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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
March 3, 2004


Coulthard As Comedian On 'Rove'
David Coulthard as an astronaut? DC the stand-up-comedian, more like.

The veteran Scot appeared on late-night television show 'Rove Live' on Tuesday and launched his plan to make it a hat-track of career-wins in Melbourne.

But any seriousness had to wait for a bit of joking-around.

Asked if his fitness-regime involves 're-entry' training done by astronauts, the 32-year-old replied: 'Well, I like to practice re-entry as often as possible.

'My girlfriend is watching this back at the hotel so hopefully that's her cue.'

TOO EXTREME

But Coulthard, who'll drive his last of nine F1 seasons with McLaren in 2004, got serious when asked about a near-fatal plane crash in France (2000).

'You normally don't walk away from something like that,' he said. 'I guess it was a wake-up call. But the thought of not racing again was never an issue.'

DC revealed that the first people on the crash-scene, with two dead bodies and a smouldering-wreck in the background, only wanted to check his passport.

He asked Rove, 'Can you believe that? I knew you loved the French down here!'

* F1 team BMW-Williams and well-known Icelandic-owned toy-shop Hamleys have announced a ground-breaking new deal for the development of F1-style toys.

The Hamley-logo is also to appear on the novel FW26 racers from Friday.








Webber Pulls Doughnuts
In preparation of his third home grand prix, Jaguar star Mark Webber pulled a few doughnuts in his F1 car near Sydney's fabled Opera House on Tuesday.

Later, the 27-year-old boarded a plane bound for Essendon Airport, near Melbourne, with partner Ann Neal and Jaguar board-member Sir Jackie Stewart.

His old Minardi boss Paul Stoddart reckons Australia should have its first Formula One world champion since Alan Jones (1980) in two or three years.

'I'm sort of tipping [Mark] to go to Williams,' said Paul, 'so I think if that happens it would not be unrealistic to expect him to be champion by '06 or '07.'

WORLD CHAMPION

Webber said later: 'Well he knows more than me! We'll cross those bridges as and when we come to them. But it's nice that Stoddy is giving me some support.'

Closer to home, Webber thinks points are attainable at Albert Park.

'... If we can finish, with clean stops and no mistakes on my behalf.'

Jackie Stewart, founder of Jaguar's pre-green guise and a former triple world champion, warned observers against expecting 'too much too soon' from Mark.

'We've got to give him time and his career time,' said the Scot. 'But all the right messages are there. Certainly the new R5 has shown some good pace.'

* Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has delivered a message of 'passion' from Maranello (Italy) ahead of the weekend's season-opener in Australia.

'The time of truth for the work we already have done is this weekend,' the Italian claimed. 'We're motivated and concentrated to achieve our target'.








Best Drivers Not In Formula One
Formula One does not boast the best race-drivers on earth.

The myth that grands prix sorts out the 'best of the best' was exploded by Renault's young winner Fernando Alonso as the Spaniard prepares for season-2004.

He said in Melbourne: 'I raced in go-karts with maybe 15 to 20 better drivers than we have now in F1. They're not here because they didn't have the luck.'

Alonso, 22, countered the widespread belief that he, Kimi Raikkonen, Juan Pablo Montoya and Mark Webber make-up the 'best drivers' of the new race-generation.

MONEY OR LUCK

'I don't think so,' he said. 'The best drivers aren't in F1 because they didn't have the money or the luck. I have to admit I had the luck and the chance.'

Fernando won a lucrative sponsorship when still in karts and was nudged into open-wheelers where he earned the eye of manager and F1 boss Flavio Briatore.

'I thought I would stay in karts all my life,' he smiled, 'so in my career, I realise that I have been pretty lucky and I am still lucky right now today.'

Alonso denies that more pressure is on him this Formula One season even if most pundits predict that his new Renault R24 race-car will be up with the best.

He asked: 'How can I feel it? If the car is good I'll do a good race and if it's bad it will not be so good. I just put in maximum effort all the time.'

* McLaren has signed a long-term contract with German-based company Eisenmann for the supply of a Paint Technology System to colour the F1 car's livery.

'With our move to a new headquarters this season,' said team principal and McLaren CEO Ron Dennis, 'we need to have strong, dedicated partners.'








