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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
March 18, 2004


F1 stars drive Bahrain circuit
Formula One drivers past and present offered a cumulative thumbs-up to the new circuit in Bahrain on Wednesday as they turned-laps in grand prix racers.

'It's a world class track,' said Marc Gene. 'I really enjoyed driving on it.'

The Spaniard steered his deafening BMW-Williams FW25, last-year's Formula One model, around the $150 million Sakhir facility as it was officially inaugurated.

Bahrain King Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa arrived by helicopter to entertain 350 guests including ex-triple F1 world champion and Scot Sir Jackie Stewart.

Gene, Williams' test and reserve driver, predicted that April 4 at the circuit 20kms from capital-city Manama is going to see a 'challenging' Formula One race.

'I think we might just see one of the best ever,' he enthused.

MODERN, BEAUTIFUL

Former Ferrari and Jordan ace Jean Alesi took to the cockpit and did laps in the latest gull-wing Mercedes SLR and a vintage 1954 Mercedes-Benz 196 Streamliner.

'This track is going to make many F1 hosts cry,' the Frenchman predicted.

'It's so modern and so beautiful.'

Alesi, who retired in 2001, said the 5.4 km layout asks for longer, heavier braking around the bends and should also allow opportunities for overtaking.

Designer Hermann Tilke attended the opening and confirmed that F1's governing FIA has approved the track and will do a final inspection later this month.

The 'Bahrain Order' was awarded to Stewart and Tilke for making a 'significant contribution' to the construction or awareness of the inaugural Bahrain GP.

A 1981 Williams F1 was pedalled by Mohammed bin Sulayem and a Formula BMW single-seater also did laps driven by Middle Eastern driver Karim Samy Pascha.








Some like it hot - even Ferrari
In Formula One, some like it hot - even world champion team Ferrari.

Many analysts are expecting Maranello's F1 rivals to close the gap in the heat and humidity of the Malaysian GP, to be staged near Kuala-Lumpur this Sunday.

But technical director Ross Brawn warns them not to hold their breaths.

'This grand prix was one of the factors that influenced our decision to start this season with the new car, the F2004,' revealed Ferrari's tech-chief.

Brawn says the new car has 'much better' cooling than its predecessor.

INEFFICIENT

'Too often,' he explained, 'we were running our cars in an inefficient way - with all cooling ducts fully open. So we really tried to improve that.'

F2004 is optimised to run at higher temperatures, meaning that its aerodynamic configuration is less disrupted by having less cooling 'holes' in the bodywork.

'It means we've got bigger radiators so more weight,' said Brawn.

'But we decided this was the way to go. F2004 has far more cooling capacity.'

One of the considerations was engine-reliability, especially with new rules that saw each powerplant collect up to 600 kilometres at the opening Aussie F1-event.

'The engine is what suffers most in hot conditions,' Ross said.








FIA propose qualifying 'tweak'
Formula One's governing body has proposed a 'tweak' to the highly-criticised new back-to-back qualifying system to be ready by the upcoming Bahrain Grand Prix.

An FIA statement was issued on Wednesday confirming that the two-lap system, run for the first time in Australia, will proceed unchanged this weekend at Sepang.

But in the future, to better-facilitate TV-scheduling, the Commercial Rights Holder has requested that the procedure should begin at 1pm, rather than at 2pm.

Further, qualifying 'proper' - the second part - should start at 2pm rather than simply at the end of the laps which determine the order of the second-session.

TEAMS MUST AGREE

The first-half of the procedure takes about 45 minutes, meaning that the slowest cars should have around 15 minutes - not two - to get-ready for their second go.

Formula One's ten-teams must agree unanimously to the revised schedule.

Bosses are to get-together in Sepang this weekend and, pending a positive response, the issue will be put to the Formula One Commission by a fax-vote.

Then, if the World Motor Sport Council confirms the decision at its meeting on 24 March, the new schedule could be introduced from the April 4 Bahrain GP.

'In all other respects,' read the FIA statement ...

'... the qualifying procedures would remain as published.'








Dixon lands BMW-Williams F1 test
IRL champion Scott Dixon has taken another step on his road to Formula One.

The New Zealand star is to complete a test-drive for the successful BMW-Williams team next week at the 'Paul Ricard High-Tech Test-Track' in southern France.

Grove is on the look-out for at least one, and possibly two, new F1 race-drivers ahead of the 2005-season, and Sir Frank Williams is keen on the US-product.

CHIP GANASSI

Current team-ace Juan Pablo Montoya is a former Champ Car champion and '99 driver Alex Zanardi won the US open-wheeler title twice before trying F1 again.

