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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
March 4, 2004


Iceman Can Melt Schumacher
An 'iceman' can wrestle the Formula One title out of Michael Schumacher's hands.

That's the message grand prix racing's hot-shot hawked around-town on Wednesday as drivers geared-up for the weekend's season-opening action at Albert Park.

24-year-old Kimi Raikkonen, the monosyllabic McLaren driver, attended a Mercedes-Benz event in Melbourne and was interviewed after signing autographs.

'There's only one way to go,' said the Finn, 'and that is to win the championship. But it depends on the package and a bit of luck as well.'

Despite earlier worrying about the pace and reliability of his new MP4-19, Raikkonen is now thinking about challenging for wins 'at every race.

NOT ON TOP FORM

'That is the aim, just one aim,' Kimi continued, 'but it's difficult to say after testing where we really are. But I guess we'll see this weekend.'

Raikkonen said he had only spoken to his German-born rival 'a few times' in three years of F1 racing but said Michael Schumacher is a 'nice guy.

'None of us really hate each other,' Kimi quipped.

F1 legend Stirling Moss relaxed in the 33-degree heat by wearing a Hawaiian shirt but he's not so sure that runner-up Raikkonen can go one-better in 2004.

'He's one of my favourites,' said the knighted former driver, 'but I don't think he's going to do it here. It doesn't appear that McLaren are yet on top form.'

* Elsewhere in Melbourne, Jordan rookie Giorgio Pantano rode a mountain-bike around the Albert Park lay-out. 'It looks okay,' said the Roman. 'Quite fast.'

Sauber's new-look line-up including Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa, meanwhile, appeared on Bert Newton's TV show 'Good Morning Australia'.

'That's a bit too long a pause,' Newton beamed after asking veteran Fisichella if he's ever had an argument with his 22-year-old Brazilian team-mate.








Minardi's Spare-Car Vacant In Oz?
Minardi's spare-car might stay vacant on Friday even if Belgian driver Bas Leinders was yesterday announced as the Formula One team's official reserve.

At a low-key 'launch' at Pete's Bar in Albert Park, Paul Stoddart's back-of-the-grid team unwrapped the PS04B which is title-sponsored by Dutch company Wilux.

Tiago Monteiro, from Portugal, was announced as another Minardi tester but he will only 'dovetail' the part-time role with a full season in Super Nissan.

'I'm proud of the fact that Minardi is still here,' said Stoddart, 'fighting and still doing its best to uphold the honour of the independent teams.'

The Australian said he would be 'more than happy' with five points all season and retaining the 'Status Quo' of barely qualifying for all 18 grands prix.

He added that Wilux Benelux had secured the short-term future of Minardi.

NO SUPERLICENSE

Stoddart said there was a 'slight issue' with Leinders' super-license because he has not completed the requisite three-hundred kilometres of F1 test-mileage.

If he is to drive tomorrow, the Belgian needs an unanimous call from several rival team principals and the likes of Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley.

'It is not confirmed,' Bas said in Melbourne. 'The deal was made late. I'll drive in Malaysia but I'm disappointed. My CV is good but rules are rules.'

Minardi's new title-sponsor Wilux, who joined in 2003 when Jos Verstappen was race-pilot, said sales had increased almost double through exposure in F1.

Stoddart said the bathroom-brand had increased its support 'significantly.'

Brand-new UK-based drink brand 'X' has also joined as a team sponsor, and 27-year-old pay-driver Tiago Monteiro is a second official non-Friday test-ace.

* Stoddart said he hoped to capitalize on the poor engine reliability of some more competitive teams to sneak out of his birth-city with a point or two.








On Your Bike, Mike
With eleven world championships between them, Michael Schumacher and former motorcycling ace, Australian Mick Doohan, set off for the Melbourne hills.

Doohan picked-up the Ferrari-driving star, who later had lunch at the Wild Oak Café, in a helicopter before tearing-up the Dandenongs on two Harley-Davidsons.

Mick and Michael became friends when they were neighbors in Monaco.

Their V-Rod entourage included another former 500cc star Daryl Beattie, Schumacher's manager Willi Weber and a few other close friends of the pair.

NEW CHALLENGE

Doohan backed-up Schumacher's quest for a seventh F1 title-crown.

'When I was riding,' said the Aussie, 'it was a new challenge to go for another one, even if you'd won others in the past. Just to see if you can do it again.'