Lauda Predicts Winners And Losers
German star Ralf Schumacher will get 'more support' from his grand prix team this season than defecting BMW-Williams team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya.

That's just one of former triple world champion Niki Lauda's verdicts as the Austrian great hypothesised the probable winners and losers of Formula One 2004.

'If Montoya gets annoyed, his performance could go down,' Niki told The Independent in reference to the Colombian's announced-switch to McLaren in 2005.

Lauda added: 'And Ralf has got to prove how good he is.'

Niki believes that Ferrari's success depends on the F2004 car, and even more on its Bridgestone tyres. 'Michael will be the same as always,' he continued.

FUNNY CARS

'But it isn't going to be easy for him. Rubens can handle 'funny' cars better.'

55-year-old Lauda doesn't yet know if McLaren's novel approach to 'modifying' its failed 2003 car for the new Formula One season was a good or bad move.

'But I think it will be close between them [and Williams],' he added.

The Austrian believes Renault will again be 'handicapped' on engine-power and observers shouldn't read too much into BAR-Honda's great pre-season test pace.

Meanwhile, Toyota are to benefit from the multi-million dollar 'pinching' of Mike Gascoyne from Renault, who is sure to come with 'plenty of information.'

Lauda said: 'I definitely expect them to improve.'

Likewise, Sauber will 'do better' than in 2003, Niki reckons Jordan has '60 percent' more money, and he thinks Minardi are able to survive the full season.








Around And About In Melbourne
Melbourne local and Minardi boss Paul Stoddart rode on a tram with new drivers Zsolt Baumgartner, Gimmi Bruni, and a swarm of 'grid girls' and 'track guys.'

Elsewhere on Tuesday, pint-sized Jordan aces Nick Heidfeld and Giorgio Pantano were at the city's 'Aquatic Centre' shooting-hoops with a couple of 'Giants.'

Pantano's 'slam-dunk' could only be achieved when he was given a boost.

Renault sensation Fernando Alonso kicked an 'AFL' football at a press conference with local team Western Bulldogs but admitted he was out of his league.

KICKS 'FOOTY'

After being presented with a customized jersey bearing the name of 'Alonso', the young Spaniard was asked what he knew about AFL: 'Er ... well, nothing!'

But he wowed the journalists by showing-off his soccer-skills.

Over at Phillip Island, the world MotoGP track not far from Melbourne, David Coulthard spun a few doughnuts in a $270,000 Mercedes-AMG CLK55 convertible.

The Scot welcomed news that late bike-legend Barry Sheene, an adopted Aussie, would be honored at Albert Park by his widow waving the chequered-flag.

'That's great,' said the McLaren driver, 'and I hope to do my part for him on Sunday afternoon when I'm the first one to see Stephanie up there!'

* One of the rookies on the Albert Park grid, Christian Klien, outlined an ambition to finish Sunday's race and learn 'a lot' from his Jaguar team-mate.

The 20-year-old Austrian said: 'And with Mark Webber as my very good team-mate and with a pretty good car, I think I can learn a lot off him.'







Lauda: Last Year's Jaguar Was Mine
Niki Lauda has claimed ownership of last year's Jaguar Racing F1 contender.

The Austrian was fired as Milton-Keynes' boss in late-2002 but he notes that R4, steered by Mark Webber to 7th in the '03 title, was built under his guidance.

'[Jaguar] was much more competitive with 'my' car in 2003 than with the car I inherited while I was there,' said the former triple world champion.

AUSTRIA VS. BRITAIN

Lauda told The Independent that this season, with Tony Purnell in the big-boots at Jaguar, will reveal whether the British 'do it better' than the Austrians.

But there will be an Austrian at the wheel of Purnell's new R5.

'Everyone expects a lot from Christian Klien,' said Lauda, 'but it will be a learning year. I hope they treat him better than they did Antonio Pizzonia.'

* According to speculation, the rain clouds might gather to give defending race-champion David Coulthard a wet Albert Park circuit to drive-on this Sunday.

But alternate weather sources in Melbourne insist that hot weather in Australia on Wednesday will stick-around on Thursday before 26-degrees descends on Friday.

The opening day of office practice, however, might be affected by rain and isolated thunder-storms but these should clear for a partly cloudy qualifying.

