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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
February 27, 2004


Ralf And Gerhard Try-Out ETCC Car
It's not unusual to see Formula One driver Ralf Schumacher racing around Monza.

But what spotters at the Autodromo aren't used to is watching the Grand Prix winner champing-away at the steering-wheel of a BMW M3 GTR touring-car.

The German, 28, complimented the ETCC teams on-track because, at a BMW Christmas Party, he told Dr Mario Theissen that he'd love a try in the 450bhp machine.

'Obviously you cannot compare it to F1,' said Ralf as he pulled off his helmet.

He continued at the Royal Park: 'However, it didn't take long until I was running at the same level as the other drivers - and sometimes even faster!'

IMPRESSED

A day later at the Italian track, Thursday, former F1 ace and retired BMW motorsport director Gerhard Berger got his turn at the wheel of the M3 GTR.

The Austrian, also an old touring-car star, was impressed.

'It's very powerful,' he enthused. 'It doesn't quite have the performance of F1 - and the power-steering means you don't have to work so hard as in my day!'

* Former F1 and Champ Car star Alex Zanardi was also at the test, shaping-up for his assault on the ETCC this season with a hand-controlled BMW 320i.

'The new adjustments to the car are just brilliant,' the Italian, who lost both legs above the knee in an horror open-wheeler shunt in 2001, smiled.








Toyota Need More Time
Toyota need more time to fine-tune their new Formula One charger.

Team racer Cristiano da Matta, and his shining TF104, were at the Imola circuit for three-days this week but moaned about the steadily disastrous weather.

'This was our final test before Australia,' said the Brazilian, 'and the only day we could really do much running was on Wednesday.

'So we've got some items left-over on our [pre-season] programme.'

Da Matta, born in Belo Horizonte and facing-down his second full season in Formula One, is worried that TF104 is not developed enough to tackle its rivals.

DIFFICULTIES

'We definitely needed more time in the new car this week,' he lamented, 'so we've now got to wait until Melbourne to see where we line up.'

Veteran team-mate Olivier Panis is also unhappy.

'Our plan was to fine-tune the car before we start the season,' said the Frenchman, 'but we had some difficulties. The weather hasn't helped either.'

Toyota, therefore, aren't bragging about putting one of its drivers, tester Ryan Briscoe, on the top of the final time-sheet before the Australian Grand Prix.

The youngster, an Aussie, was quickest on Thursday at Imola as BMW-Williams and Ferrari decided against running in the rain and packed-up early.

'We planned to do a full wet test,' he said, 'but we had to finish earlier due to a problem with the oil pump fixation. Now I'm going home to Australia.'








F1 Backmarkers Told To Move Over
Formula One's pacesetters want the slowest cars on track to move over - quickly.

Mark Webber, a director of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, has called on the FIA to delineate a 'consistent stance' so every racer knows the rules.

The Australian said GPDA head Michael Schumacher has spoken to race-director Charlie Whiting about the important issue of quickly recognizing the blue flags.

DISCIPLINARY ACTION

'I think this is going to mean a lot more disciplinary action in terms of drivers,' said Webber, who touched down in Aussie city Sydney on Thursday.

According to the rules, drivers are allowed to pass three waved blue flags before they are required to move-over and let the race-leaders through.

The Jaguar driver added: 'When the leaders come through we need to make sure it is consistent ... we want everyone to sing from the same hymn sheet.'

McLaren's David Coulthard reckons top-drivers lose a second per lap in traffic.

'Your race is run,' the Scot told Autosport, 'because so much of F1 now is decided in the pitstops and getting out in front of the other guy.'








How Times Have Changed: F1 Marshall
How times have changed, an Australian F1 flag-marshall marveled at Albert Park.

Ray Begg, who started waving his yellow flags in the 70s, remembers a time when the sport's volunteers were not protected by 4.75m solid-wire safety fences.

'I remember there were Formula cars four abreast with nowhere to go,' Begg, whose day-job is as a carpenter, said at the Grand Prix track on Thursday.

He told the Herald Sun: 'There were no barriers or anything, so they just ran straight over the place where we had been standing with the flags.

'We got out of the way, fortunately.'

