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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
March 15, 2004


Michelin Improve Wet Product
Anthony Davidson ended a four-day Formula One test at Valencia with a shunt.

The fresh-faced BAR ace drove a 'concept' car and, on Friday, had been scheduled to run on an artificially-watered track prepared by tyre-partner Michelin.

On Ant's second-run in the morning, however, he aquaplaned off the circuit, damaging the chassis and moving the Brackley-based team to end the session.

'We've had a really good week apart from today,' the Briton frowned.

'I didn't spin,' he explained, 'but I ran over a kerb on the out-lap.'

ON TO KUALA-LUMPUR

Ricardo Zonta drove his Toyota and completed 130-laps on the sodden track.

'I'm having a couple of days off now,' he said, 'before I fly to Kuala-Lumpur.'

Renault's Franck Montagny also steered an older car and spent his day testing wet tyres - both new constructions and compounds of the Michelin rain-range.

'One compound holds real promise,' said chief test engineer Christian Silk.

All F1 teams at the Spanish venue on Friday observed a five-minute silence just after one-pm in memory of the victims of Thursday's horror bombings in Madrid.

Top of the times on Friday were BMW-Williams' Antonio Pizzonia, of Brazil, and second team-tester for the pace-less McLaren-Mercedes squad, Spaniard Marc Gene.

'We are getting very close to Bridgestone,' said Pizzonia of the new wet-tyres.








NASCAR Driver Rejects F1 Talk
NASCAR ace Jeff Gordon has rejected speculation that he's shaping-up to complete a proper four-day test-drive for the top BMW-Williams Formula One outfit.

'I don't know how that got started,' the four-times champion said in Atlanta.

Gordon said he expects to attend the Spanish Grand Prix at popular test-venue Circuit de Catalunya 'so maybe that's gotten misconstrued as a test-session ..?'

ATTEND BARCELONA

'I'm just going to go there for fun,' he said.

'I did my test for them last year.'

The American swapped his NASCAR ride with Juan Pablo Montoya's Formula One car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last season in a pre-grand prix PR event.

Gordon reckons a flirt with Formula One cannot be considered.

'The amount of effort that goes in,' he said, 'it's not worth it. I love the cars but it's not like you just get in and go. It's a huge, huge commitment.'








Qualifying System Could Still Be Tweaked
Formula One's widely-lambasted 'back-to-back' qualifying system may still be overturned or tweaked ahead of the upcoming grand prix near Kuala-Lumpur.

The ten team bosses met with F1 impresario Bernie Ecclestone on Friday but rejected two options to revise the system ahead of this weekend's race.

'It missed out by a couple of votes,' said Minardi's Paul Stoddart.

'Now we'll just have to wait and see.'

The Australian said it is not too late to tweak the current system so that it is a better spectacle for television - such as not broadcasting the first part.

ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE

Bernie's options were to revert to the 2003-format or cut the first session.

Director of business at Jordan said the current system is 'absolutely terrible.'

'We have to do something about it,' he told the BBC.

'What we want is a cut-down version of what we had in Australia.'

BMW-Williams' tech-boss Patrick Head joined the chorus of criticism by agreeing that the current nearly-two-hour process is 'too long and not exciting enough.'

'It wouldn't be a problem to drop the first part,' he suggested.

'If that is going to happen, then it should be in place for Malaysia but all the teams have to agree. I sincerely hope it will be done immediately.'








Sir Jack Down In The Dumps About F1
Sir Jack Brabham is down in the dumps about Formula One.

The triple world champion, currently promoting his new book around Australia, reckons the sport is heading for a repeat of 2002's utter domination by Ferrari.

'It's not really very good, is it,' the 77-year-old complained in Melbourne.

He added: 'Ferrari and Michael [Schumacher] are so far ahead again and that is not good for anything. I don't think I'm even going to bother watching.'

OUT TO KNOW BETTER

Brabham, though, ought to know better, according to a top British F1-journalist.

Maurice Hamilton, of The Guardian, said Sir Jack is 'conveniently forgetting' his own domination of 1966 and that one result does not decide a championship.

'Five wins in six years,' he said, 'show that Albert Park is perfectly suited to Ferrari' and the cool weather played into the hands of Ferrari's Bridgestones.








DC: My Engine Was Rev-Limited
David Coulthard has all-but confessed that his Formula One engine was rev-limited to preserve reliability at last weekend's Australian Grand Prix.

The Scot finished eighth in his new McLaren but sources report that the dainty Mercedes V10 was running a tad-over 17,000rpm on the Albert Park street-circuit.

BMW, by contrast, tipped the scales at 19,000rpm, said its competition director.

BACKING OUT

'You'll have to ask Ilmor how much they were backing out,' said Coulthard.

The 32-year-old nonetheless told Autosport that Mercedes and McLaren are 'not where we should be' in any of the areas of performance or reliability.