Sunday's race will be overcast but dry, the weather source explained.








How Badly Does Williams Want Button?
F1 team BMW-Williams has to decide how much it wants Jenson Button.

Principal and owner Sir Frank Williams admitted that if he wanted the Englishman to return to Grove, he would have to buy-out a contract 'option' owned by BAR.

'I can't make any comment on this,' he told The Guardian.

'But on the face of it we can't get him if BAR takes up its option.'

Technical director Patrick Head outlined his 'very high regard' for the 24-year-old who supposedly blew the socks off ex-champion Jacques Villeneuve in '03.

NOT INADEQUATE

JB also gave 2000 Williams team-mate Ralf Schumacher a run for his money.

Head continued: 'Qualifying the FW22 3rd on the grid at Spa on your first visit, and ahead of your team-mate, is not something that an inadequate driver does.'

Button recalls his Formula One debut at Albert Park, in a Williams, well.

'The first time I drove out on the circuit,' he said, 'I was behind Michael. It was weird. I had just turned 20, the leaves were everywhere, it was cool.'

* Privateer F1 team Sauber has signed a long-term agreement with Zurich-based company AdNovum Informatik to host the Swiss team's official internet website.

* David Coulthard knows that if he is to win the world championship this season, first he has to dispense with highly-rated McLaren team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.

'I have to beat him, of course,' the Scot said in Phillip Island. 'In our first season together I was better but last year he was much stronger than me.'








F1 Rookies Gear-Up For Melbourne
Three young and ambitious Formula One drivers are to make their Formula One race-debuts on Australia's Albert Park circuit near Melbourne this Sunday.

Hungarian Zsolt Baumgartner might also be put into the 'rookie hat' as he has only steered a Jordan twice in grands prix, in Hungary and Italy last season.

Minardi's new F1 line-up, then, is typically fresh.

Baumgartner said he and all-new Italian team-mate Gianmaria Bruni raced together in the Formula Renault Eurocup: 'He won the series, I came third,' he added.

POINTS ARE POSSIBLE

The youngster scoffed at claims that points aren't possible in a Minardi.

'If we have luck or if we have a wet race we can get into the points,' he said.

Bruni, who often tested Minardi cars at grands prix last season, said his first proper Formula One race in Melbourne this Sunday will be 'emotional.'

The Roman added: 'I used to watch GP on the telly so it's a great feeling that now I'm on the track. I hope to do what Webber did and get some points.'

Jordan's Giorgio Pantano, who only secured the Ford-powered drive mere days ago, set himself a formidable target for his first race at the pinnacle of racing.

'I expect to finish,' said the Italian, 'and try to be in front of my team-mate Heidfeld. It's a good car and we think it can be better than the last one.'

* Jaguar's Aussie driving-ace Mark Webber is still grateful that countryman and Minardi boss Paul Stoddart gave him a start in Formula One two years ago.

'Paul probably put about $2.5 million into me,' said the 27-year-old on arrival in Melbourne, 'at a time when I didn't have two pennies to rub together.'








DC Surprised At McLaren Dump
Racing veteran David Coulthard has outlined his surprise at the way Formula One team McLaren revealed that he's to be replaced by Juan Pablo Montoya in 2005.

'It's ... unusual to have an announcement so early,' the Scot said on a promotional visit to race-track Phillip Island near Melbourne on Tuesday.

'It's a new thing for F1 but it takes away nothing from the job at hand.'

32-year-old Coulthard's current teammate Kimi Raikkonen is almost certain to remain at McLaren beyond this season and race alongside Montoya in 2005.

'I do not base my performance on column inches,' Coulthard insisted.

EYES CHAMPIONSHIP

'If the car is capable of consistent winning then I believe I can do it. In that way I absolutely believe I can beat Michael and be world champion.'

DC said he intended to be in a 'competitive seat' next season.

He also played-down speculation that his new MP4-19 is any more hampered by niggling technical-dramas than most other teams in F1's pit lane.

'I've seen them all [in testing] on the back of a truck,' said Coulthard.

* The Twynholm-born star ruled-out a post-GP twilight-career in Le Mans.

'I've done it, won it,' said Coulthard of his 1993 sports-car triumph.