1300 VOLUNTEERS

Begg remembers an occasion when a Renault ploughed through a marshall point, slamming into two men who had failed to dive out of the way in time.

'The third guy was faster and he got away,' he recalls.

Begg's wife, Rae, recalls how she felt that day at Phillip Island.

'I'd never been to a race meeting,' she said, 'and I saw him running away from the open-wheeler cars and a thought he was mad.'

1300 volunteer marshalls will be standing around the Albert Park track when Michael Schumacher and his rivals power out of pitlane next Friday morning.

A marshall, Graham Beveridge, was killed at the 2001-running of the F1 race.








Klien Faces Up To F1 Debut
F1 rookie Christian Klien is a visible mix of emotion.

The Austrian, still just twenty-years-old, will power out of the Albert Park pitlane to fire-up a Formula One career next Friday in a Jaguar Racing R5.

'I am so excited,' he said on Thursday, 'but I can't really describe it.'

Klien, who brings a swag of Red Bull ($7 million) sponsorship to Milton-Keynes, has raced on just seven of the eighteen circuits on the latest F1 calendar.

BEST FRIEND

He recently said a PlayStation would be his best-friend before Melbourne.

'Computer games help a little,' said Christian in the quest to learn Albert Park's layout, 'but there's no substitute for the real thing.'

The 'real thing' happens next weekend; a culmination of 'so many years' of working towards the pinnacle of motor sport, said the former F3 winner.

'I've been surprised at the level of constant input the engineers make into the car while testing,' Klien concluded. 'This was a real education for me.'

Aussie team-mate Mark Webber is impressed by the rookie's pre-season form.

'He's an enthusiastic young guy,' said the Jaguar ace, 'seems to know what he's doing and I'm sure he'll be on the pace when it comes time to go racing.'

* Australian Idol runner-up Shannon Noll has been picked to sing the national anthem on the Formula One grid before next Sunday's big race in Melbourne.

'I'll definitely watch the race after,' he said, 'and I'll be going for the Aussie, Mark Webber, even though it looks like the Ferraris are hard to beat.'









Bridgestone: We Were Too Conservative
Bridgestone has blamed an overly 'conservative' approach to Formula One tyre development for falling off the pace to grand prix rivals Michelin last season.

Head of development Hirohide Hamashima said Ferrari was so dominant in '02 that the company 'did not feel' it could make wholesale changes to its approach.

'Consequently the development may have been a little conservative,' he said.

The Japanese, however, reckons the pace picked-up later last year even if 'more is required' and 'further development' will continue during the new F1 season.

IMPROVE GRIP

Hamashima added: 'The first task is to improve the grip of the tyres. Our stable performance is not enough to be competitive with the current rules.'

He hinted that degradation of grip in hot weather is the biggest problem.

Losing BAR to Michelin won't be a knock-out blow, Hamashima insists, and to counter the track-shortfall support staff will work more closely with teams.

'Also with the sharing of information,' he continued to explain.

'We're going to work with, rather than for, the teams in 2004.'








Honda To Extend BAR Deal
Honda is not making plans to cancel its Formula One programme.

The Japanese engine manufacturer's contract with F1 team BAR ends later this season but work on the next (2005) grand prix powerplant has already begun.

Engineering director Shuhei Nakamoto told Autosport that BAR's technical director Geoff Willis will soon travel to Japan to discuss the new project.

FIVE-YEAR DEAL

Sources report that a new five-year deal with the Brackley-based team is likely.

'I was happy to join BAR and I want to win the championship with the team,' said Nakamoto. 'We've already started work on the [new] engine.'

Shuhei said ahead of next week's season-opening Australian Grand Prix that a 'huge amount' of effort has been put into the development of the 2004 Honda.

'Now we're looking forward to seeing exactly how we will perform against the other teams when it counts,' he added before setting-off for Melbourne.

* Ferrari aces Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello are to go 'head to head' in the disciplines of football, golf, basketball and racing next Thursday.

The novel sponsor-event takes place at the 'Vodafone Arena' in Melbourne.








Webber Pledges Future To Jaguar
F1 star Mark Webber has re-affirmed his commitment to Jaguar Racing.