'We don't have a quick enough package at the moment, whether that be car or engine,' he told the magazine, whilst also slamming the new one-engine rule.

He said: 'As a driver you want to drive - you want to be out there.

'The spectators want to see the cars. That's where the action is.'








Williams Must Get Act Together: Head
BMW-Williams must get its act together, according to tech-boss Patrick Head.

The burly Englishman said Malaysia is to be the scene of a fight-back to Ferrari or else the scarlet juggernaut will quickly run-away with another championship.

'I'd be very disappointed if we don't do a lot better in Malaysia,' said Head.

'We need to start scoring [good] points.'

OFF-TRACK

Head said BMW-Williams, despite its novel-looking FW26 racer, is 'off track' in its objective to win both Formula One titles for the first time in seven years.

'I hope it will be dry,' he said of the Kuala-Lumpur event, 'and a lot hotter.'

German driver Ralf Schumacher finished fourth at Albert Park and reckons if he can't win in Malaysia, the target must be at least to 'do better' in the heat.

'If we want to fight for the championship,' said the 28-year-old, 'there's still quite a lot of work ahead of us. We must do better in Malaysia.'

Chief operations engineer Sam Michael said 'some developments' are to appear on the FW26 car at Sepang aimed at 'improving our performance' at the grand prix.







FOM Denies 'Fudging The Figures'
Formula One Management has denied 'fudging the figures' to make it appear as if more television viewers were watching the fortnightly-fix of grand prix racing.

A new system for counting the statistics has angered team-sponsors because it has downgraded the race-by-race count of viewers by as much as 150 million.

Previously, FOM said around 300 million people watched the races but it is no longer counting viewers who only glance at Michael Schumacher's track progress.

'Viewers are not missing,' said FOM's statistics manager Jeremy Martin.

'We're differentiating between individual viewers and subscriber householders.

ERRING ON CAUTION

'We are erring on the side of caution.'

Some sponsors have reacted to the 50-percent viewer-cut by asking teams to reduce their annual fee, which has in turn incurred the wrath of F1's players.

'Clients have, in effect, seen the value of their investments halved overnight.'

That's the opinion of Ben Pincus, chief executive of 'The Works London', which looks after a raft of Formula One team-sponsorships for McLaren and Ferrari.

He said he will be asking for a reduction in sponsor-fees from the F1-teams.

Prior to the changes being made, a FOM report was sent to the teams explaining how the method better 'demonstrates the ... global reach of the championship ...

'... without overstating the number of individual viewers.'








Berger Doubts Williams Can Claw-Back
Former BMW director and Formula One driver Gerhard Berger doubts if BMW-Williams can claw-back a pace-deficit to Ferrari until the mid-point of season-2004.

'I don't think in the first half of the year it is going to be possible to close the gap with Ferrari because the gap was really big,' the Austrian told BBC.

Ferrari led a one-two in qualifying and the race at Albert Park and only the influence of 'heat and tyres' will shake things up until at least June, he said.

DEVELOPMENT WORK

'[Williams] need to do development work,' said Berger.

'And development work takes time.'

Ralf Schumacher finished 4th in Australia and his team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya, fifth, reckons the next two races should host a closer fight to Ferrari.

'We immediately started working on improving the car,' said the Colombian, 'and the hot temperatures of the next races should be favourable for us.'

BMW-Williams finished one-two at Sepang in 2002.








Drivers Not Worried About KL Heat
Physically, BMW-Williams' ace-drivers aren't worried about the Malaysian GP.

Kuala-Lumpur usually hosts the hottest race of the season but Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya are amongst the fittest in the field of F1's pilots.

'I've been going to the gym, playing tennis, riding my bikes,' said Montoya, 'so the humidity and the heat doesn't really worry me too much.'

Similarly, 28-year-old Schumacher, a German, is 'well prepared.'

So why did both BMW-branded men climb out of their FW25 machines saturated in sweat and looking slightly worse-for-wear after last year's Sepang event?

STIFLINGLY HOT

'I was climbing up the field,' said Ralf, 'when the piece of my helmet that drives air to my face was ripped off. It was so stiflingly hot.'

Colombian-born Montoya's water-bottle stopped working during the grand prix.

'Malaysia will be a lot hotter than Australia,' said operations engineer Sam Michael, 'but there is always the risk of the daily tropical thunderstorms.'

Dr Mario Theissen (BMW) said Williams is looking forward to better pace in the heat 'although we'd prefer to race without the threat of heavy downpours.'

The German concluded that BMW would likely protect the V10 units in the heat by modifying the gear-selection parameters, such as a 500rpm-cut in free practice.








Imola Needs A $30m Facelift
Only 25 million euros will save the embattled San Marino Grand Prix.

F1 impresario Bernie Ecclestone has told Imola's race-organizers that improvements to the circuit will re-open talks about a future GP-running.

