F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
March 5, 2004
F1 Drivers Hit Melbourne Town
Formula One's top drivers were arguably busier on the day leading-in
to the season-opening Australian Grand Prix than during first official
World champion Michael Schumacher made a few appearances, not least of
which at a Shell sponsor-event where he gave a seven-year-old boy a
lift in a go-kart.
'I just feel great,' he said before a media-scrum.
'I've won everything there is to win so it's pure pleasure now.'
Later, the German went 'head-to-head' with his Ferrari team-mate
Rubens Barrichello at a sponsor-event which tested their skills in
They shot hoops, putted golf balls and kicked through goals but the
highlight of the day was Schumacher chasing grid-girls with a bottle
of foaming champagne.
Back-of-the-grid Minardi drivers Zsolt Baumgartner and Gimmi Bruni
also enjoyed the girls as they joined Victorian governor John Landy at
Sir Stirling Moss, Sir Jack Brabham and Paul Stoddart were also there.
'It's great,' said Zsolt, 'a new thing in my life ... and great women
Boss Paul Stoddart worried that the Hungarian was having too-good a
time: 'I'm going to remind them that there's curfew in a few minutes.
It's a tough life!'
McLaren's three grand prix aces posed on the beach with last year's
MP4-17D version where David Coulthard spoke about his ninth annual
visit to Melbourne.
'I haven't been about in the town as much as in previous years,' said
the Scot. 'I've been here since Sunday but mainly just hanging around
at the hotel.'
Schu Has Eye On Barrichello
Never before has reining Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher
stared more intensely into his rear-view mirrors at a charging
The German said in Melbourne on Thursday that he is concerned with the
pace of Brazilian Rubens Barrichello who appears to be getting
'stronger and stronger.
'He's improved his game,' Michael smiled, 'but I just hope he stops it
FERRARI ON TOP
Barrichello, starting his fifth consecutive year at Scuderia Ferrari,
said it was 'nice' to hear the compliments from grand prix racing's
'Of course we're hoping that both drivers are on the pace,' said
Rubens, 'because the main aim is to put Ferrari as a team on top of
* Scot David Coulthard, who drives for McLaren-Mercedes, believes
Renault are most likely to challenge Ferrari and BMW-Williams starting
on Friday morning.
'They've taken a step forward,' he said of the Enstone-based ranks,
'but there are also some smaller teams coming up like BAR and Toyota.
'We could be anywhere from the front to the third or fourth row.'
* Struggling F1 team Minardi has announced the enhanced renewal of a
sponsorship-deal with Superfund, while MAC Tools become a BAR-Honda
* Michael Schumacher has weighed-in at 13-8 to take-out the F1
championship, but Juan Pablo Montoya might be a better-bet with Victor
Chandler at 4.1 odds.
Rain To Fall On Albert Park
Weather sources are forecasting rain for qualifying at Albert Park.
Cloudy skies saw Michael Schumacher lead the pace in opening (Friday)
practice and the sources maintain that rain should stay-away from
Australia all day.
Saturday, however, looks like being a different story altogether.
75 PERCENT CHANCE
Sources close to one team predicts a 75 percent chance of rain in
qualifying, including a top of 21-degrees, ahead of a mostly clear
Sunday and 19-degrees.
* Former Jos Verstappen sponsor Trust appears to have bucked legal
advice to finalize a sponsorship deal with Silverstone-based Formula
One team Jordan.
Team drivers Giorgio Pantano and Nick Heidfeld were photographed at
Albert Park on Thursday wearing yellow overalls with the Dutch
company's logo on the front.
* Jenson Button laughed-off suggestions that a few promotional laps at
the nearly-completed Bahrain F1 circuit has given him an advantage for
'Well, there wasn't any tarmac,' the BAR driver laughed. 'If we were
racing four-wheel drives, then maybe. But I had a great visit to the
* What would four F1 aces do if they had their grand prix careers
'Maybe an architect,' said Juan Pablo Montoya. 'My dad was one.'
Jenson Button would be a 'second-hand car salesman,' or maybe a 'stunt
driver,' as Montoya, the BMW-Williams driver, chimes in. 'Fighter
pilot?' says Button.
World champion Michael Schumacher would play soccer, but Jaguar's
Aussie star Mark Webber has his eye on the running of an
adventure-school in Tasmania.