The rumour-mill had shifted into top-gear that Australia's only grand prix driver was eyeing a move from Milton-Keynes to BMW-powered WilliamsF1.

But Mark said in Sydney: 'I want to make Jaguar work.

'There's some very clever guys there and ... Jaguar have done a phenomenal job for me. Last year really put me on the map after my time with Minardi.'

FIRM CONTRACT

Webber, 27, told Channel 9's Today Show that his contract is 'firm' for at least two more seasons (including 2005) but acknowledged the Frank Williams link.

Asked if he'd spoken to Sir Frank, Mark said: 'I haven't yet. But it's a good problem to have. We need to obviously look at all options for the future.'

The story has got a lot of press in Australia but Webber, born in Queanbeyan, said the UK media are even more excited about a Grove return for Jenson Button.

'I think he's quite keen to go there [too],' Webber smiled.

* The grand prix star believes it is going to be 'very difficult' for his racing-hero Michael Schumacher to clock-up a seventh drivers' title this season.








Irvine's Still On The Run
Former runner-up F1 champion Eddie Irvine is still on the run - from the law.

The Ulsterman skipped town to avoid an arrest warrant issued last month that'll see him jailed for speeding on a scooter and failing to turn up at court.

Irvine's in Miami (USA), where he has a residence, and told RTE's 'The Late Late Show' that he had indeed 'done a runner' while his lawyers sort out the mess.

TAKING A PHOTO

'I was out with a friend on the back of my scooter and we were just going past Buckingham Palace and he was taking a photo of the two of us,' he said.

Irvine added: 'As soon as the photo had been taken and we looked straight ahead there was the police waving us over and I had no ID or anything with me.'

The 38-year-old, who finished second to Mika Hakkinen in a 1999 Ferrari, said he was leaving for Miami the day after the incident so couldn't produce documents.

'I said my Dad would produce them,' he concluded, 'but they say 'no, you've got to produce them yourself'. I couldn't do it, so I went to Miami.'








DC Prefers Speed To Reliability
David Coulthard is refusing to confirm media speculation that his all-new MP4-19 Formula One charger is good only for the midfield in Sunday's Melbourne opener.

The Scot told Autosport that he just doesn't know if McLaren's ready.

'Everyone wants to know who has performance and who is ready,' he said. 'We've done a lot of laps but there are reliability issues that we have to resolve.'

QUICK ENOUGH?

DC's team-mate Kimi Raikkonen is expressing real doubt that his Mercedes-powered race-car is reliable enough - or quick enough - to win at Albert Park.

'I wouldn't agree with that,' said David, 'because in F1 there are always reliability issues. Even if you don't have problems, things can happen.'

Coulthard is more concerned with the car's ultimate speed in Melbourne than whether Mercedes' new V10 engine can make it to the chequer after 58-laps.

'I'd be happier to be quick in Melbourne and have no reliability,' he said, 'than to be reliable and slow. Then we'd know we have a strong car.'

* F1 commentating legend Murray Walker loves the Australian Grand Prix, but he told ITV that he preferred the days when Southern city Adelaide hosted it.

'Adelaide is a much smaller place than Melbourne,' said the Englishman, 'so the grand prix was a much more important event with a more intimate atmosphere.'







Button's No Longer 'Too Nice'
Jenson Button is no longer 'too nice' to net a Formula One championship.

That's the opinion of Honda's engineering director Shuhei Nakamoto who told Autosport that the new driver-leader at BAR 'has changed' ahead of 2004.

With the forced retirement of Jacques Villeneuve, 24-year-old Button has been charged with the role of firing criticism in the direction of the team.

'He is still a good man, I like him,' Nakamoto continued, 'but he pushes more.

'And we are happy to hear complaints from him.'

PRAISE FOR JACQUES

Button and former world champion Villeneuve started the 2003 season at loggerheads; JB called JV 'pathetic' and JV called JB a 'boy band' member.

But now in a new hat, Jenson can see the virtue of an outspoken F1 star.

'I liked working with [Villeneuve],' the Briton said. 'He would always speak, whether he was right or wrong. It was good - it helped the team.'