* Aussie national and Toyota F1 test-driver Ryan Briscoe has vowed to stay-away from the 'playboy' side of the grand prix world and aim for the racing-grid.

'It used to be a far-away dream,' the Sydneysider said, 'but now F1 is almost a reality. You can't be partying all the time - it's all about attitude.'








BMW-Williams Unlikely To Set Pace
BMW-Williams is unlikely to set the pace at Albert Park later this week.

The team's boss Sir Frank Williams said Grove is in 'better shape' than last season but 'absolutely does not believe' Williams is the strongest yet.

'Ferrari and Renault are looking very strong,' said Frank, 'and I don't believe Ferrari are going to get it wrong. McLaren won't struggle, either.'

* Jordan's trio of Formula One drivers slipped on wetsuits on Wednesday to catch a few waves at Torquay, near Bells Beach, about 100kms south of Melbourne.

SURF'S UP

The visit was to catch-up with new sponsor Quicksilver and German driver Nick Heidfeld proved a dab-hand at surfing after only a few minutes of instruction.

'It was my first time,' he said after accidentally 'forgetting' to return his borrowed surf-gear to its owner, 'but it definitely won't be my last.'

* David Coulthard has played-down media speculation that rival Formula One team BAR-Honda set the pace with its nimble-new 006 in pre-season winter testing.

The McLaren star said some mid-field grand prix outfits were known to go 'sponsor hunting' by going out on the test-tracks with low levels of fuel.

* The pitlane speed-limit at Albert Park has been raised from 80 to 100km/h after the entry-road was straightened and shortened to shake-up race-strategy.

* Sunday's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne is the 150th Formula One race in British team McLaren's collaboration with German engine marque Mercedes-Benz.







Schu Writes-Off McLaren
And in one swift stroke, Michael Schumacher wrote-off McLaren.

'BMW-Williams and Renault could be the trickiest opponents,' the world champion said of the likely main challengers to his four consecutive drivers' crowns.

But what about Ron Dennis' Mercedes-powered outfit?

'That's just it,' said 35-year-old Schumacher in Melbourne.

'I referred to [the teams] without forgetting [McLaren].'

STRUGGLED

Michael said he had been impressed by Williams and Renault's results on the winter test-tracks which were consistently good 'right from the beginning.'

McLaren, meanwhile, have struggled with their novel-looking MP4-19.

Schumacher doesn't believe a new rule restricting each driver to the use of a single engine per weekend will lead to throttles being pressed any softer.

'I don't think we'll try to drive in a [overly] prudent way,' he added.

He scoffed at claims that, given his recent quick adaptation of new events in Malaysia and the United States, Bahrain and China are his for the taking.

'There will be many free sessions that will allow all the others to get to know the circuits,' said the German. 'All the drivers should be well-prepared.'

* Eddie Jordan has urged Michael Schumacher to call it quits.

The F1 team boss said it was a certainty that the German would soon be beaten 'and to see a man of such unbelievable talent left behind would be horrible.'








Coulthard Attacks Rule-Changes
David Coulthard has attacked Formula One's new-generation of regulations.

The Scottish veteran said he was 'surprised' that the sport's followers had not resisted single-lap qualifying, a format he notably struggled with last season.

McLaren's DC said one-lap qualifying does not show drivers at '100 percent.'

'Personally, I don't quite get it,' said David, 'because the whole thrill of driving a GP car is taking it round the track quicker than anyone else.'

He noted that a long-life engine rule is likely to force F1 teams to cut mileage on Fridays and is therefore not compatible with giving more to the spectators.

DO FANS MATTER?

Coulthard wonders: 'Do the spectators really matter? I think they do.'

He warned spectators not to bother turning-up for the first hour of practice 'because we'll probably only do an installation lap at the beginning.'

The 32-year-old added that if the rule-makers dilute the purity of grand prix racing too much, spectators who turned-on because of technology will turn-off.

'There are a lot of formulas out there that do great racing,' said Coulthard, 'but they don't have the worldwide appeal [of F1]. We like new technology.'

* An Italian minister has backed FIA boss Max Mosley's decision to move out of the European Union to protect himself from a controversial Arrest Warrants law.

Roberto Castelli, Minister of Justice, said the EAW is interfering with the lives of 'ordinary people' and was not 'properly thought out' by the Union.








