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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
February 26, 2004


Schu Slides To Imola Record
Those who thought Michael Schumacher and Bridgestone-clad Ferrari could be written-off in 2004 sat up in shock when test-times were printed on Wednesday.

The German, driving Maranello's new F2004, blasted to a new circuit record at Imola (Italy) some one-point-three seconds faster than his nearest track-rival.

Second was David Coulthard, in the innovative McLaren-Mercedes MP4-19, who tested a new front wing but lost time when he stopped with a clutch problem.

BMW-Williams' Juan Pablo Montoya followed, the Colombian star at the wheel of the 'tusked' FW26 that has been earmarked as a true challenger to Schu's title.

35-year-old Schumacher's new benchmark is a full eight-tenths quicker than the previous-best established by Spanish sensation Fernando Alonso in a Renault.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

But keen analysts are still playing-down the significance of the 'head-to-head.'

Bad Italian weather is influencing the final-day timesheets and on Wednesday the freezing track started off wet before more heavy rain pounded down after lunch.

'The track was very icy this morning,' said BMW-Williams' Sam Michael. 'But the day was productive and we've covered some more ground before Melbourne.'

Rubens Barrichello worked on tires in an older Ferrari, while Toyota race-drivers Cristiano da Matta and Olivier Panis rounded-out the times at Imola.








Cosworth Revives DFV
F1 engine-supplier Cosworth Racing is to resume manufacture of the DFV V8.

Conceived by Keith Duckworth in 1966, the DFV was the most successful engine in the history of F1 and will be produced again to service classic GP events.

Cylinder blocks, heads and sumps are to be available from early summer.

The DFV was lauded for its low weight, power, driveability - and affordability.

WON FIRST GRAND PRIX

It's F1 debut was in a 1967 Lotus and, there in Holland, promptly won its first of 154 career grands prix and would later be used for Indy and Champ Cars.

DFV stands for 'Double Four Valve' and is experiencing a renewed lease of life in classic events such as the Thoroughbred GP series, according to a statement.

* Former GP winner Jean Alesi is scheduled to turn laps at Bahrain's new circuit late next month in the 'Silberpfel', originally driven by Juan Fangio in 1955.








Trust Without Verstappen
F1 team Jordan has done a deal with Dutch sponsor Trust Computers.

The two parties hooked-up when a race-drive involving Jos Verstappen was on the cards, but Jordan blamed the resultant failed mess on agent Huub Rothengatter.

Rookie Giorgio Pantano duly earned the second EJ14 seat.

Eddie Jordan publicly slammed former F1 ace Rothengatter in a move interpreted to re-open the negotiating table with Trust in the absence of Verstappen.

DECALS

On Wednesday, at Silverstone circuit, Jordan's new EJ14 racer ran with decals bearing the name of the computer-company on its front wing and wing mirrors.

Sources report that Michel Perridon, Trust chief, has signed-off on a single-season sponsorship that is much smaller than the earlier sponsor/driver deal.

A Trust spokesman refused to confirm, or deny, the newest development.

'If any possibilities [in F1] arise,' Perridon told the media recently, 'Trust ... won't miss the boat again because [of the] high demands of management.'








Schumacher Should Retire
If Michael Schumacher fails to win a fifth successive drivers' world championship this season, he should hang up his scarlet helmet with dignity.

That's the opinion of his first grand prix boss, Eddie Jordan.

The Irishman, EJ, touched down in Melbourne for the year-opening Australian Grand Prix and forecast Juan Pablo Montoya as the heir to Schumacher's crown.

'I have a feeling that the guy who beats Schumacher this year could be Montoya,' he said with reference to the Colombian-born ace who drives for BMW-Williams.

MONTOYA TO SUCCEED

Jordan told the AAP that Montoya needs to 'get out of the blocks quickly' and start putting points on the board as early as the Albert Park race-opener.

And if Michael is beaten, '[he] should retire with as much dignity as possible,' said the Silverstone-based principal, 'because he's a great champion.'

Jordan gave Schumacher his break at Spa in 1991 but the German immediately switched to Benetton where he wrapped up double success in the mid-90s.

Since 2000, he has scored every drivers' world championship, and last season surpassed the record-busting mantle of Juan Manual Fangio with six titles.

Eddie hints that another big-shot is facing-down retirement.

'I can see ... (McLaren chief) Ron Dennis retiring,' he hinted.








Teams Prepare For Season-Opener
Three British-based F1 teams are finalizing preparations for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix at nearby Northamptonshire grand prix circuit Silverstone.

Englishman Jenson Button led a field of three on Tuesday at the wheel of the older 'concept' BAR car painted in black and on a qualifying-simulation run.