Now BAR and engine-partner Honda are asking Button to speak his mind.

'Even if there's no problem, I have to push them,' Jenson explained. 'Even if it's something really tiny I have to say 'Why is it not like this?'








Carmakers Unite To Cut Testing
Competing German car manufacturers BMW and Mercedes-Benz are rivals in every sense, except in a new quest to cut costs at the pinnacle of motor sport.

Mercedes director Norbert Haug said in Munich on Thursday that on-track car testing is a 'huge money factor' in Formula One that must be curbed.

Haug revealed that McLaren will clock 'three times' as many development miles as the grand prix team is set to amass on the circuits whilst racing in 2004.

TEAM MEETING

'This is not ideal,' he added at a motor sport show.

The German suggested a meeting of all ten Formula One teams, including main opponent Ferrari, to seriously discuss the matter of limiting track testing.

He said: 'It is our idea to find a solution that makes sense.'

BMW motorsport director Dr Mario Theissen agrees that there 'should be a limit.

'There's also the option to stage an extra one or two races,' he told the Deutsch Press Agency, 'instead of wasting resources away from the public eye.'

Ferrari has been named as the strongest enemy of test-regulation reform.








Jaguar Under No Illusion
Jaguar is under 'no illusion' about the prospect of a tough Formula One season.

Managing director David Pitchforth said his green team is well prepared for 2004 but a gritty opposition will make real progress on the F1-standings difficult.

Jaguar has clocked nearly 8000 test kilometres with the new R5 package.

'We are looking to make improvements this year,' said Pitchforth, whose team finished just seventh (of ten) on the constructors' championship table in 2003.

STEP FORWARD

He said: 'I know that we need to make continuous steps-forward if we are to see a difference by the end of the season.'

The media is already writing-off Mark Webber's new F1 racer as technically flawed and Austrian team-mate Christian Klien as a typical pay-driving rookie.

Pitchforth said Jaguar achieved 'respectability' last season.

'We're now looking to take this momentum to the next level,' he explained, 'by ensuring the continuous development of the R5 over the course of 18 races.'

* 27-year-old Webber said the 'balance and handling' of the R5 is 'very good.'








Williams Quit Final Test
BMW-Williams' was forced to cancel its final day of pre-season testing.

At a freezing and drenched Imola track, the Grove team - like Ferrari - packed up and headed for home because they could 'learn nothing' in the conditions.

But Sam Michael said the test did not sum-up the team's winter period.

'It's been a long but productive couple of months,' said the chief operations engineer, 'during which we've identified and solved many faults on the FW26.'

The team's next-test takes place at Valencia (Spain) in three weeks.

TYRE CREDIT

* Tyre-partner Bridgestone took some credit for Ferrari ace Michael Schumacher's sterling new track-record at the Imola test-circuit earlier this week.

Technical manager Hisao Suganuma said: 'It was a culmination of the huge amounts of hard work put in by all the Bridgestone teams and our tyre engineers.'

* Formula One air-freight jets off for Melbourne on Friday evening.

A Renault statement described how 24-tonnes of team equipment is on the way to Stansted Airport while eighty staff are gearing-up for their trip to Australia.








Finishing Touches At Bahrain
Bahrain's $150 million Formula One circuit is 98.7 percent complete.

Chairman Shaikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa told journalists that governing FIA officials are now 'constantly' at the desert-track checking-up on progress.

'The only aspect left is the racing track asphalt work which stands at 97 percent [complete],' said Minister of Work and Housing Mohammed Al Sayed.

He added: 'We will be ready before the March 7 deadline.'

TWICE THE TESTING

* According to a team statement, Brackley-based Formula One outfit BAR-Honda completed twice the pre-season testing mileage this winter than last year.

Third-driver Anthony Davidson is scheduled to quickly return from the flyaway event in Australia and undertake a four-day test in Valencia starting Tuesday.

He said at Silverstone, where he shook-down the 3-cars bound for Melbourne: 'It was amazing ... to be three seconds quicker than I've ever been here before.'

* BAR racer Jenson Button says Melbourne, even if its F1 track hasn't got many quick corners, is the 'perfect place' to start the new grand prix season.

