F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
March 19, 2004

Webber respects FIA decision
Jaguar Racing driver Mark Webber has declined an invitation to join the bandwagon of criticism for Formula One's new back-to-back qualifying format.

The Australian praised the governing-FIA for trying to make F1 more interesting.

'I respect them for that,' he said in Malaysia.

The new two-lap Saturday system took longer to complete than Sunday's actual grand prix in Melbourne and also was criticized for lacking excitement.


'It doesn't matter what I think,' Webber, 27, continued. 'What we should take note of is whether it's what the public wants and whether it's exciting.'

Mark's boss Tony Purnell doesn't agree and said the race-fans 'didn't understand what was going on' at an overcast Albert Park as forty flying-laps unfolded.

'If you asked me to vote,' he said, 'then I'd go for the free-for-all again.'

BAR ace Takuma Sato said he doesn't like the system because it has totally removed the concept of 'taking the fuel out of the car' and driving flat-out.

World champion Michael Schumacher sees it Webber's way and denied that Formula One would be right to change it before at least a few grands prix have passed.

Coulthard waits on F1 future
Race-veteran David Coulthard is waiting on his Formula One future.

The Scot urged disgruntled BMW-Williams star Ralf Schumacher to 'make up his mind' whether to spend season-'05 at Grove, or with F1-rivals Renault or Toyota.

'For God's sake, Ralf,' DC joked in Malaysia, 'just hurry up and decide!'


32-year-old Coulthard is set to leave McLaren-Mercedes at the end of this season as Juan Pablo Montoya arrives as a feisty team-mate for Finn Kimi Raikkonen.

The ten-season veteran is also interested in the Williams or Toyota rides.

'It is my intention to be on the grid next year,' Coulthard continued, 'and obviously that means finding the most competitive drive that I can.'

Schumacher gets new Williams offer
Ralf Schumacher does not have as many options in Formula One as his management would have us believe, according to current race-employer Sir Frank Williams.

The German has been linked to Renault and Toyota for 2005 as he tries to convince BMW-Williams to accept his new and higher contract salary demands.

'At the moment I am talking to BMW-Williams,' Schumacher said on Thursday.

'I'd like to stay and we're still talking about it.'

Renault driver Fernando Alonso doubts whether 28-year-old Schumacher is likely to take the spot of his current Italian team-mate Jarno Trulli next season.


'I don't think so,' said the Spaniard in Malaysia.

'I'm very happy with Jarno and I hope he's staying at Renault.'

Frank Williams said the Ralf-to-Renault rumour was 'nothing but nonsense.

'Toyota are his only [other] option,' he told German 'Kicker' magazine.

Williams revealed that he had made Schumacher a new offer involving less money.

'The decision is his,' said the Briton, who has reportedly installed an April 4 (Bahrain Grand Prix) deadline for a final decision - 'Williams or Toyota.'

Ralf threatens to have Montoya off
Ralf Schumacher has re-opened a war of words with team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya by threatening to 'have him off the track' in this Sunday's Malaysian GP.

After the opening race in Melbourne, BMW-Williams' Montoya was quoted as accusing 28-year-old Ralf of nearly punting him into a crash at Albert Park.

'It was a pretty strong move,' German-born Schumacher retorted on Thursday.

'Next time I WILL have him off the track.'

Ralf said Juan came up his inside with all guns blazing and tried to perform an overtaking manoeuvre that would have been based on 'me making space for him.


'I did not,' Schumacher continued. 'I just think that move was not the right thing to do at the time, that early in the race. That's all I have to say.'

He intimated that Montoya braked into the corner with the 'intention' of either crashing or assuming his team-mate would give him space to complete a move.

'That's brilliant,' veteran David Coulthard beamed of the Ralf outburst.

'Normally you'd have to wind a driver up to get that response!'

Predictably, Colombian-born Montoya, off to McLaren in 2005, reacted to the news of Ralf's comments by inviting his outspoken team-mate to 'deal with it.

'Shit happens,' he added. 'He's complaining about what ... that I passed him?'

Stoddart regrets shedding workers
Formula One boss Paul Stoddart is 'deeply' saddened' to have had to axe around 90 percent of the total workforce of his small airline European Aviation.

'This decision comes only after examining all other possible options,' the Australian said in a statement whilst preparing for a race in Malaysia.


Stoddart, who runs Minardi, agreed to sell European in November '02 but said it had embarked on a program of 'ambitious but ultimately unsustainable' growth.

He confirmed how he had returned as the company's chief executive.

'I felt I had a moral duty [to do so],' said the 48-year-old.

Jordan received death threats
Eddie Jordan received death-threats for declining to sign F1 ace Jos Verstappen.

The Formula One boss told The Sun that a hate campaign, by letters and email, started when he opted for Italian rookie Giorgio Pantano over the Dutchman.

'At first I shrugged them off but they became stronger,' EJ said.

'I have been absolutely stunned by [their] menace and vitriol.'


Jordan revealed that the hundreds of emails ranged from messages of wishing him and his family dead to hoping the cash-strapped team would finally collapse.

'I hope the hate mail ends,' said the Irishman in Kuala-Lumpur.

'Verstappen's management have said they are trying to calm the situation.'

Jordan said he had 'never known anything like it' in 30-odd years of racing.

Dixon excited about F1 test
Scott Dixon can't wait to rev-up his quest for a Formula One drive next week.

The IRL champion, who harks from New Zealand, is to step into a BMW-Williams cockpit at Paul Ricard so that the F1 team can assess his talent and potential.

'I'm very excited,' said 23-year-old Dixon.

'Although the real test will be in April in Barcelona.'


Sir Frank Williams said he will be 'fascinated' to see how America's top current open-wheel driver performs at the wheel of a 900bhp Formula One challenger.