* Brother Ralf, who drives for BMW-Williams, claimed that the gap between Schu Senior and the rest of the pack is getting smaller with every passing season.

'He's still the benchmark,' 28-year-old Schumacher said, 'but I think the rivals are catching up. Still, eighteen full races stand in front of my dream.'

* Renault's pair of Formula One drivers Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso warmed-up for the Grand Prix with a game of tennis against a pair of Aussie legends.

At Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club, former Oz tennis coach John Alexander said both Italian and Spaniard were 'good athletes' even if their technique needs work.








Storm Brews Over F1 Team 'Collusion'
A storm is brewing in the Formula One pit lane.

Team sources are reporting that a group of Formula One principals are unhappy that Sauber's new race-version is almost a carbon-copy of the Ferrari F2003-GA.

Jaguar chief Tony Purnell told the Evening Standard that the world champions could potentially be 'made stronger' by making Sauber their supporting-act.

He said Ferrari may 'have access' to all the technical information and feedback of 'Team B' by effectively having four near-identical cars running in the race.

UNCANNILY SIMILAR

Sauber's race-pilots are also likely to test works Ferrari cars in 2004.

Martin Whitmarsh, managing director at top-team McLaren, has studied photos of the two grand prix cars in question and said 'they certainly look similar.'

Purnell reckons the C23 is 'uncannily similar' to last year's scarlet racer.

Sources close to the governing FIA insist that a protest of the cooperation is brewing although a spokesman said an inspection left everything 'above board'.

Ferrari-powered Sauber, meanwhile, are adamant that C23 is a distinct vehicle.

A spokesman said the wheelbase is two inches shorter than the Ferrari F2004 and other sources explained how detail-changes appear to make the design legal.

* Efforts to promote the Malaysian GP have been struck by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Haji Ahmad Badawi's declaration of an impending general election.

'Everything is already on track,' Sepang manager Ahmad Mustafa countered. 'Promotions will go on and we remain committed to ... this national agenda.'








Coulthard Eyes Toyota, BMW-Williams
Embattled Formula One driver David Coulthard has earmarked Toyota and BMW-Williams as his ideal destinations after a nine-year tenure at top-team McLaren.

The Scot said in Melbourne that Cologne-based Toyota, with the biggest budget in pitlane, is a 'team moving forwards' and one that now needs a 'winning driver.'

'They are committed to the long term,' DC told reporters.

Clearly, however, any switch to red overalls depends on whether Toyota stick with veteran Olivier Panis but also, crucially, on Williams ace Ralf Schumacher.

Team adviser Ove Andersson said that if the possible Williams-refugee and David knocked on the factory-door, Toyota would listen most attentively for a German.

'I would love to drive again for Williams,' said DC who debuted in 1994.

IN MY HANDS

'This season it's in my hands to show I can still do it. Taking something lower down the grid isn't really an option. I enjoy what I do and I'm good at it.'

David said he found-out last July that Juan Pablo Montoya would be taking his seat in 2005 but isn't hurt because he has no emotional attachment to McLaren.

The 32-year-old also snubbed the advice of 1996 champ Damon Hill that he should stick two-fingers up to Ron Dennis and now drive as selfishly as possible.

'There's no reason for me to spit the dummy,' he said. 'Why do I have to be a rude c*nt out of the car when I've demonstrated what I can do inside of it?'

* David said he felt 'pretty good' when he gave Michael Schumacher the finger whilst performing an overtaking maneuver at Magny-Cours a few years ago.

* Technology-brand AMD, which has a logo on the rear-wing endplates of the F2004, has extended its contract with F1 team Ferrari through to season 2006.

* Michael Schumacher ferried a lucky youngster in a two-seater go-kart at 'Shell House' on Thursday before meeting with the press in race-city Melbourne.








Ferrari Eye Alonso
Renault's current pacesetter Fernando Alonso, of Spain, is a candidate to succeed Michael Schumacher as Ferrari's number-one Formula One driver.

That was the declaration of scarlet chief Luca di Montezemolo on Wednesday but he was quick to note that Schumacher is under-contract for three more seasons.

'We can take our time in looking for a suitable driver,' said the president, who is to remain in Maranello while the season-opening Australian GP is raced.

