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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
March 11, 2004


Bridgestone Has Improved Hot-Weather Tire
Ferrari technical chief Ross Brawn has issued an ominous warning for those expecting the heat of next weekend's Malaysian GP to close-up the competition.

The red team's new F2004 ran-off with the Melbourne race but its superior Bridgestone tire no-doubt enjoyed ideal conditions at the cool street-circuit.

'It sounds like an excuse,' said Brawn's counterpart at Michelin-clad Williams.

Technical director Patrick Head added: 'But the cold temperatures [of the Australian Grand Prix] meant that these (Michelin) tires did not work so well.'

NEW DEVELOPMENT

Brawn reckons Bridgestone, generally out-paced in dry conditions throughout 2003, has worked-hard over the winter to improve its tire for hotter weather.

'We will soon see new developments with our collaboration,' the Briton told Gazzetta dello Sport, 'concerning tires suitable for high temperatures.'

In testing, RB said the product 'worked well.

'In the last few months they carried out a ... job that will be highlighted in the next races. I'm confident and happy about our partnership with them.'

Nonetheless, Brawn admitted an advantage at the unusually-chilly Albert Park and reckons 'harder times' from Michelin-clad rivals are undoubtedly yet to come.

'We found perfect conditions temperature-wise,' he added, 'and other factors that helped us. We want to be the best in the majority of the races.

'But we won't be able to be the best at every grand prix.'








Toyota Redesign Flawed TF104
Cologne-based F1 stragglers Toyota are busy redesigning the unhurried TF104 car.

Millionaire-salaried technical director Mike Gascoyne did not design the twice-lapped racer but said a 'total repackaging' would surface by Imola (April 25).

'[And] we've got several new parts for Malaysia,' he told Motorsport News.

Gascoyne said one of the main defects of the car, built by a team with arguably the biggest budget in F1, is that the weight is not distributed low enough.

He told the British weekly: 'That's what we'll be addressing.'

VERY BIG GAP

An even bigger car-update is scheduled for Silverstone, according to sources.

Driving-veteran Olivier Panis put a brave-face on his double-lapping at Albert Park last Sunday and insisted the Aussie circuit is not a 'typical' race-track.

'Things conspired against us [last] weekend,' said the Frenchman.

'But the gap to the top teams is very big. Still, the season is long.'

As well as weight-distribution, Mike Gascoyne criticized TF104's poorly conceived aerodynamics but said programs are already in place to rectify them.

'Everyone is working flat-out to get us where we should be,' he noted.

'And that's at the front of the grid.'

* Out-of-work former Jaguar ace Justin Wilson is in the final throes of negotiation for a drive in the rejuvenated Champ Car series of America.

'I am optimistic that I will be able to confirm that Justin will have a competitive drive within a couple of weeks,' said his manager Jonathan Palmer.








Korea Steps-Up F1 Quest
South Korea has stepped-up its quest for a berth at the pinnacle of motor sport.

It was announced on Monday that the re-vamped US-run Champ Car series is to race for the first-time on a street-circuit in main city Seoul in October this year.

Racing-impresario Bernie Ecclestone, head of Formula One Management, said recently that South Korea is likely to stage an inaugural grand prix from 2009.

THIRD WORLD

India and Turkey are also shaping-up to join an ever-globalizing schedule.

'Believe me, in the next ten years, Europe will slide down to the level of the third world in economic terms,' Bernie, 73, said of the international switch.

* Jenson Button reckons podiums 'and even wins' are realistic targets for his new BAR-Honda 006 challenger despite a Ferrari-thrashing at Albert Park.

The Briton said cool conditions had favored the scarlet team's Bridgestone product and Michelin-shod rivals should once again set the pace in Kuala-Lumpur.

'Now we've run the car in a race setting,' said JB, 24 - whose team switched to Michelins this season - 'we know we can make an even greater step forward.

'Because of the heat, I feel we can do a really great job in Malaysia.'








Williams Clueless On Schumacher Saga
Sir Frank Williams has opted-out of speculation that his top Formula One driver Ralf Schumacher may leave the Grove-based team at the end of this season.

The Briton told Germany's Welt am Sonntag newspaper that he is ignoring the stand-off and unfazed that he might have a second seat to fill ahead of 2005.

'I don't have the slightest clue how that will turn out,' Frank said.

Schumacher, 28, said Williams thinks he is a 'money-grabber' and rumours this week, although denied, are slotting him into a Renault or Toyota racing-seat.

FINAL MEETING

His manager, Willi Weber, reckons the parties will sit-down for one final time in Bahrain next month but if an agreement is not reached, 'Ralf will leave.'