'It's a fantastic city and has some great restaurants,' the Briton added.








Schu Feels 'Fresh' For 13th
World champion Michael Schumacher feels 'fresh' as he makes the long-haul flight to Australia to kick-off his thirteenth full-time season in Formula One.

'I feel as motivated as ever,' said the Ferrari driver.

If the 35-year-old wins the Melbourne Grand Prix in a brand-new F2004 car, he'll be on the way to a mind-boggling seventh personal drivers' world championship.

But there's no 'same old, same old' for this German-born superstar.

'Every time I get in [the racing car], I feel more than good,' said Michael.

He added: 'To be honest I'm feeling much younger than I actually am. And we feel well prepared for Melbourne. We've no real worries about the car.'

SATO AT HOME

* Takuma Sato is to stop-off in his native Japan on the way to Australia.

'I'll be training hard before the first race,' said the new BAR star. 'I've raced at Melbourne before but had a technical problem in qualifying.

'It was a great place to do my first grand prix though.'

* Albert Park, which is likely to be hot next weekend, was first used for a non-championship grand prix in 1953 but has hosted the modern F1 event since 1996.








Jaguar's Wirdheim Settles-In
F3000's newly-crowned champion will be one of the first drivers to power out of the Albert Park pitlane in a Formula One car next Friday in Melbourne.

Bjorn Wirdheim, a Swede, is Jaguar's new 'third' driver and, under a new 'bottom-6 team' rule, can participate in first-day action this GP season.

'Although I only joined last week,' he said, 'I've already settled in well.'

Wirdheim helped shake-down the third R5 car at Silverstone this week and that experience gave him a taste of what he can expect at the '04 season-opener.

ENTHUSIASTIC

'I'm enthusiastic about driving on a Friday,' he added, 'and I hope to be a valuable backbone of feedback for Mark [Webber] and Christian [Klien].'

The young star has already raced on twelve of the eighteen modern F1 tracks.

'I am very pleased that Bjorn Wirdheim has joined us in time for Friday testing in Melbourne,' said Milton-Keynes' managing director David Pitchforth.

He added: 'His feedback will be invaluable.'








Webber Changes Mind
Just a few weeks ago, Mark Webber penciled last year's runner-up champion Kimi Raikkonen as the likely winner of this season's Formula One championship.

The Australian, who drives a Jaguar, has changed his mind.

Mark, 27, touched down in Sydney in a Qantas jumbo-jet on Thursday and quickly told the media that his racing-hero Michael Schumacher should make it seven.

'I think he's going to have a strong year,' said the racer.

'But I still think it is going to be very difficult for him.'

YARDSTICK

Webber said Ferrari-driving Schumacher, 35 and with six drivers' titles under his belt, is still the yardstick for all of his nineteen grand prix rivals.

'Yeah, he is, absolutely,' Mark told Aussie journalists.

'Michael is still consistently the strongest ... you put him, if he was a golfer, on a golf tee, she's always going straight down the middle.

'That's where Michael is very, very good.'

Webber said Schumacher was likely to turn up at Albert Park next Friday, 12 months since his last visit, 'and just go out and instantly be on a high level.'








BAR Point To Podium
BAR-Honda's new 006 is pointing towards the post-race podium of Albert Park.

Team boss Dave Richards said at the end of a successful winter test programme the car and racers Jenson Button and Takuma Sato make a 'strong combination.'

Most track analysts agree that, even in spite of the team's low-fuel lap records and qualifying runs, Brackley's newest is shaping-up as a season-surprise.

REALISTIC CHANCE

Richards added: 'If we can deliver against our test performance, both drivers have a realistic chance of appearing on the podium in Melbourne.'

Team tech-director Geoff Willis agrees that the potential is to do 'very well' at next week's Australian Grand Prix, the five-year anniversary of BAR's debut.

'We've got the advantage of running a third car on Friday,' said the Briton, while a spokesman confirmed that tester Anthony Davidson will fulfil the role.

Willis concluded: 'Everyone, including the race drivers, will need to maximise the benefit of this extra information for the race-tyre choice.'

* BAR leader Jenson Button has never scored a championship-point in Melbourne.

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