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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
March 9, 2004


Schumacher In Renault Switch
Ralf Schumacher has reached an agreement to drive for Renault from 2005.

Although no contract has been signed, the disgruntled BMW-Williams star's manager Willi Weber told a publication that all the 'major issues' are settled.

He told Bild: 'Finalizing the contract [with Flavio Briatore] is a formality.'

Sir Frank Williams recently branded Ralf, 28, a 'money-grabber,' following the German's move to cancel all renewal-talks with the F1 outfit until mid-season.

'I can't allow myself to be treated like this by Williams,' Schumacher said.

FORMALITY

The highly-rated racer also told Bild that talks will take-place with Renault in the next few days and there is a strong possibility that he'll leave Williams.

There may, of course, be more sinister intentions in play, such as the obvious effect that the news pressures Williams into accepting Ralf's contract demands.

Ralf has previously said that a new deal with Williams would involve less money.

* Schumacher's six-times title-winning brother Michael clocked the fastest lap-time on route to dominant victory in the Australian Grand Prix last weekend.

His lap of 1.24.125 in the F2004 was less than a tenth quicker than Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello and then Fernando Alonso, nearly a second adrift.

The nearest BMW-Williams, Juan Pablo Montoya, trailed the pace by more than a second, and troubled McLaren's David Coulthard was more than two seconds behind.

Toyota ailed nearly 4-seconds down, and the slowest runner on-track was Minardi debutant Zsolt Baumgartner whose 1.30.621 was a mammoth 6.5 seconds too slow.








Teams Unlikely To Shake-Up System
Formula One is unlikely to immediately scrap a controversial new back-to-back, single-lap qualifying format despite widespread condemnation of its vices.

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone is pushing for the return of a 12-lap, one-hour free-for-all after slamming the new system as 'too long' for television.

It took nearly two-hours for the back-to-back system to play out at Albert Park.

Clearly, though, in spite of his influence in the processes of rule-making, Ecclestone does not have the support of the sport's governing body, FIA.

A spokesman said: 'It's too early, far too early. People did not warm to the changes immediately last year, yet the season turned out to be one of the best.'

McLaren boss Ron Dennis might not agree, but the Woking-based principal is willing to give the system 'at least three races' before he pushes for change.

FAIRLY USELESS

FIA technical delegate Herbie Blash agrees with his pal, Mr. Ecclestone.

He said: 'It appears to be fairly useless. If the teams want to change it they can - they could even do it by the next race in Malaysia if they wanted to.'

However, Blash noted that the small teams like the system because it gives them equal-exposure to the top-teams so they are unlikely to cast an unanimous vote.

Sir Stirling Moss, a 16-race winner of the 1950s, suggests an easy-fix to the problem of quali-boredom - make the process worth more than a pole position.

'The best drivers should receive recognition in the world championship for these important efforts,' he said in Melbourne, 'like a championship point or two.'

It's also not surprising that Ferrari is opposed to shaking-up the new system as Michael Schumacher headed a dominant one-two on the grid for the Aussie opener.

'Maybe it takes more time,' said principal Jean Todt, 'but the fans have more to watch. Maybe the viewers who are unhappy could switch on the TV a bit later.'








Tires Stole Ferrari Victory
F1's confusion is almost unanimous; did Ferrari steal the Australian GP with Bridgestone tires, or did superior Bridgestone tires carry Ferrari to victory?

The distinction might seem trivial, but it is real - and equally significant - as one team insider at the BMW-Williams operation wondered at Albert Park.

'It was all about tires,' said the insider whose employer runs on Michelins.

'Ferrari won in Australia in 2002,' he noted, 'but we went to Malaysia and we finished first and second. I think that's all got to do with suitable tires.'

Team racer Ralf Schumacher isn't so sure.

He said: 'Ferrari are absolutely from another world. If Williams can't catch them this year then maybe they will never catch them. I am certainly alarmed.'

TRUE PICTURE

The German's brother, who just happened to stonk to victory in Melbourne, does not want to predict a seventh world championship based on a single performance.

'I think Malaysia shows the true picture,' he forecast.

Ferrari chief Jean Todt said his scarlet team had touched-down in Australia worried about tires - mostly their consistency - but left wearing a big smile.

'We definitely had the best tires,' the Frenchman added, but scoffed at claims that a dominant pace set during the grand prix had much to do with cool weather.

'We were quick on Friday,' he recalled of the warmer day.

McLaren's David Coulthard hopes his Michelin tires can lift him to a race-pace in the Malaysian Grand Prix quicker than the two-second deficit of the weekend.

'As we have seen before,' said the Scot, 'our partners' tires come into their own in the kind of temperatures we can expect in Kuala-Lumpur and Bahrain.'








