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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
March 1, 2004


Stoddart Threatens Spanner In Works
Minardi chief and grand prix racing minnow Paul Stoddart has threatened to re-insert a 'spanner' into the works of Formula One's top competing teams.

The Australian, already in Melbourne for the first race, reckons F1 carmakers have not delivered on a promise to offer affordable engines to private teams.

If that support doesn't come soon, Paul warned that he'll retract his crucial support for an unanimous vote on electronic aids such as traction-control.

CUT ENGINE BILL

'I voted it through in the belief that manufacturers would help us cut engine bill costs,' Stoddart, who pays $22 million for a Cosworth V10 deal, said.

He added: 'This isn't me whining or about our survival.

'We have our finances in place but, if we have to continue paying an extortionate amount for the engines, there's no money left to develop our cars.'

Stoddart believes a solid commitment was made on April 29 last year to cut engine costs to a maximum of ten-million euros (per season) for independents.

He said withdrawing his traction-control support will cause 'major problems' for the big teams including a new multi-million dollar development bill.

* Cologne-based Toyota F1 team has welcomed ESPN Star Sports as a new sponsor whose logo is set to appear on the side winglets of the new TF104 race-car.








Four Drivers In The Fight
At least four drivers are in the fight for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.

That is the belief of former 500cc motorcycle ace Daryl Beattie who is shaping-up as local broadcaster Channel 10's pitlane-commentator at Albert Park.

'I think it'll be a terrific race,' he told television publications.

'All the teams have new cars and a few of them are capable of winning.'

Beattie reckons BAR-Honda were the 'standout' of the winter period.

'But how much do you read into that?,' he quipped in reference to speculation that Jenson Button and Takuma Sato's 006 racer was running on light fuel loads.

He thinks David Coulthard, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kimi Raikkonen and reigning champion Michael Schumacher will all be 'thereabouts' this weekend in Melbourne.

The Australian continued: 'And hopefully Mark Webber has a good result.'

CAN BLAME TIRES

Beattie predicts Ferrari to set the pace in 2004 but if Michael Schumacher emerges without a seventh crown, he can point the finger at Bridgestone.

'It won't be because someone has driven better,' said the retired rider. 'I feel there's a chance Michelin could upset the odds.'

Daryl's pitlane cohort will be five-times motorcycle champion Mick Doohan.

* BMW motorsport chief Mario Theissen reckons new long-life engine regulations should not overly affect maximum output levels from this year's F1 units.

The German said the P84 should reach 'over 900' brake-horsepower.








How Can Anyone Doubt Schumacher?
How can anyone doubt six-times world champion Michael Schumacher?

That's the question on the lips of his Ferrari team boss and friend Jean Todt who nonetheless warned that no winning-guarantees exist in Formula One.

'The results show that Michael is still the best,' said the Frenchman, 'but if the car does not function properly, even Michael cannot work miracles.'

Todt told the German 'Welt am Sonntag' newspaper that everyone at Maranello wants to remain in the number-one position it has occupied since the late 90s.

'Everyone at Ferrari will fight for that,' he said. 'Our new car is showing great potential and even the tires have improved. We'll be on the pace.'

F2004 TO DEBUT

The Italian team confirmed at a shake-down test late last week that the all-new F2004 racer will indeed kick-off the season in the race 'Down Under.'

Tester Luca Badoer drove the three Rory Byrne-designed cars at Fiorano which are destined to find their way to Melbourne for the start of Formula One season-'04.

35-year-old world champion Michael Schumacher, meanwhile, told reporters ahead of the big Albert Park event that he's no-where near hanging up his helmet.

'I don't feel my age,' said the German, 'and that's what keeps me going. I don't do a reflex test every morning - I just look at my track times.'








Only Raikkonen Can Beat F1's Veteran
Only a monosyllabic Finn who still looks like a fourteen-year-old boy can beat Formula One's runaway world champion Michael Schumacher to the next F1 crown.

That is the opinion of former triple champ and ex-team owner Jackie Stewart.

The Scot, who was knighted a few years ago, told the Sunday Herald that McLaren's youngster Kimi Raikkonen has the 'flair and speed' to win in 2004.