'I've heard everything,' Williams continued, 'but I don't read the articles myself. I never do that - they either anger me or make me over-confident ...

'... so I stay away from them.'

Williams has been criticized in the past for letting good drivers leave his team; Nigel Mansell in 1992, Damon Hill in 1996, Jacques Villeneuve in 1998.

And, of course, current charger Juan Pablo Montoya is off to McLaren.

'Aside that I broke my back,' Frank confessed, 'I've made many mistakes.

'But the biggest thing is that Williams hasn't won a world championship in seven Formula One seasons. That's bad and something I have a hard time living with.'








Dennis Faces-Down Retirement
According to speculation, McLaren CEO and principal Ron Dennis is readying to hand-over the management of his top Formula One team to a worthy successor.

The meticulous Briton, now 57 and after two decades in charge, reportedly sees his managing director Martin Whitmarsh as the man to step into his boots.

Fellow team owner and F1 principal Eddie Jordan, of Ireland, warned before the season kicked-off in Melbourne that McLaren's chief was facing-down retirement.

'I can see Ron retiring,' he told reporters.

It is interpreted as no more than chance that speculation of Dennis' retirement is coinciding with a so-called 'McLaren crisis' due to a pace-less MP4-19 car.

Top-team McLaren is scheduled to move into an impressive new factory, nicknamed 'Paragon', later this year at a reported total-cost of no less than $250 m.

BORN IN WOKING

Dennis was born near his Mercedes-powered team's current base in Woking and started his race-career on the production-line building Cooper F2 and F3 cars.

In 1981 he gained-control of McLaren and guided the team, with Niki Lauda, to victory and subsequent titles with French ace Alain Prost in 1985 and 1986.

McLaren-Honda won 15 of the 16 races of 1988 with Ayrton Senna and, now allied with Mercedes, soared to the top of the tables most recently with Mika Hakkinen.

* Sauber's F1 drivers jetted directly from Melbourne on Monday bound for Malaysia, where they are presently doing fitness training in Kota Kinabalu.

Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa, with team manager Beat Zehnder and physio Josef Leberer, were photographed on Tuesday playing tennis and football.

Sources also report that the racers visited the nearby Sabah Museum which houses an archaeology gallery and an impressive exhibition on Malaysia's oil industry.








McLaren Form Is Not End Of World: Wurz
McLaren's dismal show of form at the season-opening Australian GP is not the 'end of the world,' according to Woking's chief team test-driver Alex Wurz.

The tall-Austrian accompanied a silver F1 show-car to Bahrain this week and denied to the Gulf Daily News that the championship is now out of reach.

'We are disappointed with our performance,' said 29-year-old Wurz, 'but we will be back soon. Our target is still the same - to be the best at the end.'

VALENCIA TEST

Alexander, who was world BMX champion in his youth, now heads from the GEO Exhibition in Bahrain to Spain where he will drive the MP4-19 at Valencia.

He hit the Formula One race-tracks in mid-1997 when full-time Benetton driver Gerhard Berger was forced to sit time-out with a sinus problem.

'It was the break I was looking for,' said Wurz. 'It was going well.

'Everyone was happy. But in 2000 I had problems with the car and in the team.'

Wurz said he likes test-driving but would 'prefer' to race on the weekends because he 'misses' the excitement of combat. 'I have a job to do,' he added.

'Right now we must focus on the problems that are affecting us.

'I still feel this new McLaren car is capable of being as fast as any other F1 car. Compared to the old car, it is already 1.5 seconds faster per lap.'








Jordan Braces Fans For 'Tough' Season
Eddie Jordan is bracing his Formula One fans for a 'tough' season of racing.

The Silverstone-based team has the second-smallest budget in pitlane but he told reporters prior to the Melbourne race that a 'fight-back' should start in 2004.

'It was great for Giorgio [Pantano] to finish his first grand prix,' Jordan said after the season-opener, 'and it was in tough circumstances - so well done.'

As well as the rookie's 2-lap down, last-place finish, however, was Nick Heidfeld's clutch-failure which drove him into mechanics at his final pitstop.

NOT EASY

'I was glad to see that the guys who got run over were safe and in good shape,' said Jordan. 'As we've seen, this year is not going to be easy.

'I expect a tough season but I think this is a good start.

'I think that for our fight-back, this is promising for the future.'

Heidfeld, 26, expected his EJ14 challenger to be better in race-conditions but he struggled with Bridgestone-tire graining throughout most the grand prix.

'We definitely have a good basis to improve,' said the German.