Montoya, Zanardi and 23-year-old Dixon all drove for the Chip Ganassi outfit.

1997 Williams-Renault world champion Jacques Villeneuve won the Indy 500.

A source close to Williams told BBC that the Formula One team has organized Dixon's test in order to 'evaluate his potential' in view of the full-time ride.

He'll also get a three-day test at Circuit de Catalunya (Spain) in April.








Williams will put up a fight: Ralf
Ferrari can expect a tough fight from BMW-Williams in Malaysia.

That was the message of confidence delivered by Ralf Schumacher on Wednesday night as the German met the press in the light of the awesome Petronas Towers.

'Clearly, we've got a lot of work to do,' he said. 'Melbourne showed us that.'

Not only did Ferrari stroll to an easy one-two, both FW26 Williams cars were beaten to the line by the similarly Michelin-shod Renault of Fernando Alonso.

FIGHT-BACK STARTS HERE

'If we want to close the gap, we have to start it here,' Schumacher said.

'I am sure that McLaren are wanting to fight back, too.'

All Michelin runners are hoping the analysts are true when they say hotter conditions, such as those expected in Sepang, should suit their French tyres.

'I believe it is true,' said 28-year-old Ralf.

'Maybe it did not turn out in the truest way in Melbourne. Maybe there was still a lot of experimenting going on. We will find out here, I guess.'

Michelin-clad McLaren star Kimi Raikkonen won the 2003 race near Kuala-Lumpur.







Sepang Is Ferrari's true test: Schu
Sepang is the first real test for Ferrari, according to Michael Schumacher.

The six-times world champion romped-home victory at the season-opening Australian event but Malaysia will evaluate exactly how the F2004 shapes-up.

'I like the idea of the next race being in Malaysia,' said the German.

INTERESTING

Schumacher continued: 'I think it could be an interesting one. We are all eager to gauge the real significance of our dominance in Australia.'

Michael considers the wide, Sepang lay-out to be a 'real challenge.'

Apart from the obvious heat, he said, it is not easy to drive.

'It has its built-in difficulties,' said the 35-year-old. 'It is flat - maybe too flat - and it's hard to get the racing-line and best trajectory right.'








Michelin might be in 'deep trouble'
If this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix sounds a similar tune to the season-opening event in Melbourne, F1 tire-supplier Michelin is in 'deep trouble.'

The French firm's motorsport boss Pierre Dupasquier admits that Ferrari and tyre-rival Bridgestone dominated the pace in the cool ambient Oz-conditions.

'If we go to Malaysia and they're still dominating,' he told Reuters ...

'... then we are in deep trouble.'

TOO EARLY

It is definitely, however, too early to start the real panicking.

'But Malaysia is clearly a very important event,' said Dupasquier.

'It will help to give us a clearer idea of this year's hierarchy.'

Michelin ruled the hot-race of 2003, when Fernando Alonso and his Renault qualified on pole position and Kimi Raikkonen strolled to victory for McLaren.

'That doesn't mean we take anything for granted,' Dupasquier continued.

'But we're confident we can give our teams tyres that are capable of winning.'








What is Pantano worried about?
What is Giorgio Pantano worried about as he eyes his second Formula One race?

The Italian rookie struggled to learn the Albert Park lay-out over limited laps two weeks ago and now hopes the Sepang F1 circuit is not quite as intricate.

'It looks beautiful,' he said in Malaysia on Wednesday.

'But hopefully it will be easier to learn than Australia.'

HEAT AND HUMIDITY

Pantano is also a little worried about the heat and humidity just south of capital-city Kuala-Lumpur, looking set to settle in the mid-30s this weekend.

'It's a bit worrying,' he admitted.

'But I travelled down here early to train in these climate conditions.'

Pantano is eager to hit the circuit on Friday to 'see what we can do' now that he knows the Ford-powered EJ14 and the Jordan Grand Prix team a little better.

The Roman was the last driver confirmed in the 2004 Formula One line-up.

'For sure,' he said, 'there's a lot more to come.'

Jordan's head of race engineering, James Robinson, said the yellow-clad outfit's F3000-winning rookie put a 'well-driven' race-distance under his belt in Oz.








Cars to do more laps at F1 races
Renault's Denis Chevrier has allayed concerns that the Australian Grand Prix weekend was an indicator of the kind of track-mileage expected throughout 2004.

On the Albert Park street-circuit, the average distance covered by each team with two race-cars was 1080km, or less than two grands prix distances per car.

This season, each car is restricted to the use of a single engine per weekend.

STILL ADJUSTING

'I think what we saw [there] will prove to have been at the conservative end of what we will see in 2004,' said the team's head of engine operations.