'But most importantly,' said Sir Jackie, 'he has the undiluted self-belief that he can beat' the man Stewart acknowledges as F1's 'best ever' race-driver.

ANOTHER STAR

Despite his praise of the veteran German, Jackie said there is no denying that the pinnacle of motor sport would benefit from someone thrashing him in 2004.

Stewart's countryman and ousted F1-ace Allan McNish, though - who'll contest Le Mans this season - predicts another 'star' of the impending Formula One season.

The Scot said Renault's Fernando Alonso, for whom he tested the winning R23 as a Friday driver in 2003, has the 'same rare driving talent' as Schumacher.

'He showed last year that he is not afraid to mix it with the older drivers. He'll win more races this year, but the championship might have to wait.'








Bernie Backs Test-Ban In F1
Bernie Ecclestone is backing a proposed total ban on Formula One testing.

The sport's supremo said grand prix racing can't afford to lose tobacco cash and slammed teams for spending 'crazy' sums of money on the development tracks.

'We have to turn off costs,' he told Frankfurter Allgemeinen Sonntagszeitung.

'We have to find a way to make it unnecessary for the top teams to invest crazy sums. Maybe we should forbid tests that would certainly save a lot of money.'

TOBACCO MONEY

Five of F1's ten teams rely on funds from tobacco companies and even Ferrari's solid budget is reliant on about 50% of it - $150m - courtesy of Phillip Morris.

'If we lose tobacco sponsorship in Formula One,' said Ecclestone, who is finding new regulation-free venues on which to race, 'that will be a turning point.

'People just can't imagine how bad that will be.

'This money isn't replaceable, not even for Ferrari.'







Williams Doesn't Want To Lose Ralf
BMW-Williams does not want to lose long-time Formula One racer Ralf Schumacher.

The Grove-based team will let Juan Pablo Montoya slide to McLaren in 2005 but it 'wouldn't be optimal' to see his team-mate leave, according to Patrick Head.

Williams' technical director told Der Spiegel magazine that BMW are promising to transfer 'far less' into the operation's bank accounts starting next season.

'Thus, we've got to cut costs,' Head noted.

German ace Ralf hit the headlines last week when he angrily claimed that Sir Frank Williams is portraying him as 'greedy' in negotiations for a new contract.

DIDN'T FIGHT HARD

Schumacher has now told The Guardian newspaper that he was 'very surprised' that Williams didn't dip into its coffers to secure the services of Montoya.

'He is a top driver but they gave him the opportunity to leave,' Ralf commented. '... Williams didn't fight too hard to keep him.'

Ralf's spokesman Thomas Hoffman, meanwhile, says the stalled talks for a new drive was a clash between two very 'determined personalities.

'[Ralf] has the same character as Frank,' said Thomas. 'That's why they fight.'

Hoffman said Ralf 'is not knocking' on Toyota's F1 door.

* Malaysia will allow students into its Formula One event for free.

Sepang track general manager Ahmad Mustafa said the move, to allow entry on a Hill on Friday and Saturday, was designed to boost interest in younger people.








Coulthard's Future Starts Here
David Coulthard's future starts here; the 2004 Formula One race-season.

McLaren chief Ron Dennis, eyeing the line-up of Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya, said the Scot's future is 'dependent' on what happens from now on.

'He's got a lot to shoot for,' the Briton told F1 Racing magazine.

'I think he'll be very strong - and we'll all be happy if that strength enables him to secure an attractive future for himself inside or outside McLaren.'

Coulthard admitted a deficit in single-lap qualifying last season but reckons his ability to drive head-to-head on Sundays is unrivalled in Formula One.

UNRIVALLED

'I finished the year as the quickest McLaren and that didn't happen by accident.

'Now I just want to take that forward.'

The veteran also admitted that the 'Montoya' saga - or the strong speculation that a Colombian from Williams will oust him in 2005 - has been distracting.

'We should all be used to it,' Coulthard shrugged.

But he's not even entertaining the idea of retirement.

'I've never felt a desire not to go racing,' said the Twynholm-born star. 'Who knows what opportunities will open up if I do well ...

'... Maybe it would be a good time to say, 'thank you very much and goodnight', but I can't imagine it. When it comes down to it, I love what I do.'