GREAT POTENTIAL

Montezemolo told Stern: 'There is no need to rush. Ferrari has no space for inexperienced drivers but Alonso has great potential for the future.'

The Italian said Flavio Briatore's 22-year-old find, who became F1's youngest-winner last season in Hungary, is similar to Schumacher in his Benetton days.

'... A fantastic talent that needs time,' Luca explained.

Montezemolo added that Michael, 35, will definitely end his grand prix career at Ferrari but expects the highly-rated German to keep driving for 'many years.'

He and Brazilian team-mate Rubens Barrichello are under-contract to 2006.

* Fiat president Umberto Agnelli passed-on his good wishes to Ferrari.

He said of the opening-round in Melbourne: 'It will be hot for the [Bridgestone] tyres and we must wait to see how they will behave in such conditions.

'I still think it's hard for the opposition to beat Ferrari.'








Mum And Dad Miss Mark
Rising Formula One sensation Mark Webber's mum and dad miss him.

Alan Webber said near Melbourne on Wednesday that their Jaguar-driving son and Australia's only grand prix star spent just one night at 'home' last week.

'This time he only got back [to Queanbeyan] for one night,' the car-yard owner told local newspapers, 'so you do really appreciate that time when it comes.'

Webber, 27, is based in a village near Northampton (England).

FOLLOWS CIRCUS

The Queanbeyan-born star's father actually spends a bit of time following Webber to the world's Formula One race-tracks but mum, Di, doesn't enjoy the life.

'She doesn't see that much of him,' Alan lamented.

'But it's great to see him out there doing so well.'

Mark Webber has a bit of advice for young-guns trying to tread in his footsteps.

'Australian talent is impressive,' he said, 'but you guys (the drivers) have to do something too. You have to believe in yourself and the people around you.

'You have to go to Europe early, and then Australia should support them.'

Webber denied that he had spent his life trying to join 'the club' presently dominated by Michael Schumacher in order to earn money and land model-babes.

'I'm a relatively private guy,' said Mark. 'I like to be remembered for my driving, not for what I get up to off the track. So I keep it pretty simple.'

* Albert Park has a reputation for breaking cars, but statistics actually show that it is outside the top-ten Formula One tracks to host technical faults.

* Fernando Alonso is fetching odds of 22/1 to become F1's youngest champion.








Walrus Made Montoya Gasp
Driving-star Juan Pablo Montoya gasped in horror when technical director Patrick Head showed him the last BMW-Williams Formula One car he would ever drive.

The FW26, penned by Gavin Fisher, features a tusk-like front-end section to compliment the novel approach to monocoque chassis design known as 'twin keel'.

'I was pretty amazed when I saw it,' Montoya, the Colombian, said at Sandown race-track on Wednesday shortly before storming-out during a TV PR-stunt.

JPM added of the 'walrus' nose: 'I thought, 'what are they doing?' That was my first impression. But now I don't say that - it really seems to work.

MORE STABLE

'The car felt a little bit more stable straight away.'

Montoya, 27, also warned his supporters not to panic if the BMW-powered racer falls behind the pace of reigning world champion team Ferrari at Albert Park.

'It wouldn't mean they are going to win it all,' he smiled. 'But at the same time if we beat them it is not time to start saying 'ok it's all over'.'

* McLaren's second test-driver Pedro de la Rosa has abandoned a corporate line to predict BMW-Williams ace Juan Pablo Montoya as the 2004 world champion.

'I don't think Ferrari are going to win,' the Spaniard told Marca. 'Firstly because of tyres but because BMW-Williams' new car seems to be going well.'

* The wife of Montoya, Connie, was photographed giving BMW-Williams team-mate Ralf Schumacher's wife Cora a friendly hug-and-kiss at Albert Park on Thursday.

* For the first time at a grand prix, all team merchandise - about $3.5 million worth - is to be sold from the same store at Melbourne's Albert Park circuit.








Want To Feel F1's Rush?
Want to experience the sheer thrill of driving a 900-horsepower Formula One car?

Just hop into a 100cc go-kart, according to Renault F1 star Jarno Trulli.

For the first time in a few years, the Italian driver did a few laps in a kart built by his own company at Geelong's Beckley Park Kart Way (near Melbourne).

'I can tell you it's so tough, like you wouldn't believe,' he said.

'It's an extremely good feeling driving one of these.

