F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
March 10, 2004

Renault Deny Schumacher Link
Renault boss Flavio Briatore has denied that irritated BMW-Williams driver Ralf Schumacher is on the cusp of doing a deal to race a yellow-and-blue car in 2005.

The Italian barked-down claims in the German media that Schumacher's manager, Willi Weber, met with him in Melbourne and agreed-terms on a racing-contract.

Bild speculated that Schumacher would be the new team-mate for Fernando Alonso.

The German, 28, is locked in dispute with his current Grove-based employer and is looking elsewhere for a reported ideal salary of more than twenty-million.

A spokesman at Enstone issued a 'firm denial' that any discussion had taken place with Ralf Schumacher concerning the German driver's future in Formula One.


'I saw Weber in Melbourne,' managing director Flavio Briatore added, 'and we certainly talked to each other - we are friends, so that is perfectly normal.'

Briatore and Weber became close after Ralf's elder brother Michael Schumacher won back-to-back championships at the Benetton outfit in the mid-nineties.

But the Italian, Flavio, added: 'However, at no time did we discuss, or have we discussed, a possible future for Ralf Schumacher in a Renault car.'

Weber had told German newspaper Bild that he was 'in agreement' with Briatore and the actual signing of an official contract was 'purely a formality.'

He also confirmed that a 'final meeting' with Frank Williams would take place in Bahrain next month but if an agreement is not reached 'Ralf will leave.'

Some analysts see the Renault-link as a manoeuvre to put pressure on BMW-Williams and possible alternate team Toyota to stump-up with Schumacher's cash.

Weber hinted that the Bahrain meeting is likely to be explosive.

'Ralf won't be led around by his nose,' the German told Bild.

Montoya Refuses To Give-Up Fight
Juan Pablo Montoya is refusing to give-up the fight to F1 nemesis and reigning champion Michael Schumacher despite a disappointing start to his '04 campaign.

The Colombian and his BMW-Williams finished a distant fifth at Albert Park last weekend but he said in contrast to last season, it was not a dismal meeting.

'We gave away both championships last year mainly because we didn't score enough points in the first five races,' the 28-year-old said earlier this week.


He added: 'Based on that, you've got to think that if you could start scoring good points from the first race you'd be fine.'

JPM is still talking about winning the world championship before he switches to McLaren in 2005 and insists that his departure has not affected the atmosphere.

'It's good,' he said, 'I don't have any problem with anybody. We all want to win. I'm here to race. I can't say I'm taking it easy because I'm leaving.'

* Swiss F1 team Sauber will demonstrate the might of its 900bhp challenger in the Malaysian region of Sarawak in the lead-in to this month's grand prix.

The outfit is sponsored by Malaysian oil-brand Petronas and will be in Sarawak with both race-drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa this Saturday.

'The demo has become a tradition of sorts ... since 1999,' said a spokesman, 'and we are glad that we will be the title sponsor for the GP until 2010.'

Ferrari Won't Run Away With Title: Renault
Ferrari's rivals were demolished on the streets of Melbourne but Renault technical head Pat Symonds insists that the season is going to be a 'close' one.

Like many others in pitlane, the Briton was 'surprised' by the scarlet team's form at Albert Park but reckons the R24 wasn't fully exploited in Australia.

'I would have preferred to see slightly higher temperatures,' he said.

Furthermore, Ferrari always seem to go well 'Down Under.'

On the bright side, Renault - on Michelin tyres - genuinely beat top-team rivals Williams, McLaren and BAR-Honda in the race, but is sure they'll 'bounce back.'


'There is no doubt they will prove tough to beat,' he said. 'In my opinion, the 2004 season will prove a lot closer than the first race might seem to indicate.'

Symonds said the Enstone-based team would travel to Malaysia in less than a fortnight with the ultimate objective of beating Ferrari and winning the race.

'It's possible we'll go better there than in Australia,' he said. 'I'm sure we'll be closer to Ferrari but of course beating them is going to be tough.'

Engine manager Denis Chevrier was pleased with the brand-new, 72-degree V10 Renault engine in Australia and praised its reliability and consistency.

'I think the race demonstrated that we have the equipment to be fighting at the front of the pack,' he said, in specific reference to Fernando Alonso's podium.

Even better, there are several performance-steps to come for the RS24.

'We were on the pace of everybody except Ferrari,' he concluded, 'and it's realistic to expect the gaps to be closer ... especially at Sepang.'