'I think we can find that performance level for the next couple of races.'

Recently-promoted head of race and test engineering James Robinson notes that Jordan, powered by Ford-Cosworth engines, has got 'plenty of homework' to do.

'We're eager to see how we can get the most out of the next race,' he said.

* Business manager Ian Phillips spoke of his 'relief' at Albert Park that the private team merely made it through a tough off-season to be in Australia.








BAR Set Pace At Drizzly Valencia
BAR-Honda tester Anthony Davidson was quickest at Valencia on day-two.

The Briton drove a 'concept' car in Spain but lapped faster than Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello who did only a few laps in the F2004 because of bad weather.

BMW-Williams joined the slippery-fray with full-time tester Marc Gene.

He completed the most laps (88), had a quick spin and one stoppage, and struggled through a programme of wet set-ups and the testing of rain tires.

BETTER WEATHER

'We're anticipating better weather tomorrow,' said the team's Sam Michael.

Toyota turned-out two runners in Ricardo Zonta and Aussie F3 champion Ryan Briscoe and they went quicker than Franck Montagny in a 2003-spec Renault.

The Frenchman shook-down a power-steering development for the R24.

'Franck coped [with the rain] very well,' remarked test engineer Christian Silk.

Luca Badoer steered an older Ferrari and slowest-of-all was Pedro de la Rosa in the struggling MP4-19 (McLaren) who spun early-on with a technical problem.

* Renault aces Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso have stayed-out in the Far East to acclimatize to next weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix held near Kuala-Lumpur.

'Malaysia ... should be even better for us,' said the former Italian.








Schu Supports Condemned Qualifying
Ralf Schumacher has offered his support for Formula One's new qualifying format.

The back-to-back, nearly two-hour system was lambasted after the season-opening Australian Grand Prix for its duration, confusion and lack of excitement.

BMW-Williams' star, however, doesn't see 'any difference' to last year's one-car-at-a-time format where the one-lap sessions were played-out over two days.

'There is less time between the two sessions,' he noted.

'But I'm really enjoying trying to prove myself twice within a few minutes.'

MISTAKES

In the first Saturday session at Albert Park, 28-year-old Schumacher made it into third position although two mistakes in the second cost him dearly.

A Williams spokesman insists that 'very few drivers' did better than the German in the one-lap discipline last season, as he took pole at three grands prix.

'After a few problems at the beginning of the season,' said Ralf, 'I managed to improve and maintain my concentration for the single lap qualifying.'

Team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya, however, worries that two-minutes is not enough time to separate the first qualifying session from the definitive second one.

'If you do mistakes,' said the Colombian, 'there's no time to do anything.'

* Toyota technical director Mike Gascoyne agrees that the revised qualifying format is a 'bit long and drawn out' but says it certainly poses a challenge.

'Our job is to maximise any given set of circumstances,' said the Briton.








Mercedes-Benz To Go It Alone In F1?
German carmaker Mercedes-Benz may be preparing to go it alone in Formula One.

Respected website grandprix.com is reporting that a head-hunting agency in Britain has been inviting experienced F1 engineers to join a new race-project.

The publication said applicants are being told that their employer would be Mercedes, sparking speculation that it is to take-over the Woking-based team.

COMPOSITE ENGINEERS

'McLaren is aware that there is a programme requiring composite engineers,' boss Ron Dennis was quoted by the internet site, 'but it is not for Formula One.'

Mercedes-Benz already owns forty-percent of the Woking-based team and the rest belongs to Ron Dennis, linked to an imminent retirement, and Mansour Ojjeh.

Dennis said the McLaren-Mercedes collaboration is to run for 'many years.'

* Dr Mario Theissen has claimed that BMW's new Formula One engine, the P84, 'came close' to reaching the 19,000rpm mark at the Australian Grand Prix.

Moreover, 'Few of our competitors covered more kilometres,' he added.

But that does not mean BMW-Williams was happy about a thrashing to Ferrari.

'Should we be able to achieve a similar increase in performance as we did last year,' the German told Autosport magazine, 'I'm sure we can close the gap.'









Ferrari Is Bad For Formula One
Another year of Ferrari-domination would be bad for Formula One.

That's the opinion of most GP-pundits, including McLaren's David Coulthard who spoke for all when he said 'Oh no, not again' when staring at the timing-screen.

'But you've got to take your hat off to them,' the Scot added.

'They stayed away from the politics [this winter] and quietly chipped away.'

DIFFERENT LEAGUE

Even DC's silver-clad boss Ron Dennis, well-known for his occasional bÍte-noir when discussing the Maranello ranks, had nothing but superlatives in Oz.