'I have written to Prime Minister Berlusconi,' Franco Lucchesi, president of the Italian Association Automobile (ACI), told La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper.

FEDERAL FUNDING

Lucchesi called upon the federal government to come up with the funding to give Imola a facelift as the Italian circuit remains within the public sector.

Earlier, Ecclestone said the 'Enzo e Dino Ferrari' track only had one race left on a contract and it would host its last-ever F1 event in late-April this year.

'After the race in April,' Bernie told us recently ...

'... we will have to have a look and see where we go with that.'








Gascoyne To Be Fired?
When Renault last finished two-laps down in a Formula One grand prix, the world's media predicted that technical director Mike Gascoyne would be fired.

Now, the multi-million dollar-salaried Briton is at newest F1-team Toyota.

Olivier Panis and Cristiano da Matta finished the season-opening race at Albert Park two laps down - so will the firing-speculation once again rear its head?

'We were two laps down,' Gascoyne told ESPN.

'But I never expected anything different.'

BANDWAGON

Gascoyne said the F1-media loves to jump on the bandwagon and is 'sure' that many journalists' next-project will be writing about him being fired - again.

'They said that when I was at Benetton [Renault],' said Mike.

'But look at the car I left them with - it goes pretty quickly.'

Gascoyne is now making changes in resources, priorities in the aerodynamics department, and personnel - but there are 'no miracles' in the F1 business.

'It takes time,' said the Englishman. 'I stood here three years ago and everybody said Benetton was a disaster. Look at where they are now.

'That's what we're going to do here - but hopefully a bit faster.'

Toyota's TF104 has new parts in Malaysia, and even more scheduled for Bahrain.







BAR Car Is 'Even Better' For Malaysia
BAR's Formula One package is set to be 'even better' for the Malaysian GP.

That is the insistence of Honda-powered ace Jenson Button who lurched into the drivers' classification with three points at the season-opening Melbourne race.

'There is no reason to think we can't qualify and race well again,' he said.

Team-mate Takuma Sato points-out that the 006 is reliable and should be even quicker in Kuala-Lumpur as it features some revisions to the aerodynamics.

DISAPPOINTED

'I was disappointed not to get a point in Australia,' said the Japanese.

'I'm going to a training camp in Langkawi to prepare for the next one.'

Team principal Dave Richards is certain that there is 'far more performance' to come from the car and said Sepang's hot weather should aid the Michelin tyre.

'I'm confident this will be to BAR's advantage,' he said.

Geoff Willis, head of the technical department, said both cars' front wings were damaged at the first corner at Albert Park which adversely affected performance.

'We are going [to Malaysia] looking to challenge the top three teams,' he said.








Montoya Supports F1 Tire-War
Juan Pablo Montoya has rejected calls for Formula One to bring an end to its much-vaunted 'tire war' by turning-away either Bridgestone or Michelin.

'As soon as we go to one,' said the top Colombian driver, 'we will start going three or four seconds a lap slower. I like it the way it is.'

Montoya, who drives on Michelins with front-running team BMW-Williams, said a monopoly tire-manufacturer would revert to a cautious approach to tire-design.

'Why? Because it won't want to have problems,' said the 28-year-old.

'It would be a tire that is reliable and doesn't grain.'

SPICES UP SPORT

The feisty challenger thinks a tire-war spices up the pinnacle of motor sport because it is another factor to influence the balance of power on the grid.

'Maybe we get the edge on our rivals in qualifying,' he said, 'but maybe they have the edge on us in the race. Or maybe it depends on the temperature.'

All eyes, for example, are on the skies this weekend as Michelin is expected to throw-up a tougher challenge to Bridgestone in the stifling Malaysian heat.

But if it rains, Bridgestone's superior product should lead the pace.

'There are a lot more factors,' said Montoya.

'It just makes the racing more interesting.'








Da Matta Highlights Aerodynamics
Toyota driver Cristiano da Matta has highlighted aerodynamics as the single-biggest weakness on this year's disappointing new TF104 race-challenger.

'I think the reliability is strong,' said the Brazilian, 'and the engine is impressive - it lasted all weekend in Australia at high-revs.'

OFF TO CHINA

Cristiano and team-mate Olivier Panis jetted-off to China after the Melbourne event to attend a press conference in Shanghai as a prelude to September's race.

'Then we went to Singapore,' he said, 'to train for Malaysia.'

* F1 drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa showed-off their Sauber car to a massive crowd of 120,000 in the Malaysian city of Kuching on Sunday.

'Usually we don't see much of a country,' said Fisichella, 'so this was nice. It also showed us what we can expect for the race - it's extremely hot here!'








Renault Charge For Race Victory
Renault is still charging towards Formula One victories in 2004.

