airline to Bahrain must also be presented before the two-weeks re-entry visa is granted.

MADE SIMPLE

A website has been set-up so the process can be completed online.

Sources report that two-week visas used to cost $14 but the General Directorate of Nationality, Passports and Residence announced plans to make them free.

'All visa and formalities connected with the [F1] event are being made simple,' said Brigadier Abdul Aziz who is director-general of Nationality and Passports.

The inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix takes place on April 4 (04-04-04).








New Engine-Rule Is New Headache
A new Formula One regulation requiring that engines last longer is set to cast headaches on the masterminds of competing teams, according to F1 boffins.

Michelin boss Pierre Dupasquier believes that some of the top teams, including Ferrari and BMW-Williams, will suffer engine failures in the early races.

Engine-failures, and therefore unit changes, result in a grid-demotion of ten qualifying places, according to the latest addition to the Sporting Code.

KEY FACTOR

'Reliability, with the new rules, will be a key factor this season,' he added.

Technical director at BMW-Williams, Patrick Head, agrees.

He said the 'biggest change' ahead of season 2004 is the one-engine rule even if, purely on the winter test-tracks, it's difficult to tell the real impact.

Head told Reuters: 'We won't know who has done the best job with it until well into the season. Everyone goes into Melbourne thinking 'no problem'.

'But if it blows up, [a team] won't have time before Malaysia to correct it.'

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