Renault Skirt Launch-Control Rule
Renault stars Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli leapt-off the line in Sunday's Australian GP as if they'd forgotten to adjust to a ban on launch-control.

It left their rivals wondering if that observation was partly true.

'It was very slippery out there,' said BAR-Honda's Jenson Button, 'and the only people who were quick off the line were Renault. That's quite strange.'

Podium-finisher Alonso said his so-called manual start had been 'just as good' as a 2003 launch whose superior software was lauded up and down pitlane.

FUEL-CUT CONTROL

F1's rule on manual-starts insists that the legal traction-control can only kick-in after the car has reached 100kmh, leaving the work up to the driver.

'It's not something we want to talk about, but read the rules,' head of engineering at the Enstone-based team, Pat Symonds, told Autosport.

An expert said the R24 might limit wheelspin by reducing the feed of fuel to the engine, which would not constitute the normal interpretation of launch-control.

'The start is one of the best times to overtake in Formula One,' Symonds continued after Melbourne, 'so obviously we work very hard at that.'

* Extra security will be on the look-out for any attempts by political parties to hijack the running of Malaysia's Formula One Grand Prix later this month.

The race is to clash with the country's general-election but circuit chairman Datuk Mahathir warned fans against promoting political messages at the track.

'We expect [everyone] to leave their political bias at the main gate and enjoy the race,' he told reporters at the Sepang International Circuit on Monday.








Montoya Blasts Schumacher
Juan Pablo Montoya has blasted BMW-Williams team-mate Ralf Schumacher for clashing wheels with him during an overtaking manoeuvre here on Sunday.

The Colombian was recovering from a poor start at Albert Park and dived up Schumacher's inside under braking and on the approach to Turn-Three.

'I overtook five cars today and Ralf was the only one I hit,' said Montoya.

NOT CLEVER

The 28-year-old continued: 'He changed direction when he saw me coming through.

'It was not clever - it could have taken both of us off.'

* McLaren's dismal MP4-19 was not the only silver car to make its debut at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne's Albert Park last weekend.

The yet-launched Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG is the new Formula One Safety-Car and it has been specially-developed to speed from zero-to-sixty mph in 4.5 seconds.

It boasts a 360bhp 5.5 liter V8, 19-inch wheels, composite brake-discs, a lighter weight of 1370kg, two engine coolers and a substituted aluminum bonnet.

* Former Jordan ace Ralph Firman has stepped-up a campaign to switch to US-based Champ Cars by attending the World Series' premier in Long Beach, California.

The Briton was invited by team bosses to discuss a possible drive in the championship, and he revealed no less than 'two solid offers' in the past week.

Firman, 28, also said a move to sports cars was on the cards.







Toyota Take Comfort In Engine
Toyota can take comfort in its engine, according to Mike Gascoyne.

The Cologne-based team's new technical director lamented a woeful start to the 2004 campaign in Australia but said Luca Marmorini's V10 is a super little unit.

Cristiano da Matta and Olivier Panis finished nearly last at Albert Park on Sunday and could only narrowly-outpace the lap-times of an under-funded Minardi.

'The good thing is that the engine is small, light and has decent power,' Gascoyne said when asked if there was anything positive about the TF104 car.

Mike, who moved from Renault late last year, didn't design the sluggish chassis but reckons there are 'quite a lot' of things that can be done to improve it.

TAKING TIME

He admitted: 'The car isn't up to much, and any changes will take time.'

Former boss and now team advisor, Ove Andersson, was on the pitwall in Australia and said he knew on the flight 'Down Under' that the team was not in good shape.

'But I didn't think it'd be this bad,' the Swede, who deflected talk that some personnel at the super-funded team wanted to unveil the old TF103 again, added.

Reporters at Heathrow Airport on Monday also caught-up with Jaguar chief Tony Purnell who was still smiling when he thought about the pace of the new R5.

He told The Independent: 'It was disappointing to lose Mark [Webber, due to gearbox failure], but overall we proved that the new car is a good one.'

The green car was notably faster than both McLarens and Toyotas all weekend and Purnell didn't miss the opportunity to spell-out his 'bang for buck' theory.

'You know, those guys probably spend $200m more a season than us ...'








Barrichello Eyes 'Best Shot'
Rubens Barrichello claims a superior F2004 and solid form at the recent Australian GP represents his 'best shot' at dethroning Michael Schumacher in F1.

The Brazilian qualified within a-hundredth of his Ferrari team-mate at Albert Park and matched Schumacher's race-pace by less than a tenth of a second.

'Definitely,' Barrichello said after finishing second in Melbourne.

'I mean, I've been driving for quite a while and I think I'm improving step by step every year. You have to learn from your mistakes and so on.