Just why did teams give drivers fewer laps to adjust to the Melbourne circuit?

Because if a V10-powerplant blows-up in the approach to Sunday afternoon's grand prix, the penalty for changing it out is ten-places on the F1 starting-grid.

Chevrier said Renault, for one, is 'still adjusting' to the new format.

'I think we may include up to a dozen extra laps in future races,' he hinted.

What type of circuit the F1-circus is visiting will also influence the mileage covered; in Bahrain, for example, drivers can expect to do a few more laps.

'Our usage of the engines will change according to how well we know the circuit,' Denis explained, 'and how demanding it is for the engine.'








Webber supports two-lap qualifying
Mark Webber has denied that Formula One Fridays are now 'boring.'

The Australian welcomed a 2004-change of schedule that has canned a preliminary round of single-lap qualifying in exchange for the familiar two-hours practice.

'I thought Friday last year was very strange,' said the Jaguar star.

'The track was dirty and the guys doing well in the championship had it tough.'

FLATTERED

Webber, 27, is willing to admit that mid-field runners - like himself - were sometimes 'flattered' on Friday and had a better slot for the Saturday run.

'I think it's nice to have both sessions together,' he adds.

World champion Michael Schumacher was often the first-car to take to a dusty Friday circuit last season because the running was dictated by points-standing.

'What we have now,' said the German, 'is more positive than last year.'








Rubens has praise for F1 rivals
Rubens Barrichello has some praise for one or two of his Formula One rivals.

The Ferrari star said before the F1-circus even landed in Australia that Renault and Spanish driver Fernando Alonso should shadow the pace of the race-leaders.

'I predicted they'd be quick,' said the Brazilian, 'and they are.'

Barrichello, from Sao Paulo, also reckons it's 'nice' to see other formerly mid-field teams like BAR-Honda climbing the competitive ladder in grands prix.

VARIETY

'It provides some variety,' said the second-placed Melbourne finisher.

'But I am more excited about the fact that our car seems to be going well.'

Most media agencies outlined their surprise that the scarlet-team dominated at Albert Park and now hope that Ferrari won't go so well in the Malaysian GP.

Certainly, Barrichello doesn't expect to have the same kind of advantage.

'We can expect a tougher weekend,' said the Ferrari star.

'But this car runs better in hot conditions than its predecessor.'







Schu can't wait for Bahrain race
Michael Schumacher can't wait for the first-ever F1 race in the Middle East.

After his Ferrari car has competed in Malaysia this weekend, the circus is off to Bahrain to contest the Kingdom's inaugural event on a purpose-built facility.

'It's great to see new circuits and new countries,' said the German.

'I've heard it is a very impressive project so I can't wait to see it.'

HOTTER THAN KL?

Jaguar ace Mark Webber said the event, staged in the deserts of Sakhir near city-Manama, is likely to be hot - perhaps even more than in Kuala-Lumpur.

'I've never been to Bahrain,' said the Australian.

'I think the whole paddock, the whole industry, is excited about it.'

Webber, 27, said a globalizing F1-calendar 'broadens the touch' of grands prix.








Sato out to boost Asian interest
Takuma Sato is relishing the challenge of driving for Japan in Formula One.

The BAR-Honda ace is probably the country's best prospect in the history of grands prix but he does not see the responsibility as an added pressure.

'I am very excited about it,' he told Press Association in Malaysia.

Sato reckons F1 needs to inspire a 'lot more interest' in Asia.

PODIUM FINISH

'So it's up to me,' he said, 'to do a good result and create a huge opportunity for interest in Asia and in Japan. My personal target is a podium finish.'

The Japanese reckons his Brackley-based F1 team has 'massive potential.

'It is a very big project,' he said of the Honda-powered outfit.

Takuma, 27, doesn't mind if the Sepang skies turn dark this weekend as his British F3-winning skills are renowned on a damp and slippery circuit.

'But in the circumstances for BAR,' he said, 'I think we prefer a dry race.

'Michelin has usually worked very well here in hot temperatures.'








Toyota target top-ten qualifying
Formula One team Toyota can bounce-back on a hotter Malaysian circuit.

That's the expectation of team manager Ange Pasquali who told a media conference that a double-lapping at Albert Park left every member 'intensely dissatisfied.'

'It was not good,' he said. 'Here, we want to qualify in the top-ten.'

Cologne's race-team, headed by drivers Cristiano da Matta and veteran Olivier Panis, did just that last season on what Toyota calls the 'toughest track.'

SUITS CAR

'Malaysia suits our car better,' Ange told the assembled media.