McLaren Quickest At Valencia Test
McLaren's test-driver Pedro de la Rosa was the fastest-man at Valencia (Spain) on Tuesday as Formula One teams returned to the test-tracks ahead of round-two.

Under cloudy skies, the Woking-based team was joined by Ferrari and BAR.

Spotters at the twisty facility noted that three more teams, including Renault, Williams and Toyota, were preparing for the off on Wednesday morning.

Pedro's MP4-19 was, as usual, on the pace in the tight turns in Spain and he outpaced Luca Badoer in an older Ferrari contender by a hundredth of a second.

Both men worked on respective Michelin and Bridgestone tyre-programmes.


Friday-tester Anthony Davidson, who returned from Australia prior to the season-opener, lapped in the 'concept' BAR-Honda and turned the most laps - 127.

He put miles on an alternate suspension system for the new 006 racer.

Most pundits expect the Michelin tyre-product to claw partner teams closer to the Bridgestone-pace of Scuderia Ferrari at the upcoming Malaysian Grand Prix.

De la Rosa told Autosport: 'The car is so easy to drive.

'There is more to come from the car for sure.'

* Rubens Barrichello rocked-up to test the new F2004 at Mugello on Tuesday but Ferrari called-off the session when the flakes of snow began to fall in Italy.

The second-placed (in Australia) Brazilian boarded a plane and will roll-out Maranello's winning grand prix machine at the Valencia tests from Wednesday.

Senate Urges Government To Butt-Out Ads
Australia's federal senate is urging the government to adopt a move to accelerate a total-ban on tobacco advertising at the annual Formula One GP.

Led by Democrats health spokeswoman Lyn Allison, the senate condemned the unprecedented number of cigarette adverts at last weekend's Melbourne event.

Senators passed a motion urging the government to now cancel an exemption for Bernie Ecclestone's sport from next January, instead of the agreed October 2006.

Allison said cigarette companies had never had as much exposure in Australia, through television images and newspaper photographs, than at Albert Park.


She said it 'made a mockery' of Australia's supposed ban on tobacco-advertising.

'This year's grand prix cost taxpayers $10 million,' she added.

'But the health costs of more young people becoming addicted to cigarettes and nicotine as a result of this advertising spree will be far higher.'

The Senator slammed the federal government from turning a 'blind eye' to the escalation in tobacco promotion in favour of an international sports event.

'It's not Michael Schumacher who's the big winner from this year's event.'

Allison concluded: 'Instead it's the tobacco companies, who are deliberately targeting young people by linking smoking with fast cars and [the] lifestyle.'

* Jenson Button reckons he can be world-champion with BAR-Honda by 2005.

'I think there's a chance, yes,' the Briton told reporters. 'The amount of progress we've made now, on track and as a team, means it's really possible.'

Schu Sets-Off On Holiday
Michael Schumacher has jetted-off on a quick holiday prior to attacking supposedly stronger Formula One opposition at the upcoming Malaysian Grand Prix.

The German, who crucified his rivals at Albert Park, left the city of Melbourne after tea-time late Sunday evening accompanied by his manager Willi Weber.

Weber said Schumacher would holiday for ten-days and attend his first official engagement ahead of Kuala-Lumpur on the Thursday before the Sepang-race.

'A holiday does you good,' said the German, 'above all before a race like Malaysia which looks like being stressful and difficult.'


Schumacher singled-out Malaysia as a 'reference-point' for getting an early understanding of the stage of Ferrari's development and that of its F1 rivals.

'Over the past few years we've had some difficulties [there],' he continued of the race won by in 2003 by McLaren's eventual season runner-up Kimi Raikkonen.

Michael said: 'We'll see how it goes this time.'

Ferrari's number-one reckons Albert Park 'favoured' the scarlet team.

He added: 'Also, our competitors didn't race as well as usual, but we shouldn't read too much into that. We shouldn't think it's all downhill from here on.'

Schumacher touched-down in Melbourne confident of winning the race.

'To be honest,' he said, 'I knew we were able to win it.'

And if anyone thinks six-times champion Schumacher and five-times-in-a-row champion Scuderia Ferrari are getting tired, they've got another thing coming.

'I went to the factory a few weeks after Suzuka,' said Michael, 'and I felt the sensation and it gave me even more desire. I tip my hat to all of them.'