VERY CONFIDENT

'I'm feeling very confident and I think it showed.'

Michael, 35, never once lost his job at the top of the session-timesheets during the season-opener but Rubens chooses not to let that statistic get him down.

'If it wasn't for just a little bit I would have done pole,' said Rubens, 'so I feel that we are going to have some nice fights throughout the whole year.'

Schumacher, meanwhile, said he was pushed hard by his Sao Paulo-born team cohort on Sunday until the Brazilian's brake-pedal began to sink in the foot-well.

The German concluded: 'Whoever can make his car work that little bit better than the other one all the way to the end of the year in Brazil might be up front.'

* Jenson Button was 'shocked,' Ralf Schumacher was 'alarmed,' and F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone branded Ferrari's domination in Australia a 'disaster.'

'This is one race,' said BAR's top driver. 'Okay, it wasn't the most exciting race, but this is only the first one. I think in Malaysia it will be closer.'

Ferrari principal Jean Todt is similarly refusing to repeat his 'grandiose' commendation of the scarlet team by worrying about his F1 rivals' reaction.

'We know we're up against the giants of the motor industry,' said the Frenchman, 'and we are well aware of just how quickly they can react to situations.'








F1 Must Wait For Long-Term Future
Formula One's team bosses doubt that their sport is close to sealing its future.

Months ago, it was revealed that a 'memorandum of understanding' had been signed to end a threat of GPWC breakaway and set the path for a new Concorde Agreement.

But asked by Autosport magazine how mobile the talks were, wheelchair-bound F1 boss Sir Frank Williams grimaced before laughing: 'About as mobile as my legs!

'My own personal opinion is that I doubt very much whether there will be a solution by June. We all pray for one quickly, but I really doubt it.'

END OF SEASON

His colleague, BMW director Mario Theissen, added: 'I hope there will be a commitment by the end of the season. That outcome would be okay in my view.'

One of the key changes to a new Concorde, reportedly at FIA president Max Mosley's behest, is the removal of the need for unanimity in rule-changing.

'That would be good for F1,' said Williams, 'providing that the majority required is a sensible one and not just 51 percent - something like 80 percent.'

Mercedes' Norbert Haug said some 'positive surprises' could emerge from the new agreement but warned that there'll be a delay before it is ready to be signed.

BAR's Dave Richards, finally, reckons the talks are taking 'too long'.

* Ralf Schumacher was surprised at the size of the gap to Ferrari in Australia, but reckons his BMW-Williams outfit will be able to 'fight back' this season.

The 28-year-old German finished fourth after qualifying just eighth, and his novel FW26 is scheduled to return to the Valencia test-tracks from Wednesday.








Is It NOW Time To Write-Off McLaren?
Having qualified mid-field, blown-up an engine and limped to a race-pace some two seconds too slow, is it now time to write-off Formula One top-team McLaren?

Head of engineering at team-rival Renault, Pat Symonds, doesn't think so.

'I never like to underestimate any of our competitors,' he told Autosport.

'They've had a rough start, for sure, and no-one can deny that they've got some problems, but they are a really professional team and they will get back.'

Surely, though, the problems of the MP4-19 - which was borne-out of its never-raced and equally-ineffective predecessor - have dented McLaren's title hopes?

DON'T DISCOUNT

'... It looks like it,' Symonds observed, 'and certainly [the problems] are big enough that it's going to take a bit of time. But don't discount them.

'They'll be along by mid-season.'

Veteran racer David Coulthard, who will race-out a nine-year McLaren tenure in 2004, urged his supporting-personnel to start the 'hard work' of fighting-back.

Sources insist that a new front-wing is already scheduled to debut at Sepang (Malaysia) and Ron Dennis has convened technical crisis-talks from Tuesday.

'The next question is where to improve,' said the Scot. 'Quite simply, it's in every area. We weren't quick at any point and in any session [in Australia].'

* It has emerged that the four Ferrari V10 engines, including the two of customer team Sauber, were fastest-of-all through the speed-traps in Australia.

Asked about the engine-department at Maranello, Ferrari principal Jean Todt, a Frenchman, said: 'They've done a very good job [with the new rules], yes.'

* Australian actor Sam Neil, Lisa-Marie Presley, and federal treasurer Peter Costello, were among the celebrities at Albert Park's F1 race last weekend.








Aussie Fans Given F1 Guided-Tour
A Tasmanian, a New South Welshman and a Melburnian were given an unprecedented guided-tour of the Formula One paddock at Australia's Albert Park on Sunday.

They were the first winners of a new incentive, devised by the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, aimed at bringing the sport closer to the paying-public.

The winners spent an hour in the paddock, according to F1's official website, and were given behind-the-scenes tours of the McLaren and Jaguar pit-garages.