'It doesn't matter how fast you're going, the feeling you get when you go quickly in a corner in one of these is as good as driving a F1 car at 200kmh.'

RACE WINNER

Trulli, 30, agreed with local reporters who mused that his Enstone-based grand prix team's new R24 race-car looks potentially capable of winning races.

'Winning would be good,' he smiled.

'But I'd be happy on the podium. I think the best steps have been made on the engine but the chassis is also a lot better than the one we had last year.'

* Kimi Raikkonen lived-up to his reputation as the 'iceman' in Melbourne.

The young McLaren star, runner-up champion in 2003, wasn't too interested in a question probing the significance of a sun-like tattoo on his right wrist.

'Nothing,' he croaked. 'It's just a tattoo.'

And when asked about the arrival of feisty Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya to the sister silver Mercedes-powered cockpit in 2005: 'I don't mind.

'It changes nothing. I'll try to beat him but I'll do exactly the same thing.'








Minardi Stand Firm On Threat
Aussie-born Formula One boss of Minardi, Paul Stoddart, is standing-firm on a threat to throw a huge spanner in the works of his grand prix-winning rivals.

He warned that if five F1-manufacturers don't make-good on a promise to offer affordable engines, he'll retract his crucial support for traction-control.

'There was an absolute commitment in writing, a signed commitment from the team principles on April 29 last year,' he told reporters in Federation Square.

Stoddart said he had received 'not one penny' of engine assistance to date, and re-affirmed his deadline of Friday for a new binding agreement on the deal.

'Ford have supported Minardi enormously through their Cosworth engine supply,' said Paul, 48, 'but the others are just not coming in line.'

JORDAN SUPPORT?

The Minardi boss gave notice that Eddie Jordan might also join the party and said the governing FIA could not ignore the withdrawal of technical support.

Stoddart appeased F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone's request that he put away Minardi's begging-bowl by insisting the he can 'afford' to go without cheap engines.

But he said car R&D would suffer in the help's wake.

'The testing will get cut,' said Stoddart, 'the wind tunnel will get cut.'

* American beer-brand Budweiser has renewed its deal with F1 team BMW-Williams.

A statement revealed that the 'Bud' logo will not only appear on the FW26's airbox this season but also on the monocoque-tops and the drivers' gloves.

'Our first season in Formula One has been a great experience,' said parent company Anheuser-Busch's global media and marketing vice president Tony Ponturo.







Changes To F1 Rule-Book: Symonds
Sunday's season-opening Australian GP at temporary street-circuit Albert Park heralds a new raft of changes to the Formula One rules and regulations.

Executive director of engineering at Renault Pat Symonds talks some through, starting with the reduction of the number of allowed elements in the rear-wing.

'Originally, [it] brought about a loss of downforce of about six percent,' he said, 'but work in the wind tunnel means we've actually got more downforce now.'

The single-engine per weekend regulation is the most dramatic change for 2004.

An engine-failure will result in a ten grid-spot demotion.

NO PROBLEMS

'The team has been working on this constraint for just over a year now,' Symonds continues, 'but we've completed now five weekend distances without problems.'

Launch-control and automatic gear-changes are banned, and to ensure fair play, the governing FIA has placed a black-box recorder in every grand prix car.

'Jarno and Fernando have had plenty of practice [of manual starts],' he said.

Symonds thinks the increase in pitlane speed-limit to 100kmh might make the difference between opting for a three-stop strategy over a traditional two.

And, finally, final qualifying all takes-place on Saturday, no longer on Friday as well, with two back-to-back sessions separated by a two-minute interval.

'We'll have to react extremely quickly,' said Pat, 'so that if there's an incident, we'll alter our race strategy in the space of a few minutes.'

* Christie's of London is to auction a Lotus race-suit, worn by late F1 champion Ayrton Senna to victory in the US Grand Prix of 1987, for around $25,000.








What Do F1 Drivers Do In Spare Time?
Formula One drivers can do more than take a corner at 250 kilometres per hour.

Spanish sensation Fernando Alonso, the sport's youngest-ever winner, picked up the skill of performing magic-tricks with a pack of cards when at school.

'Since then it's something I've always loved doing,' he told The Guardian.

Renault team-mate Jarno Trulli is a keen maker of red-wine and tends to his own vineyards near his home-town in Italy when not tearing-up the race-tracks.

His full-bodied 'Podere Castorani' can be bought in Britain.

