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
'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.
GAVE AWAY TITLE
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
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.'
A LOT CLOSER
'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
'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
CLOSER IN MALAYSIA
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
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.
MADE A MOCKERY
She said it 'made a mockery' of Australia's supposed ban on
'This year's grand prix cost taxpayers $10 million,' she
'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
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
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
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
'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
'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
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
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.
TYRES DIDN'T WORK
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
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
'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
'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
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
'But I think it would be appropriate to use any money raised
on keeping children and young people safe on the county's
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
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
Flavio Briatore branded the one-hour and 50-minute saga at Albert Park
'stupid' and triple champion Niki Lauda questioned the intelligence of
TEAM BOSS'S IDEA
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
'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
Briatore, managing director at Renault, also called the system
'rubbish', way too long for a television spectacle, and 'stupid for
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
'It is going to be very difficult to make up the points lost this
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
'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
* 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
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
* 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
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
* 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
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