Tester Anthony Davidson drove the new Honda-powered 006 on Wednesday.

Privateer outfit Jordan, meanwhile - based across the road - wrapped-up its final winter test on Wednesday with Giorgio Pantano and Timo Glock in EJ14s.

SHAKE-DOWN

Glock, the German 'third' driver, shook-down the Ford-powered car he'll steer in Friday's official practice at the Australian Albert Park track late next week.

'We had the full race crew there doing live refuelling,' said the team's tech-head James Robinson, 'which gave everybody some good pit stop practice.'

F1 air-freight leaves for Melbourne on Friday morning.

Jarno Trulli and Renault were in action on Tuesday but Spanish racer Fernando Alonso concluded his pre-Oz preparation with a shunt which caused front damage.

* At the Monza circuit on Wednesday, F1 pilot Ralf Schumacher drove a BMW GTR M3 in preparation for the marque's entry in the Nurburgring and Spa 24-Hour races.







Schu Cool On Head-To-Head Win
Michael Schumacher played-down the significance of emerging easily fastest in a much-vaunted head-to-head Formula One test-session with top-team rivals.

The German obliterated the Imola lap-record on Wednesday by eight tenths and put on-track challengers McLaren-Mercedes and BMW-Williams firmly in the shade.

But he told Autosport: 'You can over estimate lap times like this.

'This is the fourth test for [our] car and the first show-down with the other teams. We have shown that the car is not slow ...'

BETTER PREPARED

Schumacher, however, warned that the F2004 has now completed a 'lot of laps' in the lead-in to Australia's season-opener, all-set to take place in ten days.

F1's 35-year-old said Ferrari is 'better prepared than last year,' even though the Italian world champions are landing at Albert Park with a brand-new racer.

In 2002 and 2003, the scarlet marque faced Melbourne with a year-old machine.

Earlier, on Tuesday, Schumacher was shaded by younger sibling Ralf who demonstrated that Ferrari have a foe in the visually-innovative Williams FW26.

But, because of the rain and snow, Schu Jnr kept his optimism under control.

Ralf predicted, 'Ferrari will still be the team to beat.'








F1 Bosses Fear Arrest Warrant
The European Arrest Warrant issue has Formula One's team bosses worried.

Silverstone-based chief Eddie Jordan told the Independent that it is a 'very serious and contentious' topic that threatens to immediately affect grands prix.

'I understand issues like terrorism,' he said, 'but it should not be so onerous ... that it [discourages] people from going about their normal business.'

Jordan explained that if the Ayrton Senna-saga was to be replicated in 2004, Williams bosses Patrick Head and Frank Williams could be imprisoned in Italy.

PLEAD GUILTY

'Because of the warrant,' he added, '[they] could be forced to plead guilty.'

FIA president Max Mosley agrees that the EAW is a 'very serious problem' but reckons it will not be that difficult to resolve in terms of Formula One.

Bernie Ecclestone, ringmaster of the F1 circus, isn't so convinced.

'It's bloody dangerous for everyone,' said the Englishman. 'There's no need to commit an offence, you're taken to jail and kept there until you confess.'

He played-down a threat of boycott but urged countries to assure F1 bosses that the Warrant would not apply to their sport in the event of a fatal crash.








Dixon Close To Formula One Deal
Reigning IRL champion Scott Dixon is nearing a race-deal in Formula One.

The New Zealand star is looking 'pretty good' in talks for a drive in the premier series for 2005, according to his mother who spoke in NZ-city Auckland.

Glenys Dixon added that a contract will probably be signed within two-months.

'It's up to the team to make the announcement but there might be a few bits and pieces coming out in the near future,' Mrs Dixon told local reporters.

STRONG TEAM

She didn't reveal the name of the team but said it was a 'strong' one, while sources close to this publication reckon Toyota demonstrated interest in Dixon.

'The team has kept in touch,' said Glenys.

23-year-old Dixon touched-down in the Formula One race-paddock late last season and conducted meetings with Ferrari, BMW-Williams and McLaren.

He drove a Toyota-powered IRL car to title-victory in 2003.

Chris Amon, probably the best driver never to win a Formula One race, was the last regular New Zealand star to grace the grand prix series - in 1976.

Dixon has consistently expressed a disdain for oval-only motor racing.








Brother Drives For Best Team: Schumacher
Ralf Schumacher is boasting of his chance to this year, at the wheel of an innovative BMW-Williams, steal title-victory from his Ferrari-driving brother.

The German, six-years the junior of 35-year-old Michael, said one-week out from the start of the new F1 season that his team is in a 'very good position.'

He told Gazzetta dello Sport: '[We're looking] better than we ever have done. We are convinced that our package is ready for victories right from the start.'