'I'd also like to drink red wine and eat chocolate,' said the
Ecclestone Wants More F1 Races
Bernie Ecclestone would like to add more races to the Formula One
The grand prix impresario has touched-down in Melbourne for the
first-time in six racing-seasons and outlined his plan to cut non-race
'Testing costs them money,' he said, 'but if they stop it and do more
races, which they get paid for, I can't see a reason why we cannot
Bernie, 73, is also eyeing rule-changes to attract new teams to the F1
He accompanied his beautiful lady-wife, Slavica, to the Albert Park
circuit last night and said he wanted to give her a first-visit to the
land 'Down Under.'
Other observers reckon he was on more pertinent racing-business.
'Yeah, he wanted to check on me,' smiled grand prix chairman Ron
'Ron does a first-class job,' countered Ecclestone. 'Great guy, great
* Juan Pablo Montoya's wife Connie played a game-boy outside the
BMW-Williams F1 garage on Thursday but was asked if her husband was
affected by a 'joke' saga.
'He is OK, he is perfect,' the Colombian smiled.
* Michael Schumacher doubts that McLaren veteran David Coulthard can
pose a challenge to his world championship at the wheel of a MP4-19
'If a challenge comes from McLaren,' said the German, 'it comes from
Raikkonen. Kimi proved last year that he is faster than David. Still,
he's a nice guy.'
Button Wriggles On F1 Future
BAR's Jenson Button wriggled when asked if his F1 future lies at
The Briton sat next to outgoing Grove-ace Juan Pablo Montoya in the
FIA press conference and said he 'didn't have a choice' to switch
teams for 2005.
'It's difficult to say,' said Button, 24. 'All I can think about is
this year and no decision will ever be made until part of the way
through the year.'
Certainly, if JB's Honda-powered 006 powers onto the podium and looks
likely of challenging Williams for a future world title, the
Englishman will stay.
BAR AS WILLIAMS?
'I think there's a chance,' he added. 'We don't know if BAR will
become a Williams or not. Ask me in eight races if we are as strong as
we think we are.'
Button said he 'doesn't mind' which team he wins the championship
* Meanwhile, Juan Pablo Montoya confirmed speculation that an in-race
radio argument with BMW-Williams partly-triggered his 2005-switch to
'That all helped to make up my mind,' said the Colombian. 'It did piss
me off but I can tell you that I was already talking to Ron before
He likened the end to a four-year relationship with Sir Frank Williams
and Patrick Head as the point when dating a girl when it 'becomes too
* And Rubens Barrichello has rejected speculation that Ferrari was
'hiding' from its rivals over the winter period by doing most running
at Imola and Mugello.
'They're just close to the factory,' he smiled. 'The new car is
definitely better than the old one - more complete. It's difficult to
say exactly why.'
The Brazilian denied that Friday's practice-times can be analyzed as
the true pecking-order in Formula One because teams are running
'The same can even apply to Saturday qualifying,' said Rubens.
Out And About In Melbourne Town
Jenson Button reckons a podium-finish is on the cards in Australia.
The British ace, who steers a BAR, was at a pre-event Honda party on
Thursday night with his fiancÚ Louise, his dad and a few other
On the same day, boss Dave Richards had predicted JB's first top-three
'I didn't know that,' the 24-year-old smiled, 'but I think the car is
capable of it. We're quietly confident - the car's good in testing in
Button had a bite to eat and returned early to the Crown hotel.
BANKS OF RIVER
Giancarlo Fisichella spent his evening on the banks of the Yarra
'If we can score some points at first race,' said the Sauber-driving
Italian, 'then that is a good mental start to the rest of the Formula
Jaguar aces Mark Webber and Christian Klien were at a local Lawn Bowls
club being thrashed by a rival-team made up of a couple of Aussie
'Oh that's not very good,' Mark, the Australian, said after swinging.
'Let's hope that's not a sign of things to come,' smiled a reporter.
Webber fired back: 'Well ... it went quick enough!'
* Belgian test-ace Bas Leinders could not take-part in Friday practice
sessions at Albert Park on Friday because the FIA did not grant him a
A spokesman for the Minardi team told Reuters: 'Basically he did not
have the necessary mileage in championships that the FIA recognizes.'
Notes: Friday Practice 1
Michael Schumacher's second lap at Albert Park this season set a new
The Ferrari ace was two-seconds faster than his pole-position time of
2003 and more than 1.5 seconds quicker than the third-placed Renault
Felipe Massa's Sauber broke-down before he completed a timed-lap.
But a spokesman for the Swiss team said the Brazilian's C23 will be
ready for the second session and would escape penalty because it was
not an engine drama.
Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello only did nine combined laps while
the most active teams of the session were Toyota and Jordan with
JPM And McLaren No 'Heaven' Match
Montoya and McLaren is unlikely to be a match made in Formula One
That's the belief of Juan Pablo's current boss Sir Frank Williams who
said it's 'unfortunate' to lose the rated Colombian but may yet have
the last laugh.
He told The Guardian: '[He] and (McLaren boss) Ron Dennis will be like
two bulls in a field, sorting out their patch. It will be a case of
whose team is it.'
Montoya spat the dummy at a press conference earlier this week when he
failed to find the humour in a prank played by a couple of Aussie
'Frank [Williams] was ok with it,' said Juan. 'When they stopped being
professional there was no need for me to be there so I got up and
Ron Dennis, who will partner 28-year-old Montoya with Kimi Raikkonen
in 2005, said the BMW-Williams team should have 'stepped in' to
prevent the disturbance.
He told Reuters: 'Putting aside whether Juan Pablo's reaction was the
right one or not, it shouldn't have ever happened.'
Montoya 'doesn't care' if his behaviour reflected badly on Formula
He also confirmed that there was an altercation with the sponsors
behind closed (glass) doors at the Sandown race-track before he sped
off in a BMW road-car.
'It wasn't in front of anybody,' he said. 'I told them why I was
Shorts: Jordan Promotes Peace
Jordan's new EJ14 promoted peace at the Albert Park track on Friday.
Team chief Eddie Jordan explained that he has closed a deal with
Bahrain to promote a number of humanitarian causes on the yellow
'We welcome suggestions from fans ... as to what should be displayed
on the cars during the year,' he said, confirming a different emblem
at each grand prix.
Australia's emblem is of a peace-dove.
* Mark Webber is 'very happy' with his new Jaguar Racing R5
'We're chipping-away in a controlled manner,' said the Australian, 9th
fastest on Friday, 'and it's very disciplined testing. We are not
* Minardi boss Paul Stoddart has backed a proposed banning - or at
least a substantial restriction - of hugely-expensive track-testing in
'We plan to do about 35,000kms all year,' said the Ledbury-based
Australian at the Albert Park circuit, 'but some teams (in testing)
have already done that!'
BAR's Dave Richards agrees, describing the amount of testing completed
- with no spectators in the grandstands and minimal media interest -
'We need to be more global, therefore maybe we need more races,' he
* Michael Schumacher's race engineer, a Melbourne local Chris Dyer,
has mixed feelings about his trip 'home' to Australia for this
weekend's grand prix.
'It's quite hectic, this first race,' he said, 'especially as we've
got the new car here. So I don't get much time to meet up with my
family and friends.'
Shorts: Fans Brought Closer To F1
Mark Webber and the Grand Prix Drivers' Association intends to use
'karting' or 'football' in a new scheme designed to bring fans closer
to the F1 world.
'Michael [Schumacher] and I chatted a few weeks ago,' said the Jaguar
'We thought we'd use the pins idea with a raffle so a few fans can
come into the paddock and have a photo taken. We'll see if we can do
it at some other races.'
Schumacher added: 'We are planning [some] different things.'
* The massively-superior early practice-pace of Ferrari on Friday has
everyone worried that Michael Schumacher might run-off with the title
as in 2002.
'I have nothing against it,' the German smiled, 'but I'm not sure
* Mark Webber, meanwhile, welcomed a change of schedule on Friday that
has canned the first-day of qualifying in exchange for two-hours of
'I thought Friday last year was very strange,' he said. 'The circuit
was very dirty and the guys doing well in the championship had it very
The home-town hero said the rising level of personal and promotional
appearances and local interest in his racing-progress is 'getting
worse every year.
'We're trying to control it as best we can,' he smiled, 'but it is
very special for me to come here and race. Us Aussies like to see the
Aussie do well.'
* Jenson Button has punched-back at 1996 world champion Damon Hill's
suggestion that he is 'too normal' to become Formula One's ultimate
winner any time soon.
The BAR driver asked: 'Was it Damon who said that? I think it's a
compliment. If you're bonkers you can't work. The more relaxed you
are, the better.'
Notes: Friday Practice 2
The faces of Ferrari's rivals turned scarlet after Friday practice in
Michael Schumacher, who smashed the Albert Park record with nearly
every lap, and Rubens Barrichello, set times more than a second clear
of the nearest car.