F1 Can Survive Schu Domination
Formula One can survive more of Michael Schumacher's domination.

FIA president Max Mosley told Ananova that fans would tolerate a seventh drivers' crown for the German but only if the championship 'goes the distance.'

'It is good if it goes to the last race as it did last year,' he said.

Mosley said the 'odds are against' 35-year-old Schu making it five consecutive successful world championships since his first one in scarlet of 2000.

'But Michael is an exceptional driver,' he added.

'I think he is probably the best we've [ever] seen.'

GPDA LAUNCH SCHEME

* The sport's Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA) has launched a competition where six winners are to be given a guided tour of the Albert Park F1 paddock.

Aussie ace Mark Webber unveiled the scheme as a way to 'give something back to the fans' by urging spectators to buy a pin for charity Brainwave Australia.

'I'm pleased to say there are some other exciting developments to come on that front in the near future, too,' commented AGPC chairman Ron Walker.








F1 Can't Take Its Eye Off 'The Nose'
F1's closest observers still can't take their eyes of that nose.

Sir Frank Williams was reportedly less than enthusiastic when team partner and technical director Patrick Head showed him the design for his next F1 racer.

'There was clearly a lot a fuss,' said Williams. 'It's not that pretty, but it's not ugly either. It's just the front of the car.

'It's all about being adventurous and creative - taking a risk.'

FW26, which incorporates the novel twin-keel chassis design, features a never-before-seen front section including a nose that appears to boast 'tusks.'

Head admits that the nose is not an 'item of beauty.

'But it came out on top in the wind tunnel tests and that dictates what you do.'

It wasn't the area that caused most headaches at Grove headquarters, though.

'The sidepods on FW26 are further back,' said the technical director, 'and that required a tremendous amount of work on the monocoque for the side impact test.'

CHILL OUT

* Ralf Schumacher has headed to Australia a couple of days early to acclimatise to the warmer weather but also just to chill out in the 'friendly' country.

'On a personal level,' said the German, 'I'm fitter and more motivated.'








Alonso On The Verge
Fernando Alonso smiles at rumors that he is on the verge of becoming a real challenger for the Formula One drivers' world championship this season.

'Of course there are rumors,' said the Spaniard, 'but I promise you I don't know. Nobody really knows. We can only wait and see.'

Renault's new R24 car, so impressive over long runs in winter testing, has got many top-team rivals worried that a genuine fourth pretender has arrived.

'There's no point getting too excited,' said 22-year-old Alonso.

'But we have big steps planned for the fourth race, the seventh and for later in the season, too. So, if we are on the pace in Melbourne ...'

WELCOME BACK

* BMW-Williams driver Ralf Schumacher has welcomed the return of Spa-Francorchamps and the Belgian Grand Prix to F1's annual schedule with caution.

'It's one of the last natural tracks,' said the German. 'Eau Rouge is a bit exaggerated, it's now less dangerous, but the circuit does have a lot of charm.'

Schumacher, 28, worries about the dubious track-safety at Spa.

'The run-off areas are no longer the best,' he said. 'Modern tracks may be a bit more boring, but generally speaking they're safer and that's important.'







Rise Of The F1 Privateers: Eddie Jordan
Eddie Jordan has forecast the resurgence of Formula One's privateers.

The Silverstone-based boss has barely scraped-together a budget for 2004 but he reckons the future is brighter because of the nature of F1's manufacturers.

'I see a complete change-around in the future of F1,' he said in Melbourne.

'I have to question what is going to happen with the major manufacturers because they don't like to finish at the back.

TOTAL FAILURE

'They need us because total failure is not acceptable.'

Irish-born Jordan says the team's new EJ14 is a 'very quick' and nimble machine that might just be good-enough for sixth overall in the constructors' chase.

'I'm going to stick it out until I win this championship so, I'm sorry guys, maybe I'll have to be around for a while,' he concluded to journalists.

* McLaren is also churning-out an optimistic tune ahead of Sunday's F1 race.

Team veteran David Coulthard, whose team-mate Kimi Raikkonen has been vocal about the MP4-19's problems, said the silver car 'is going to be competitive.'