Ralf tried to take his brother's trophy in 2003 but the Kerpen-born star is willing to admit that BMW-Williams perhaps wasn't fully prepared for the fight.

CONFIDENT

'[But] I'm particularly confident this year,' he maintained.

Schumacher, however, played-down the significance of beating his elder brother in a test at a freezing and snow-disrupted Imola circuit earlier this week.

On Wednesday, just to complete the vague turn of events at the final pre-season session, Michael was much faster than the FW26 in the top-team 'head-to-head'.

Ralf said on Tuesday: 'In these conditions, how can we understand the relative potential of our cars? It's impossible.

'I haven't even looked at the F2004 but Ferrari remain the team to beat.'

The 28-year-old German dismissed those who are scratching the victory-hopes of McLaren-Mercedes and Ralf also raved about the test-pace of British team BAR.

'I honestly think that they could fight for victory at some races,' he added.








Montoya Ready For McLaren Challenge
Juan Pablo Montoya has responded to criticism of his future-switch from F1 team BMW-Williams to McLaren by likening it to a natural desire for a new challenge.

The Colombian told reporters, whilst testing the 'tusked' FW26 at a freezing Imola circuit on Wednesday, that being a race-driver is 'like any [other] job.

'You want the job, you get it and then you do it, trying to give your best.'

Juan, Williams test-driver in the late-90s, then spent a couple of winning years in the US-based Champ Car series before Sir Frank signed him on for 2001.

SOMETHING NEW

But Montoya, 28, told Associated Press that after four years of wearing blue and white overalls in Formula One, he wants to 'try something new.

'You can only do something for a certain time,' he continued.

JPM, who'll partner Kimi Raikkonen in 2005, said: 'That can happen after a certain stage. You've reached the point where you want to try something new.'

Williams' technical boss Patrick Head, however, told the media recently that Montoya's decision to leave the team was taken after a row during the French GP.

'I was angry,' Juan admitted, 'but that's not only why I'm leaving.'








Todt 'The Worrier' Turns 58
F1's Ferrari principal Jean Todt celebrates his 58th birthday on Thursday.

The Frenchman, whose father was a local doctor, was born in Pierrefort (1946) but Todt turned his early adult focus to co-driving on the race-rally tracks.

After rally-navigating, Todt's leadership skills came to the fore as boss of Peugeot and it netted him two world championships and double drivers' titles.

In 1993, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo made Jean an offer.

'It was a controversial decision,' said the Italian. 'He was a Frenchman. He didn't know F1. But here we are many years later with many Ferrari records.'

LOWEST POINT

Todt, who has signed-on as Ferrari chief until the end of 2006, recalls the day he joined the Scuderia which had tumbled from success to its 'lowest point.'

'It was a disaster,' he explained, 'and I nearly didn't leave France because I knew the fans and the media immediately just wanted to get rid of me.'

But this Frenchman, initially battered by the media corps, was determined.

'I set a goal,' said Todt, 'and achieved it. People forget where we started - they thought we'd never succeed but now people complain about our success.'

Most F1-observers see Todt as a worrier; seldom celebrating the last grand prix victory but always thinking hard about the obstacles to the next achievement.

'There's always something to worry about,' Todt smiles. 'After a race, I'm right back in the anxiety of the next one. For me, it's just a way of life.'







Montagny Moves House
Renault's new Formula One tester has moved-house to Oxford (England).

Franck Montagny, the Frenchman who'll help test the new R24 this season, swapped an apartment in warm and sunny Barcelona for freezing-cold and raining UK.

'Oxford seems cool - I'm looking forward to getting to know it,' he said.

Montagny was motivated to move so, like local residents Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli, he's closer to Renault's headquarters in nearby Enstone.

BE PATIENT

Franck clocked 10,000km in the older R23 this winter, but he's going to have to wait a few weeks before he's allowed a first-shot at the controls of R24.

'So Fernando and Jarno can prepare for the season,' he explained, 'they've done the driving [in R24]. But I'm learning from them and can't wait to begin work.'

Montagny reckons he'll get a 'slightly strange' feeling next Sunday.

'I'll be on the sidelines,' he said, 'but as soon as the race starts, I'll be the biggest fan. I'm looking forward to getting out to Australia.'








Jordan Slams Working-Hour Limit
Eddie Jordan has backed-up the British motor sport industry's recent condemnation of a European Commission-led desire to restrict working hours.

The Formula One boss said a proposed 35-hour week in Britain is 'nonsense.'

A report issued by the 'National Motorsport Employers Group' reckoned the Working Time directive would be negative for all motor sport companies.

EJ agrees.

He told The Independent: 'Successful teams were founded on people's willingness to work as long as it takes, fifty or sixty hour weeks.