But it wasn't all beer and skittles for the world champion and his new
Schumacher, 35, pulled into the pits after one run with damage to the
front wing and under-tray after a huge moment at the final, high-speed
The German leapt across the grass and lost a handful of carbon-fibre
It definitely wasn't the only incident of the first-action of
Juan Pablo Montoya (BMW-Williams, 7th) had a spin at the
second-to-last corner and Toyota's Cristiano da Matta (16th) had to
pull-over with a burst left-tire.
Fourth-placed BAR-Honda man Jenson Button retired from the session
with apparent technical dramas, while team-mate Takuma Sato (12th)
nearly crashed - twice!
* The governing FIA has mandated colour-coded camera mountings on all
Formula One chargers this season for the purposes of
easily-identifying the drivers.
Colours include black (Ralf Schumacher), red (Montoya) and yellow.
* Siemens has replaced TAG-Heuer as the official F1 timekeeper.
Jordan tester Timo Glock, the German rookie, only completed four laps
in his Ford-powered EJ14 in second-practice before the V10
Spotters in pitlane noted that many F1 outfits, notably Toyota and
BMW-Williams, worked feverishly to adjust ride-height levels for the
Albert Park track.
Toyota tester Ryan Briscoe - whose colleague Ricardo Zonta (14th) spun
in the session - is only a spectator but he said the TF104 has not got
a good balance.
'Hopefully I'll be in the car pretty soon [this season],' said the
'I'm just being patient and hopefully my time will come.'
Shorts: Montoya Denies Gearbox Flaw
Juan Pablo Montoya, the Colombian Formula One ace, has rejected
speculation that his BMW-Williams FW26 is still slowed-down by a
niggling gearbox gremlin.
'We've solved [the problem],' he said. 'The car just goes and goes.
'When we were testing, everything was fine until we got a lot of new
parts in January and everything broke. So we went back to what we were
JPM's top-team BMW-Williams has snatched an agreement with Shanghai
Circuit and China's TV network CCTV from financially-struggling
Formula One outfit Jordan.
'The China GP enables us to discover a new market,' said BMW's Mario
NOT ALL BAD NEWS
But it's not all-bad news for EJ; he announced on Friday a
'ground-breaking' partnership with B&Q China that should 'build
awareness' for Chinese F1-fans.
* F1's swinging tire-war is likely to be a talking-point of season
Ferrari ace Michael Schumacher said the team's almost-exclusive
relationship with Bridgestone might not be the 'best solution' for a
new-era of racing.
The German reckons with 'so many' Michelin partner-teams in 2004 it
may give the French marque 'an advantage' but it will only be clear at
the end of the year.
'Sometimes it is quality that works rather than quantity,' he added.
Juan Pablo Montoya, who drives a Michelin-clad BMW-Williams, says
Michelin is able to collate the information of many top-teams and
develop tires quicker.
* BAR star Jenson Button hinted that his purported 'low-fuel' runs in
pre-season winter testing may not have been completed with
particularly low levels of fuel.
'We dropped it from 100 [litres of fuel] to 60 on those days,' the
'The biggest thing is that when we make a change, you can really feel
it. Hopefully we are closer to the top teams than last season. We
Shorts: Melbourne To Fall-Off Schedule
Melbourne may fall-off the Formula One schedule in 2006.
F1 impresario Bernie Ecclestone is making a rare visit to the Albert
Park circuit this weekend and admitted that the Commonwealth Games are
on his mind.
'I don't know what we are going to do [to avoid a clash],' he said.
'I think we will miss [the grand prix] for a year.'
Sources are reporting that AGPC chairman Ron Walker is chasing a move
from March to April in 2006 but that month is locked-up with other
contracted grands prix.
Ron Walker dismissed the notion of a 2006 sabbatical.
PART OF THE GAME
'Bernie keeps me full of joy,' he smiled. 'One minute it's cancelled,
then it's back on. Knowing my friend very well, I know that it's just
part of the game.'
* F1 team Minardi has planned a test at Ferrari's private circuit at
Fiorano on Tuesday to earn newly-signed Friday tester Bas Leinders his
'He's on his way back to Europe,' said Paul Stoddart in Melbourne, 'so
he can do a full grand prix distance. Bas will open his season in two
weeks at Sepang.'
* Champion Michael Schumacher refused to berate F1 rival Juan Pablo
Montoya for bringing the sport into disrepute by storming out of a
recent press conference.
'Our job involves a lot of tension,' said the German, 'and sometimes
you do things you don't think about. Everyone has his personal
Ferrari's Friday pacesetter also doesn't have an F1-legend to look up
'I wasn't interested in that side before I got into F3,' he said at
Albert Park, 'so I never got a hero. My only heroes were in football.'