He said: 'Our engine speed can be emphasized more on the long straights, and the hot weather should also be an advantage for our Michelin supplied tyres.'

Toyota 'third' driver Ricardo Zonta and test ace Ryan Briscoe, of Australia, also attended the press conference while the race-drivers were off training.

'They are preparing for this race in Singapore,' said a spokesman.

Panis and da Matta are scheduled to arrive in Kuala-Lumpur on Thursday.








'Quick Nick' eyes Sepang hat-trick
Nick Heidfeld has his eye on a Malaysian Grand Prix hat-trick.

The German, albeit driving a Sauber F1 racer in 2002 and 2003, scored points at Sepang on his last two visits and hopes for more of the same this time round.

Heidfeld was nudged-off to cash-strapped Jordan ahead of the new-year.

'I hope that we have more success than in Melbourne,' Nick said in Malaysia.

DIFFERENT TYRES

'I'm optimistic because the tyres and the car are a bit different here and hopefully we can get something out of the analysis of our last race.'

27-year-old 'Quick Nick' was forced to retire at Albert Park with a clutch failure that also powered-him into a couple of team-mechanics at a pit-stop.

'We fully understand the cause of the problem,' said James Robinson.

Jordan's tech-head added that the team has 'implemented changes' for Sepang.

'One of our strengths is our young and fit driver line-up,' said the Briton.

'These conditions play heavily on driver fitness.'

* Eddie Jordan and the F1 team-drivers will unveil a new Bahrain-sponsored emblem to be displayed on the EJ14 engine-cover on Friday morning in the pits.








Stoddart sacks airline workers
F1 team-boss Paul Stoddart has axed 560 workers at European Aviation.

The Australian, as well as owning back-of-the-grid outfit Minardi, runs the small airline which flies out of English airports Bournemouth and Coventry.

560 lay-offs represent a hit-rate of four out of five staff.

SLUMP IN BUSINESS

European's workforce is therefore down to 160, from 720, and 48-year-old Stoddart blamed a slump in the airline-business since September 11, 2001.

But fired staff accused him of neglecting European Aviation.

One told The Sun: 'He has been playing with cars and we're out of work.'

Stoddart retorted by claiming management consultants had been running the airline and, in light of the lay-offs, he would return as chief executive.








F1 prepares for seven-race spread
In a period of eight weeks, fans will never have seen so much F1 action.

Between Monaco (May 23) and Germany (July 25), the grand prix circus will race on no less than seven track-venues in little more than two full months.

The sport's fittest-driver is certainly unfazed by the schedule.

'So there's less testing and more racing,' Michael Schumacher shrugged.

LESS TESTING

The world champion added: 'That's good, in my view.'

>From a physical perspective, the hectic run through Europe and North America also doesn't bother another highly-tuned Formula One racer in Mark Webber.

'It's fine,' said the Aussie, 'but of course you have to be in good shape.'

Technically, though, the seven-race spread might catch-out a team or two.

'There won't be a lot of testing going on,' the Jaguar driver remarked.

'So if you're having a bad run with reliability or something, you're not going to have much time to do anything about it. But for us it should be fun.'








Schu not bothered by Malaysian heat
Ferrari's F1 drivers don't let a bit of heat bother them.

World champion Michael Schumacher is well-known for hopping out of his scarlet car after a tough Malaysian Grand Prix without a beat of sweat in sight.

'I'm not too badly affected by the heat,' the German confirmed.

'My physiology means I don't sweat very much.'

ACCLIMATISE

Nevertheless, 35-year-old Schumacher always goes somewhere in the Far East to do his training and acclimatise for the hot and humid challenge of Sepang-F1.

'I actually don't drink very much during a race,' he continues.

'In fact, for some races, I don't even have a drink bottle in the car. But here I make a point of drinking a lot of electrolyte drinks during the week.'

And even heat-proof Schumacher has a drink-bottle in his Malaysia-spec Ferrari.








F1 news: brief
En route to Malaysia, Renault's F1 drivers stopped-off in Singapore.

Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli helped launch the new Megane Coupe-Cabriolet and then hosted a charity-auction for children suffering from leukaemia.

* Sauber drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa had a busy day in Malaysian capital Kuala-Lumpur on Wednesday ahead of the weekend's grand prix.

GRID GIRLS

They test-drove the new Proton Gen-2.2, posed with Grid Girls, tried-on Puma shoes in a sports shop, and posed for photographers in the Petronas Twin Towers.

* In Portugal, former F1 racer Heinz-Harald Frentzen showed he had lost none of his speed by topping the test-times for a second day running in his DTM car.

The German will race an Opel Vectra GTS in 2004.

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