BAR-Honda Is Not Jumping For Joy
McLaren veteran David Coulthard has warned rival-team BAR-Honda not to get over-excited about its superior form at the recent season-opening Australian GP.

BAR, based in Brackley, could have jumped for joy after 58-laps at Albert Park because it genuinely saw-off the silver team and traced the pace of Williams.

'They were quicker than us,' Scottish ace Coulthard admitted.

'But one race doesn't make them McLaren.

'We are still one of the two top teams in F1.'

Honda-powered boss Dave Richards, though, reckons solid reliability and championship points in Australia left no-one in white overalls jumping for joy.


'If you looked in the garage there was not much jumping for joy going on,' the Briton smiled, 'because we expected to be on the podium. That's why.

'What we do have, however, is great expectations. Last year we would have patted each other on the back for this but our targets are now so much higher.'

Jenson Button, sixth at the end of the Aussie race, claimed that BAR is now 'right up there' and is still harping-on about the realism of race-victories.

'I only got more [points] than this twice last year,' he noted.

The 24-year-old added: 'If we can do it consistently we are in good shape.

'We aren't jumping for joy because we didn't win,' said the Briton, 'and we won't do any jumping until we do. But this is a great step forward.'

* Coulthard added that if 'anyone' can come back from a thrashing at Albert Park, it's the Mercedes-powered team who were two full seconds off the pace.

'We are not putting our heads in our hands,' said the McLaren-driving Scot.

Williams Expects Closer Race In Malaysia
Formula One team Williams is hoping to be 'far more competitive' in Malaysia.

That's the expectation of tech-boss Patrick Head who will be 'surprised' if his novel BMW-powered racers aren't further up the grid in the heat of Sepang.

'Obviously Ferrari were extremely fast,' the Englishman noted of Australia.

'All the Michelin runners suffered from heavy graining of the front tyres.'

In complete contrast, Ferrari's Bridgestone product revelled in the cooler ambient temperatures and raced to a lap-record of more than two-seconds.


Head continues: 'It sounds like an excuse, but the cold temperatures [in Australia] meant that these (Michelin) tyres did not work so well.'

Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya finished fourth and fifth at Albert Park and opened their season-accounts with nine championship-points between them.

'It's not the best start,' admitted Head.

'But at least we got both cars home in the points.

'I'd be surprised if we're not far more competitive in Malaysia,' he said.

A spokesman at Grove, meanwhile, said the FW26 didn't work particularly well on F1's street-circuit and it was also 'unusually cold' for the time of year.

'The conditions in Sepang,' he added, 'should be radically different.'

Grumpy Da Matta Hopes For More
Cristiano da Matta muscled past a throng of reporters in the Albert Park F1 paddock and disappeared into a hospitality-suite without saying a word.

He'd just found-out just how slow his new Toyota TF104 really is.

'Performance wise,' the former Champ Car champion from Brazil now tells Autosport, 'we never thought we'd be quite as far behind as we showed up.'

Cristiano beat his veteran team-mate Olivier Panis to twelfth-place but the biggest budget in F1 should also have beaten more than an under-funded Jordan.

He knows Toyota has a 'lot of work to do.


'We knew that,' said da Matta, 'but we actually have more than we thought.'

New and highly-rated technical director Mike Gascoyne is already at-work on the grip-less chassis but said modifications can only come at a 'certain pace.'

CDM agreed that a 'few little pieces' should be on-line by Malaysia.

'I think Mike is doing a good job,' he said, 'but we do have to give him a little bit more time. There's nothing really big coming for the next race.'

Like most of the Michelin-shod Formula One world, meanwhile, Toyota expects the heat of Malaysia to suit its French-made rubber-partner better than Australia.

'We really hope it,' said Cris, 'because otherwise we'll be the same as Melbourne. There are more quick corners ... so it should be a bit better.'

'F1' Number-Plate Up For Sale
Got a balance of more than six-figures in your bank-account?

Then you have a decent-crack at proving you're Formula One's number-one fan by snapping-up a 100-year-old number-plate bearing the simple combination 'F1'.

The 'F1' plate is currently owned by the Essex County Council in Britain and a spokesman said it expects to raise a six-figure sum by selling to a bidder.


He added that the proceeds would go towards improving road-safety.

Submit your six-digit figures by July 9 - the day of opening practice at Silverstone - to the council, and rest-assured the money will go to good use.

A spokesman told BBC: 'Obviously it depends on how much we raise.