'To them it is absolutely vocational.'

F1 AS HOBBY

Jordan has previously said that unlike factory workers or garbage-men, mechanics and F1 team personnel love their job and consider it a 'hobby' or 'passion.'

'With a 35-hour week you will have to send quality people home and run second shifts,' he added. 'This will jack up your wages bill.'

Worse still, there's a risk that bigger teams, to counter the limits, will turn to poaching qualified, experienced people from the smaller outfits like Jordan.

Eddie concluded: 'How does that help us?'

* Formula One circuit Silverstone, owned by the British Racing Drivers' Club, is to resubmit a planning application for a hotel / management training centre.








Schu Wards Off Retirement Talk
Michael Schumacher has once again shot down claims that he's eyeing retirement.

His first F1 boss Eddie Jordan said on Wednesday that the 35-year-old German, world champion for four years running, is likely to call it quits after 2004.

Michael asked German reporters: 'What's wrong with liking what you do?'

Schumacher, who has a Ferrari contract until 2006, is often asked how he can be so calm under pressure and smooth in difficult driving-circumstances.

ICE COOL

Observers marveled at the tranquil, stationary German as his F2003-GA erupted in flames during a re-fuelling procedure en route to victory in Austria 2003.

And the champion is always crowned as Formula One's 'rain master.'

He said: 'There's nothing easier than finding yourself in difficult circumstances with the solution in your own hands.

'When's it's not in your hands, that's when it's difficult.'

* Top-team McLaren has extended a long-term association with sponsor Schuco, one of the world's leading suppliers of system technology and components.

'The 2004 F1 season,' said CEO Ron Dennis, whose team is scheduled to move factory later this year, 'again promises to be interesting and challenging.'








F1 Title Won On Test-Tracks: Engineer
It's sometimes overlooked, but Christian Silk insists that world championships are won not just in grands prix, but also on the development and test-tracks.

The chief testing engineer, whose employer is Renault, said he works 'extremely closely' with the Enstone-based race team on coordinating the programs.

'The driver's own race engineers come to the tests to ensure continuity,' he revealed, 'and we're in direct contact with our counterparts on the race side.'

DOES HOMEWORK

He said the test team does the race team's 'homework.'

'We cover all the bases to ensure they can use their time as effectively as possible at the races.'

The pre-season F1-focus turns very much to the test tracks but next Sunday's Australian GP does not mark an end to the test-team's contribution.

'We will be testing with the R23 between the flyaway races,' Silk explained, 'and our pace of development will be constantly high throughout the year.'

He reckons Renault's testing 'efficiency' took a step-up last season when the F1 outfit was a participant in the 'Heathrow' agreement which limited test-days.

Silk added: 'This year, we'll combine the extra running we now have available, with this improved efficiency, to take our work a further step forward.'








Yoong On Search For F1 Star
Alex Yoong is at the helm of a search for the next Malaysian F1 driver.

The Kuala-Lumpur born ace, who infrequently steered a Minardi in 2001 and 2002, has launched a monthly go-kart challenge to begin on March 6 this season.

Dubbed the 'Alex Yoong F1 Driver Search' and supported by a local insurance company, it will serve as a talent-scout programme in view of Formula One.

AMATEUR RACERS

The search is open to amateur drivers aged seven and above.

'Participants will be given an hour-long briefing by Alex Yoong before the race on tips to minimise track times,' according to a statement.

The ultimate winners are set to earn a test-drive with German manufacturer BMW and one of them will be selected to attend a racing course in the country.

* Toyota sponsor Denso has unveiled a new line of unique iridium-based spark plugs that may be used in Formula One by the Cologne-based team this season.








Schu Not Keen On 'Superstar' Status
World champion Michael Schumacher is not keen on his 'superstar' image.

Friend and Formula One boss Jean Todt reckons the best and most successful people in the world remain completely normal - and he says Schu is the best.

Jean continued: 'He doesn't like [his status]. He's not spoiled by the fame. When he's at home with his family, he takes his daughter to school.'

The Ferrari principal, who turns 58 on Thursday, relished the challenge of, in 1996, attracting Schumacher from the hugely-successful Benetton F1 team.

SOMETHING SPECIAL

'Everyone said he wouldn't come because Ferrari is no good,' he smiled. 'But Ferrari is something special and Michael has always enjoyed a challenge.'

Todt said he and Schumacher have created a 'special' friendship.

A source close to Michael revealed that at a recent grand prix, the 35-year-old German stayed at the circuit, talking to engineers, until eleven at night.

'Michael's a very straightforward, honest person,' Jean says. 'He's humble and even shy, but people on the outside don't always appreciate that.'

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