'The whole process ... can't be hurried,' Trulli insisted.

Another racing-Italian, Sauber's new-recruit Giancarlo Fisichella, is a dab-hand at making pizza and has an authentic pizza-oven at his villa just outside Rome.

WELCOME CHANGE

'The result is always crisp and juicy,' said a friend.

World champion Michael Schumacher's other passion is on the soccer-pitch and the German is often seen scoring a goal or two for local Swiss club Echichens.

He says: 'It's a welcome change from my normal training.'

McLaren tester Alex Wurz, in Melbourne this weekend, is a champion mountain-bike rider but the team's race ace Kimi Raikkonen always preferred ice-hockey.

'When I was younger, I had to choose,' said the Finn. 'I went for motor racing because it meant I didn't have to get up quite so early in the morning.'

David Coulthard owns and runs a five-star Monte-Carlo hotel in his spare-time.

'I don't have any direct hands-on or management control,' said the Scot, 'but I do like to look around and make sure everything is just right.'

McLaren chief Ron Dennis collects old microscopes and, now that Frank Williams' jogging-days are over, the Briton records aircraft-registration numbers.








Ecclestone: New Rules Were 'Mistake'
Formula One racing-supremo Bernie Ecclestone has admitted that F1's introduction of a sweeping raft of new regulations ahead of last season was a 'mistake'.

The 73-year-old Briton said the modified code for 2004 is designed to smooth-off any rough-edges but still produce another close year of grand prix races.

Key-changes this season include the restoration of Friday practice, back-to-back qualifying on Saturday and the complete scrapping of 'Heathrow testing.'

'We're always changing, trying to improve all the time,' he told the BBC.

'We hope when we make mistakes we're man enough to admit it and change.'

Ecclestone said Formula One's recent 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 points-system might mean that the winner of the world championship may not have won the most grands prix.

GOOD FOR THE SPORT

'So it may be interesting,' he concluded.

Bernie also fended-off a critics' chorus urging reigning six-times world champion Michael Schumacher to retire by insisting he's 'good for the sport'.

'Michael will be competitive whatever happens,' Ecclestone said, 'so he should keep going for as long as he wants. He enjoys his racing and we need him.'

* Nick Heidfeld has sided with those weather-men who reckon a few rain-clouds should linger-around over Melbourne right up until Sunday afternoon.

The Jordan driver said, whilst admitting that the EJ14 has many technical faults: 'I'll smile if it rains. Our tyres might be better than the others.'

* As predicted on Wednesday, an altercation did indeed take place after Juan Pablo Montoya stormed out of an Allianz press conference near Melbourne.

Officials tried to prevent the Colombian from leaving the function and one of his aides was thrown against a glass door, according to one eyewitness.

28-year-old Montoya then banged the door with his fist and left the venue, leaving Jack Brabham's racing-son, Geoff, to complete his PR driving-duties.








Glock Nervous About F1 Debut
Timo Glock is nervous about his debut as a Formula One 'Friday test driver'.

The young German has been signed-on by cash-strapped team Jordan to drive the spare-chassis at Albert Park and offer crucial feedback to the race aces.

'I've driven at Barcelona,' said Glock, 'but of course never on the weekend of a race and I will be a lot more nervous. There'll be maybe 50,000 more people.'

* David Richards will try to emulate the boss-driver relationship of Frank Williams and Nigel Mansell with his own young British star, Jenson Button.

PRESUMPTUOUS

The BAR-Honda principal said the target might be 'a bit presumptuous' but the aim of achieving something like their 28 race-wins is a very worthy goal.

* Jordan's new driving-recruit Nick Heidfeld has vowed to try and slot his struggling Silverstone-based team into the top-five constructors this year.

'It's realistic that we get close to Sauber,' said the German, 'but with the new qualifying format, which I don't like, you don't really know how fast you are.'

* A spokesman for Trust Computers appeared to confirm speculation that 'radio-silence' has now been cast against the company's spat with Jos Verstappen.

Jos, having failed to land a race-drive at Jordan, threatened legal-action against his former backer when it tried to sign a private deal with the F1 team.

* Without restrictive regulations, a modern F1 car would have six-wheels.

So says BMW-Williams engineer Frank Dernie who told The Guardian that it is 'sad' that so many 'interesting technologies' have been banned by the FIA.
 

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