'But I think it would be appropriate to use any money raised on keeping children and young people safe on the county's roads.'

FIA Rule-Out Qualifying Shake-Up
Formula One's governing FIA has ruled-out changing a condemned new 'back to back' qualifying system until at least after the first few races of 2004.

McLaren boss Ron Dennis believes it is too early to lambast the highly-criticised Saturday shake-up until after Bahrain and an FIA spokesman agrees.

The spokesman said: 'It would be inappropriate to act until we have seen how it works over a few races.

'Once we've looked at it and there is a consensus among the stakeholders in Formula One and the fans, then we will consider the issue.'

Flavio Briatore branded the one-hour and 50-minute saga at Albert Park 'stupid' and triple champion Niki Lauda questioned the intelligence of its authors.


But the spokesman suggested that it was the team-principals themselves who came-up with the plans and presented them to the rule-makers based in Paris.

'Just to be clear,' he continued, 'this was something that the team principals discussed at length. They came to us and said 'This is what we think'.'

Briatore, managing director at Renault, also called the system 'rubbish', way too long for a television spectacle, and 'stupid for the spectators.'

Interestingly, Ferrari boss Jean Todt - who watched his scarlet-men qualify and finish one-two in Australia - offered his apparent support for the format.

'We can't change it every race,' said the Frenchman.

'We knew what it was going to be. Maybe you can say the old 12-lap system was better, but in this case I have nothing against going back to this situation.'

Coulthard Plays Down 'Crisis' Talks
David Coulthard has played-down speculation of 'crisis talks' within the McLaren camp by insisting that Ron Dennis' is still one of the top-two teams in F1.

Dennis reportedly summoned the entire McLaren and Mercedes tech-teams to Woking on Tuesday morning to discuss a woeful display with the MP4-19 in Australia.

'We have the infrastructure to get it right,' said Coulthard.

But the Scot warned that season-2004 might already be lost.


'It's not too late now,' he said, 'but getting this car right in time to be competitive enough to win the championship is definitely an issue.

'It is going to be very difficult to make up the points lost this weekend.'

Coulthard, 32, said his silver car - which struggled to the final-point at Albert Park - is not good in any of the fundamental areas of performance.

He started: 'It's not rocket science.

'We need more power, more aero and more mechanical grip,' DC told the Telegraph.

'The car is just not fast enough.'

And, added to that, its new Mercedes engine is not reliable as Kimi Raikkonen demonstrated when he slid out of the season-opener with a smoky V10 failure.

'I'm very disappointed with our performance,' was one of the only statements the young Finn has made since refusing to talk to reporters during the grand prix.

He said: 'Not a good start.'

News Shorts: Twice As Many F1 Tickets
Northamptonshire-located race-track Silverstone International has sold twice as many tickets for its Formula One Grand Prix as at the same time last season.

Race-organisers say the event should beat last year's crowd of 70,000 because advance-orders have already eclipsed the 65,800 mark for the July 11 running.

Silverstone Motorsport's Andrew Waller said: 'The fans have endorsed our revised pricing structure and ... improvements to the facilities and infrastructure.'

* Tickets for the first-ever grand prix in the Middle East are now being sent-out after a printing-delay, according to a Bahrain F1 circuit spokesman.


The race-weekend is set to include 'Thoroughbred GP' races, a round of the Formula BMW Asia series, and a track-display of the 1953 Mercedes-Benz W196R.

* BAR chief Dave Richards doubts if Ferrari's rivals are going to close the gap to the scarlet juggernaut in time for next weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix.

'Clearly, Ferrari's performance was very, very impressive,' said the Briton. 'They obviously have a very quick car and it was a very impressive performance.'

Michael Schumacher's final qualifying-time, good enough for pole at Albert Park, was more than half-a-second quicker than the BAR-Honda 006 of Jenson Button.

He said: 'If we had drained all the fuel I'm not sure we could get those times.'

* British global bank HSBC has reportedly signed an $18m deal to sponsor the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix to be staged in Shanghai in September this year.

'I can confirm that we had talks,' said head of HSBC sponsorship William Parry, also in charge of the Jaguar Racing deal, 'nothing concrete has come out yet.'

* Japanese F1 racer Takuma Sato has penned new personal sponsorship deals with brands 'Seiko Watches' and 'Virgin Atlantic Airways' on a quick trip to Tokyo.

The 27-year-old is now on his way to Malaysia for the second-race of 2004.

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