Spanish ace Fernando Alonso finished on the podium at the season-starting Australian GP but said his R24 wasn't quick-enough to challenge the Ferraris.

'Our aim is to fight with the big teams,' the 22-year-old said on Monday.

'And then to move up in the final standings.'

Alonso said Albert Park demonstrated that Renault is competitive with everybody except Ferrari, and the new target is to close the gap to the world champions.

'If we do that, and maximize our potential,' he added of the fourth-placed in 2003 team, 'then it'll be possible to win races and achieve our objectives.'

POINTS IN MALAYSIA

Both Fernando and team-mate Jarno Trulli aim to score points in Malaysia.

'We went very well there last year,' said Alonso, the pole-sitter.

'There's no reason to think this [season] will be any different.'

When the circus returns to Europe, Renault should benefit from new developments on the R24 chassis and the RS24 engine and then step-up a charge for race wins.

'My aim is to be top five or six in Malaysia, at least,' said Alonso.

Trulli, from Italy, predicts the fight to Ferrari to be closer in Kuala-Lumpur.

'They were a long way ahead,' he said, 'but we know our tyres are strong in the hotter weather. The car will be good because the track is a high-aero one.'








Schumacher Ready For Toyota Deal
Ralf Schumacher is ready to sign a Formula One deal with Toyota.

The German is sick of tenuous negotiations with BMW-Williams and could earn upwards of $22 million per-season at the Cologne-based team from 2005.

Earlier, Schumacher was linked with a switch to Renault.

But an insider close to Toyota told The People: 'Ralf has been having meeting after meeting with the team to iron out a deal and he's now ready to sign.'

* Jenson Button has his eye on a podium at the physically-tough Malaysian GP.

TRAINING CAMP

The Briton is locked-away in a training camp near Kuala-Lumpur with his trainer Phil Young to boost his chances of landing in the top-three this Sunday.

'It's so important to acclimatize for a race like Malaysia,' he told The People.

'It's so hot in the car. I'm not leaving anything to chance and I'm training hard to be in the best possible physical form to claim a podium.'








Michelin Inspired To Improve
Michelin is hoping to provide its six F1 partner teams with a tyre 'capable of winning' this weekend's event at the hot and humid Malaysian Grand Prix.

'We dominated this event in 2003,' said competition director Pierre Dupasquier, 'but our rival performed strongly two weeks ago in Australia.

DOMINATED IN 2003

'That's only inspired us in our quest to deliver better performance.'

But seven new specifications of Bridgestone-tire feature newly-developed compounds designed to combat the high-temperatures expected in Sepang.

'We have tested long and hard for races like Malaysia,' said technical manager Hisao Suganuma, 'and the time has come to see if we have done our homework.'








News Shorts: Race Or Vote?
Kuala-Lumpur mayor Datuk Mohmad Shaid Mohd Taufek has played-down reports that F1 fans might have to skip the Malaysian GP in order to vote this Sunday.

'City residents can vote as well as enjoy the F1 race,' he said.

The general-election, in which it is mandatory for all citizens to cast a vote, is set to clash with the sixth annual race at Sepang International Circuit.

Malaysians who live outside the Sepang region must vote in their home-towns early in the morning if they want to travel to attend the Formula One event.

* BMW-Williams' technical director Patrick Head has praised Michelin-clad rival Renault for beating both his team and McLaren-Mercedes in the Australian GP.

'It is to be admired,' he said in reference to the Enstone team's success in producing a new engine under long-life rules and racing both cars to the points.

BACK IN SADDLE

* Former Jaguar and Minardi F1 star Justin Wilson is scheduled to race a Taurus Sports Lola-Judd prototype in the 12-Hour Sebring race this weekend.

'It will be great fun to get back into a sports car again,' said the lanky Briton, who will be paired-up with winning Venezuelan female driver Milka Duno.

He said: 'I'm using this to get race-sharp for the season in open-wheelers.'

* English Rugby player Matt Dawson visited the Jordan factory on Thursday.

He was put through his paces in the race-simulator and is scheduled to attend the British Grand Prix at Silverstone for the second time later this season.

* F1 team BAR has extended a supplier contract with Matrix Network Solutions.

'Speed and reliability are as important for communications as they are to the race-car itself,' said David France, head of IT at the Honda-powered team.








Montezemolo Elected To New Role
Luca di Montezemolo has been named as the new chief of Italy's Confindustria.

The Ferrari president has vowed to continue at Maranello but he may appoint a new chief executive, according to speculative reports in the Italian media.

Confindustria is a lobbying organization for about a quarter of all Italian workers and di Montezemolo has taken on the role for a full term of four years.

ON REQUEST

He had been nominated for the position on requests from all over Italy.

'My availability is evidence of a great passion for this extraordinary reality that is Italian enterprise,' he had told reporters at the F2004 car's launch.

Reports speculate that he might ultimately be elected to the national senate.

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