Their photos were taken with the four GPDA directors (Michael Schumacher, Mark Webber, David Coulthard and Jarno Trulli), as well as F1 ace Juan Pablo Montoya.

BEST THING

'It was the best thing I have ever done,' said Peter Murphy.

Added Gerard Morford-Waite: 'Absolutely fascinating.'

'Unbelievable,' said Simone Hayes.

Webber, the brains behind the scheme, said he hoped the Melbourne event signalled the first of 'several such competitions' during the new F1 season.

The official attendance at Albert Park on Sunday was 121,500.

* Bridgestone technical manager Hisao Suganuma denied that Ferrari's tire-pace at the Australian Grand Prix was a one-off and is set to end in hotter weather.

'This was a good indication that our development direction has been correct over the past few months,' the Japanese said before boarding a plane for Europe.

'Our pace this afternoon was not just a one-off - all weekend our tires demonstrated excellent one-lap performance as well as consistency.'







F1 Backmarker Rues Widening Gap
Paul Stoddart is worried about an ever-widening gap to F1's pace-setting teams.

The Minardi boss, who thought the PS04B would be quicker, left Melbourne mulling-over a chasm of more than six seconds per-lap to the front of the field.

'I probably shouldn't be too surprised,' said the Australian, 'but we honestly thought we'd found quite a bit over the winter.

FIGHT BACK

'Clearly the other teams have found more so we've got more work to do.'

Fellow struggling privateer Eddie Jordan had expected to start a 'fight back' to the bigger teams at Albert Park but also returned to Europe a disappointed man.

'To say I wasn't particularly happy with what I saw on the timing-screens ... would be true,' said the boss whose best ace was 4-seconds adrift in qualifying.

'There's certainly room for improvement and hopefully we can find some.'

* The UK Motorsport Industry Association (MIA) has told the House of Lords that it cannot retain its advantage in the face of proposed reduced working hours.

'[It] could result in business going outside Europe,' said the submission.








Montoya 'Came To Terms' With Williams
Ralf Schumacher was not the only BMW-Williams driver who thought he had settled terms with his Formula One team principal for a new contract beyond 2004.

McLaren-bound Juan Pablo Montoya, of Colombia, reckons after Monaco last season he 'came to terms' with Sir Frank Williams on a new two-year racing-contract.

'I shouldn't say too much,' the 28-year-old told The Guardian.

'But ... after Monaco, Frank said, 'I'll give you this, this and this. I'm going to send the contract to you by Friday.' This was on Wednesday.'

NO REPLY

Montoya said two months passed without word from his racing-boss.

'Nothing happened,' said the Bogota-born ace. 'At the same time, McLaren came to me and ... well, I signed with them.'

There was, however, a little more to the Williams-to-McLaren switch.

At the French Grand Prix in July, Montoya - riled by a decision to delay his pitstop - called everyone on the BMW-Williams pit-gantry a 'bunch of shits.'

'No, Juan,' Sam Michael reportedly replied, 'you're the shit.'

* David Coulthard said his new MP4-19 motor-car is lacking in 'every area.'

The Scot urged McLaren to improve the latest challenger by giving it more 'power, aerodynamics and mechanical grip. It's just not fast enough.'

Coulthard is currently spending a couple of days on Australia's Gold Coast.








Webber In Foul Mood 'Down Under'
A lad from Melbourne helped Michael Schumacher win the Australian Grand Prix.

Chris Dyer is the world champion's full-time race engineer and he reflected on the 'great feeling' of boosting a 'home victory' of sorts for Ferrari.

'Obviously things looked very comfortable,' said the Bendigo boy, 'but there's always a little voice that says 'let's wait and see until the chequered flag'.'

Dyer started his engineering-career in V8 SuperCars and the Arrows F1 team.

He said he would return 'home' for a week before the trek to Kuala-Lumpur.

GEARBOX FAILURE

Countryman Mark Webber, meanwhile, is spending his week in a foul mood after grinding-out of his third Albert Park event with a sixth/seventh-gear failure.

'I think we would have beaten both of the McLarens,' said the Jaguar star, 'and probably one of the Renaults. I think I would have passed Jarno Trulli.'

Webber confirmed that he could have kept-charging on the Melbourne circuit in fifth-gear but it would have put a huge-strain on the Cosworth V10 powerplant.

'It's a big danger when you have to use too many revs,' he told The Telegraph.

'It wouldn't have been pretty,' he added. 'It would have been embarrassing.'

Australia's racing-hero said the next Malaysian GP can't now come quick enough.

'I get pissed off when we have a poor result,' he lamented.

* Jaguar is to utilize a third wind-tunnel by 2005 after it was revealed that engineers are building a rolling-road for Ford's Volvo facility in Sweden.

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