'Yes,' he mumbled. 'They're in a different league.'

And so it was put to Ferrari principal Jean Todt: won't another season like 2002 only turn-off, rather than inspire, the trackside-hordes at F1 grands prix?

'Yes, yes,' the Frenchman smiled.

He added: 'I don't smile a lot but this gives me a reason.

'It's true that we get criticised because we do too good a job ...

'... Let's hope that we will be criticised for a long time to come.'








Kiesa To Revive F1 Flirt?
It was one of the most fleeting Formula One careers in recent memory.

Nicolas Kiesa, Denmark's proud son, stepped into a vacant Minardi at Hockenheim last season and steered the black car throughout the five ensuing grands prix.

Come season-2004, though, 'Nic' is left without an F1 home.

Not only did principal Paul Stoddart opt for the well-funded Zsolt Baumgartner and Gianmaria Bruni this year, he didn't even offer Kiesa a testing role.

RAISE MONEY

Those jobs went to highest-bidders Bas Leinders and Tiago Montiero.

'I almost can't follow along anymore,' said 25-year-old Nicolas.

'I've run out of things to say.'

Kiesa's fans, however, didn't give-up on their quest to see a Dane in F1.

A Danish website has followed the example of the previously-embattled Baumgartner by vowing to raise the $3m NK needs to land a grand prix drive.

'It's a struggle ... when you're from a small country like Denmark,' said Kiesa.








Webber Expects Problems In Malaysia
Mark Webber half-expects to grind-out of the upcoming Malaysian Grand Prix.

The Jaguar star retired from his home race in Australia last weekend when a never-before-seen (at the team) problem stranded his R5 car in fifth gear.

Furthermore, rookie team-mate Christian Klien bumped-out of his final qualifying run at Albert Park when an hydraulic failure damaged the racer's power-steering.

'It's not good,' Mark told Autosport magazine.

MORE MILEAGE

'Maybe we would have found the problems if we'd done more mileage initially.'

Webber, 27, said testing is designed to uncover reliability issues and a 'couple more things' are therefore likely to crop-up in Kuala-Lumpur next weekend.

'I just hope it's not in the race,' he said while still in Australia.

The Aussie also claimed that Jaguar's Michelins are graining more than others.

'It's a big weakness for us,' Mark continued. 'We've got to work on that.

'We're trying to get the whole car kinder on its tyres.'

* One of the worst-drivers to ever grace Formula One, Jean-Denis Deletraz (1994), has signed to contest this year's Le Mans 24-Hours in a Ferrari 575.








BAR Won't Abandon Britain
Formula One team-boss Dave Richards has cooled a threat to abandon Britain.

A new law in the UK will forbid BAR, and other British-based teams including McLaren, Renault and Jordan, from racing with tobacco-logos on its cars.

The Briton warned recently that he might relocate the entire Brackley-based operation to a country like Dubai to dodge the restrictive legislation.

'What concerns us is the specific UK legislation,' he started.

NO LOGOS

'We're not complaining about the sponsorship bans in 2006.

'We're concerned that we won't be allowed to carry advertising in China, Bahrain, Malaysia - places like that - where it is allowed after July 2005.'

But the Honda-powered principal now says clarification is 'on the way' and it is now more of an 'administrative issue' raised by the initial drafting of the law.

'The government in the UK has almost admitted that,' said Richards.

DR said the ideal scenario would be that BAR runs with tobacco logos until the end of 2006 giving the team 'plenty of time' to find alternate F1-income.

* Toyota technical director Mike Gascoyne has confirmed that a new front wing and turning-vanes are scheduled to appear on the TF104 as of the Malaysian GP.

'We've appointed a project-manager for this car,' he continued, 'which has freed-up [chief designer] Gustav Brunner to concentrate on our 2005 car.'








Wurz Shrugs-Off Quali-Concern
Alex Wurz has shrugged-off concerns that criticised changes to the single-lap qualifying-format threaten to turn-off legions of the sport's spectators.

The Austrian, test-driver at McLaren, said whether or not the Saturday sessions are more or less boring 'won't help make the sport more or less popular.'

DIP IN NUMBERS

He told Gulf Daily News in Bahrain: 'To me, F1 is second only to the Olympics.

'If I were the boss [however] I wouldn't have made these changes.'

Wurz, 29, said all world-sports suffered a dip in fan-numbers a couple of years ago, and not only in actual venue-attendance but 'in TV audience also.'

The lanky former racer told the Middle Eastern paper: 'But when we compared this dip with respect to all sports we found it markedly less in Formula One.'

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