McLaren CEO Ron Dennis added: 'The season is shaping up quite well. We've had problems in testing but most of the time we've been pretty competitive.'

* There is a new tyre-regulation in Formula One this season; teams must nominate their race compounds before Saturday morning's free practice session.

'We will have to go through Friday's data with a fine-toothed comb,' said Michelin's Pascal Vasselon, 'which presents us with an additional challenge.'








Dixon Denies F1 Deal
Indy Racing League champion Scott Dixon has accused a New Zealand newspaper, the Herald, of dreaming-up an interview with his mother Glenys.

According to the publication, Glenys Dixon let slip that her son was soon to be announced as a 2005 starter in the F1 series for an undisclosed top-team.

'She said she'd never spoken to that newspaper,' Dixon told Autosport on the weekend, although he added: 'Maybe she knows more [about an F1 deal] than I do.'

Dixon, 23, said: 'I asked her what she had heard. I hope she doesn't know more than me. I thought maybe she had gotten a phone call that I didn't know about.'

NOTHING CONCRETE

New Zealand's top racing star promised 'nothing concrete' is signed for 2005.

* F1 team Sauber is expecting a strong showing at the Australian Grand Prix.

Technical director Willy Rampf said the recent Imola test was a good gauge of the new C23's form in Albert Park and the car 'performed well' in Italy.

'We'll run the car in the same spec,' he said. 'We have no unsolved problems.'

Driver Giancarlo Fisichella said he expected to qualify on the top five rows.

* Out-of-work F1 ace Jos Verstappen's management has threatened to sue former sponsor Trust for trying to do a private deal with Formula One team Jordan.








Schu: No Plans To Slow Down
Michael Schumacher has no plans to start slowing down.

The quadruple-successive drivers' champion is thirty-five years old but, having signed a new two-year contract to 2006, the fire still burns bright.

'I have a lot of fun with my racing,' he told The Age. 'I just don't understand the people who constantly ask me where my motivation comes from.'

MOTIVATION

Clearly, winning every record in the history-book doesn't sap his energy.

Michael asks: 'If you do something you deeply enjoy, do it at the highest level, do it with friends around you - how can I not be motivated?'

And it's not just 900bhp and 5g braking-forces that inspire him - this Ferrari ace takes-on the new generation of karting stars when the F1 season ends.

'I need a steering wheel,' Schumacher smiled. 'I'm crazy enough to do the kart races still. These days even Formula One is just the maximum fun for me.'

* Schumacher's younger brother Ralf, on the other hand, is still searching for that elusive first championship but sees this season as his best chance yet.

'It might be helpful that more teams have the chance of taking a win,' said the BMW-Williams star. 'It makes a run of wins by one team highly unlikely.'

* McLaren youngster Kimi Raikkonen reckons Melbourne's Albert Park is not the most difficult circuit on the modern 18-race Formula One calendar.

The Finn said: 'Every track has hard corners and the set-up needs to be right. The barriers are very close so if you go off you're likely to damage the car.'








Davidson Would Rather Test
Anthony Davidson would rather be out of the Formula One spotlight than paying to make up the numbers for a back-of-the-grid team like Jordan or Minardi.

The young Briton, who'll test a BAR-Honda on all eighteen race-circuits this season, insists he is laying a foundation for a future attack on grands prix.

'This is a brilliant place to learn,' he said before a run in the new 006 racer at a Silverstone shake-down late last week.

'I feel it's better than paying for a drive with one of the lesser teams.'

PAID TO LEARN

Davidson, as a Friday tester in 2004, will be paid to learn all the circuits this season under a new regulation designed to help the 'bottom six' outfits.

'It's a good job at the end of the day,' he said. 'You can't get much better than it even if I would want to be out there racing.'

German star Timo Glock has landed a similar role for the new race-season but the former F3 driver is going to have to make the most of the Jordan-Ford EJ14.

'It's a big deal,' he said, 'and it's going to get me ready for next year.'

* Due to financial concerns, Fiat has shelved plans to float Ferrari.








Tire War To Win F1 Season
World champion Michael Schumacher has predicted that the 'Bridgestone versus Michelin tire-war' is likely to decide the outcome of the 2004 F1-edition.