Jaguar Knows What It's Doing: Webber
Mark Webber has tried, once and for all, to can media speculation that his all-new Jaguar Racing R5 challenger is not up to the task of points in 2004.

'The [press] made a meal out of the beginning,' said the Australian.

'But we knew what we were doing. It's very competitive.'

Milton-Keynes' 27-year-old ace is thought of as a front-runner for a vacant BMW-Williams seat in 2005 particularly as his current deal contains an 'out' clause.

Seat-rival Jenson Button, meanwhile, is under firm contract to BAR-Honda and buying it out, according to sources, would cost Sir Frank around $7 million.

LOFTY AMBITIONS

Webber admitted to lofty-ambitions in Formula One.

'I want to achieve my goals,' he said. 'I want race wins, I want to try and win a championship - but right now I'm grafting away. I've achieved nothing.'

He admitted that he succeeded where former team-mates Antonio Pizzonia and Justin Wilson failed because he felt fully 'ready' for the F1 challenge.

'This is not finishing school,' said Mark. 'You have to know what you're about from day one. If not, you can be exposed very quickly indeed.'

* Back-of-the-grid F1 team Minardi has signed two test-drivers for season-2004.

Bas Leinders, of Belgium, and Portuguese star Tiago Monteiro - both with commercial budgets - will share the 'third car' duties throughout the year.








Mosley, Senna, Made F1 Safer
Several decades ago, Max Mosley promised himself that if he ever got to a position of power in world motor racing, he'd do something about the danger.

'I remember in Formula Two many years ago,' he told The Guardian, 'there were 21 cars on the grid in April. By July three drivers were dead.

'The odds were like being in a front-line regiment in Vietnam.'

Today, Max Mosley is president of the governing FIA.

ONE-IN-THREE CHANCE

The Briton said that when he was a boss at March, if you made a list of all the grand prix drivers who had won a race, 'about one third of them were dead.'

'These days ... F1 is much safer because of Senna's death [in 1994].'

Martin Brundle, a former grand prix driver, made the above statement in reference to the work carried out since that 'black' weekend of a decade ago.

* Ralf Schumacher had to look twice when BMW-Williams technical director Patrick Head took him into a workshop at Grove to show him the new FW26 race-car.

He said: 'But I found it harder not being allowed to saying anything for four months. We needed to go in new directions because the older car was exhausted.'

* McLaren is still lagging-behind its rivals, according to Kimi Raikkonen.

But the driver, born in Finland and '03 runner-up, said the technical problems are 'not big' and the base-line of the new MP4-19 is 'very good' and 'stable.'








Montoya Has Lost His Rag
Not even a lap into the season, Juan Pablo Montoya has lost his rag.

The Colombian stormed out of a press conference on Wednesday when 'reporters' from a satirical Aussie program went to work on BMW-Williams' tetchy driver.

According to an observer, the Radio Triple-M personality asked 'stupid' and 'nonsensical' questions before loudly answering a mobile-phone call.

One question went something like this: 'If Juan could Juan (win) just Juan (one) Formula Juan (one) race which Juan (one) would Juan want to Juan (win)?'

When a second 'journalist' kept up the charade, JPM lost his patience.

He said, according to Reuters: 'Either it stops or I walk off.'

The reporter continued talking and asked Formula One's finely-tuned 28-year-old whether he'd like to play a round of golf with his race-fan mother.

ALTERCATION

JPM stormed-out and one report suggests that an 'altercation' took place.

Montoya's sponsor-day had been organized by team-backer Allianz but the Bogota-born driver powered-off in a BMW before he even started his responsibilities.

One of his duties was to drive a celebrity around the Sandown track.

'I guess Juan didn't appreciate the Australian sense of humor,' said Allianz Australia chief Greg Fisher. 'Basically this has ruined the day.'

Last year, Juan Pablo 'lost his rag' when a camera-man at a European grand prix accidentally bumped his equipment into the head of F1's finely-tuned driver.

* Earlier on Wednesday, JPM mused about Ferrari's rock-solid car reliability.

'It's always been very impressive,' said the Colombian, 'especially on Michael [Schumacher]'s car. I think that they will be as reliable as us.'

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