* Jordan declined to confirm a Cosworth engine-failure for tester Timo
'We're investigating,' said a spokesman at Albert Park on Friday.
It's Not Over Yet: Formula One Bosses
BMW-Williams' chief operations engineer Sam Michael pacified a media
contingent on Friday already planning post-race headlines of victory
for Scuderia Ferrari.
'We just ran through all the systems for the race,' said the
Ralf Schumacher, the fastest BMW-powered ace, set a best time good
enough for sixth fastest - more than a full second behind the
leading-pace of his brother.
'We looked at tyres,' he continued. 'On long runs we look consistent.'
Only on Saturday, said Michael, would Williams chase the FW26's
Rival top-team McLaren ailed down the order in 8th and 10th places,
but CEO Ron Dennis said Ferrari and others may well be running
'Today's sessions do not contribute to grid positions or qualifying,'
he emphasised, 'so it's really just a test in preparation for the real
Mercedes' Norbert Haug was a little more outwardly worried.
'Five Michelin teams were within half a second,' said the German, 'and
Ferrari was in a class of its own. Now we've got to work to close the
Pat Symonds, engineering head at Renault - who put Jarno Trulli and
Fernando Alonso in the top-five - expressed his 'frustration' at the
end of Friday.
'We can't obtain all the answers we're looking for in the limited
running time,' said the Briton, 'but we made good progress. Our
performance is satisfactory.'
Symonds expressed confidence that the gap to Ferrari can be closed.
And Ferrari weren't popping any bottles of champagne despite smashing
the old lap record at the temporary street-circuit by more than two
'The serious business starts [Saturday],' said team chief Jean Todt.
Shorts: 'Back To School' For Schu?
Michael Schumacher laughed-off suggestions that he would join a field
of 'back to school' Formula One runners to make mistakes on their
Renault's Pat Symonds predicted last week that while the drivers test
a lot during the winter, they're probably not fully prepared for the
'I don't think so,' said the Ferrari star. 'I sometimes do competition
in karting in the winter so I'm not rusty. I think it's just
But Schumacher, albeit the fastest on the Albert Park track, had three
significant 'offs' on his grand prix return as practice dawned in Oz.
Mark Webber reveals how he likes to fine-tune his race-craft in the
'I close up on the guys and feel the disturbed air,' said the Jaguar
driver. 'We're not racing but we're still close. Still, Pat may have a
* Schumacher also agrees with Fernando Alonso that some of the best
drivers on earth are nowhere near a Formula One car but locked in
battle in go-karts.
'Well, in F1 the racing is not as close as karts,' said Michael, 'and
that's why I like karts. But it's wrong to say F1 drivers aren't as
good as those guys!'
* BAR driver Jenson Button interrupted a questioner in the FIA press
conference on Thursday when he referred to Jacques Villeneuve as a
'... If he's great,' said the Briton, 'then I must be awesome.'
JB stopped on the circuit on his last scheduled lap on Friday and
technical director Geoff Willis says BAR will have found a fix by
Tester Anthony Davidson's run was also halted by a Honda gremlin.
Shorts: You're Not Perfect, Jenson
F1 team BAR-Honda's boss David Richards is busy convincing his Formula
One drivers that they are not the best talents to have ever graced a
He told reporters that Jenson Button and Takuma Sato 'have weaknesses'
and are being asked to identify them and suggest to their bosses how
Richards broke the news to 24-year-old Button while out at lunch.
'[Jenson] said to me: 'This is intriguing because you're taught to
believe that you are perfect. But now I can understand how I can
* Richards also revealed that F1 impresario Bernie Ecclestone advised
the BAR principal not to fork-out too many millions to secure the
services of Button.
FOCUS AND STRUCTURE
'Others have said that to me too,' the Briton added. 'They were ready
to discard him. But I saw a young driver in need of focus and
* BMW-Williams' Juan Pablo Montoya (7th on Friday) has bid farewell to
fired F1 champion Jacques Villeneuve by claiming that the Canadian
brought it on himself.
'If he'd done a good enough job,' said the Colombian, 'he would have
beaten Jenson and still been here. I think he lost the motivation,
The impassioned Montoya also denied that he had signed a contract with
McLaren's ever-corporate boss Ron Dennis forbidding him to speak his
mind in 2005.
'Not as far as I remember,' he laughed.
* Bernie Ecclestone enthused about the upcoming Bahrain Grand Prix.
'I've been dreaming of a race in the Arab world for a long time,' the
F1 supremo said in Australia. 'I salute Bahrain for its courage and
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