'I can't predict who is best,' the German said.

McLaren rival David Coulthard, meanwhile, told Gazzetta dello Sport that 'one engine per weekend' rules seem to be designed beautifully for champions Ferrari.

'Three days with the same engine is good news for them,' he shrugged.

LESS EXCITING

DC also believes that Formula One's new two-lap qualifying system, to take place only on Saturday, is shaping-up to be less exciting than in 2003.

'Now nobody is interested in Fridays anymore,' said the Scot.

* Fourth-placed F1 team Renault may be able to take-on top-team rivals including Ferrari, BMW-Williams and McLaren-Mercedes in 2004, according to its boss.

'We are there,' said Flavio Briatore. 'On paper everybody looks good. We will see in Melbourne. All the top three look very quick but so do we.'

* Minardi's boss Paul Stoddart has opted against a slightly-better Cosworth engine specification in 2004 in a bid to maintain his cars' reliability.

'We had only one engine failure last season,' said the Australian.

'So we have decided to go for reliability in the hope that a few races will come our way when people ahead break down. Then we can maybe get a point or two.'








Webber To Succeed Schumacher?
Michael Schumacher believes Australian racer Mark Webber is just as likely as another throng of young superstars to succeed his Formula One crown.

A 'Telegraph' reporter asked the German if he agreed that Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya are the best of the sport's new generation.

'There is one other you have forgotten to mention,' Michael said. 'Webber.'

Clearly, Schumacher's younger brother Ralf, 28, does not agree.

'Webber?!' he exclaimed when told of the identity of the man most likely to succeed defecting BMW-Williams driver Juan Pablo Montoya in 2005.

Ralf added: 'Well that would be much easier for me if it's Webber rather than Button. Sure, fine, I mean it's okay ... if that's what Frank wants.'

GOT WRECKED

* F1 veteran David Coulthard 'got wrecked' after last year's race in Sao Paulo.

The Scot, who drives a McLaren, might have won the Brazilian Grand Prix if the race had not been stopped early following a massive crash near the end.

DC told reporters that he drove back to his hotel and drank the mini-bar.

* Minardi chief Paul Stoddart thinks he has got another Mark Webber or Fernando Alonso on his hands at the wheel of a black back-of-the-grid PS04B F1 car.

Roman Gianmaria (Gimmi) Bruni is highly-rated by the Australian.

'Obviously we'll struggle but we'll put in a credible performance,' he said in Melbourne. 'But I think we might just have another little superstar.'

* German racer Ralf Schumacher has denied speculation that he's relieved to see the back of his defecting BMW-Williams team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya.

'I have never said that,' he told The Guardian. 'I think it's a shame to lose Juan and it's even more disappointing that he is moving to a strong team.'








Button Wants To Win With Schu
Jenson Button would prefer to win his first Formula One world championship while reigning grand prix pacesetter Michael Schumacher is still on the grid.

'I want to win while he's still driving,' the English BAR-Honda ace told The People, 'otherwise people will say I could only win because he wasn't around.'

24-year-old Button's racing-boss is so confident that JB will be on the pace in Albert Park that he's broken a life-long abstinence of the gambling bookies.

'I have never, ever bet on anything in my life,' said Dave Richards, 'but I thought this one was worth at least a thousand quid, so I did it.'

Richards said he got 66/1 on Takuma Sato and 33/1 on Button.

COLLAPSE IN DESPAIR

* McLaren chief Ron Dennis won't collapse in despair if David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen are not on the pace this weekend at the wheel of the new MP4-19.

'In the next few months,' he said, 'we've got an extremely intensive development programme which will unfold. It will give us added competitiveness.'

* Eddie Jordan is pleased to start his F1 team's 'fight-back' in Melbourne.

'It's a joy to visit,' said the Irishman, 'I adore the atmosphere and having the track inside the city - it gets the adrenaline pumping like nothing else.'

Likewise, former Jordan star and Sauber's new recruit Giancarlo Fisichella likes Australia, the city of Melbourne, and the 'quite challenging' Albert Park track.

'I have a good feeling with the C23,' said the Italian. 'I'm feeling optimistic we can qualify well and hopefully score some points straight away.'

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