'We're grateful to Chip Ganassi for sanctioning this test,' he said.

Former Williams star Alex Zanardi also drove for the American team before making his F1-switch, as did current charger Juan Pablo Montoya, the 1999 champion.

'This is a good opportunity for Scott to test his mettle,' Ganassi commented.

'We have always encouraged our drivers to live up to new challenges.'

Schu backs teammate's claim for title
Ferrari number-two Rubens Barrichello is doing a 'fantastic job.'

That's the opinion of his world champion team-cohort Michael Schumacher who backed the Brazilian's claims that 2004 represents his best-shot at a title.

'He's proved to be performing consistently,' said the German.

He added: 'I hope it continues that way because if not we will both struggle. It's going to be a long season and I think he will be tough competition.'


Rubens knows that Schumacher has ruled-the-roost at Ferrari and in Formula One for the past four years 'but I'm here to change that,' he said in Malaysia.

Schumacher isn't sure whether Rubens can make that final step-up.

'We find out,' he smiled at a press conference at the Kuala-Lumpur airport.

'Actually, I hope not - because then I'm in trouble!'

Barrichello says he truly believes 'I am better than Michael.

'It's the only way to think,' he said, 'if I want to win races. I never think of him as the number one - I think we are a team. I don't have to let him win.'

Sepang is Schumacher's favorite
Malaysia's Sepang is one of Michael Schumacher's favorite Formula One tracks.

The German and his Ferrari car hasn't looked competitive at the hot and humid location for the last couple of years, but he vowed to turn it around in '04.

'It is one of my favorite tracks,' said Schumacher.


'Spa and Suzuka are the best, but this is close. I give it 9.5 out of ten.'

Technical director Ross Brawn said earlier this week that one of the reasons for starting the season with the new F2004 was because of the notorious Sepang heat.

'All of us have to worry about reliability,' admitted Michael, 35.

'But we've simulated whole race distances and I'm not worried.'

Button still hunts for F1 podium
Jenson Button is still on the hunt for his first-ever podium-finish.

The BAR star has never had a car capable of the feat in Malaysia but reckons sixth-place in Australia bodes well for the hotter weather expected here.


'Our car, now, is quick enough,' the Englishman told Reuters.

Button, 24, said the goal for season-2004 is to be the fourth-best team.

'If we finish fifth and sixth in every race,' he added, 'we've got a chance of being in the top three. Certainly, we hope for better than fifth and sixth.'

Alonso sports black arm-band
Spaniard Fernando Alonso sports a black arm-band in Malaysia this weekend.

The Renault star is also wearing a national-flag on his race-helmet in tribute of countrymen who lost their lives in the recent terror attacks in Madrid.

'It will be difficult to win,' he said in Kuala-Lumpur, 'but it would probably be one of the best moments of the year now to have a first place.'


Alonso, 22, was in the Maldives when he heard of the horrific train-bombings.

'It was difficult to have any news,' said Fernando.

'I rang home on Monday and they told me. I feel so shocked and saddened because it happened to normal people like us - workers and kids going to school.'

Schumacher unfazed by terror threat
Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher is unfazed at the prospect of racing in a region ravaged by war and on high-alert for terrorist attacks.

'I'm quite sure Bahrain will be one of the safest places,' he said.

The Middle Eastern island is the next-stop on a new 18-race F1 calendar.

Schumacher's rationale is that the more alert authorities are to the threat of terrorism, the more safety measures will be in place to protect visitors.


Bahrain is an ally of the United States, which invaded Iraq last year and was attacked by terror-group Al-Queda in 2001 killing around 3000 citizens.

Michael, who drives a Ferrari, echoed the sentiments of politicians who insist that terrorist attacks strike without notice 'at any time and in any place.'

He said: 'If you stop to think about it, what can you do?'

'B-version' McLaren in pipeline
One year ago, the Formula One world enthused about McLaren's young Finn.

'I didn't hear a lot of people talking about him in Australia,' noted Rubens Barrichello as the circus prepares for the off in hot, humid Malaysia.

Kimi Raikkonen was often fast in winter-testing with his new MP4-19 but he struggled to get within two-seconds a lap of the Ferrari pace in Australia.

Then, his Mercedes-Benz V10 engine failed.

'I was surprised that they were not fast,' Ferrari ace Barrichello added.


McLaren veteran David Coulthard reckons a B-version of the '19' is already in the pipeline and a number of other changes should come on-line before its ready.

'I would expect that before we get halfway through the European season,' said the Scot in Malaysia, 'we will see some significant changes.'

Team-tester Pedro de la Rosa tested a few developments in Spain last week and they are now ready to be worn by the silver racer at the hot Sepang F1 circuit.

'Our lack of pace in Melbourne was a bit baffling,' said team chief Ron Dennis.

The Englishman told The Guardian that the MP4-19 had looked a second-per-lap quicker than its predecessor and perhaps it just failed to perform in Australia.

Dennis admitted that the new Mercedes V10 engine is 'a concern.'

'... You can't carry not having the best engine,' he concluded.

BMW-Williams needs a miracle: Montoya
BMW-Williams needs a miracle if it is to compete with Ferrari in Malaysia.

That was the message of pessimism delivered by team-driver Juan Pablo Montoya as a hot 30-degrees welcomed the circus to Sepang on Friday-practice morning.

'It's very hard to say we're going to have a miracle,' said the Colombian.


Montoya, 28, insists that the novel-looking FW26 should be stronger in the temperatures but 'it might take some more time' to find race-winning pace.

'We might surprise ourselves,' he continued.

'Maybe we'll win - or maybe we'll be tenth. It's hard to judge.'

Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello agrees that BMW-Williams and McLaren are unlikely to pose the strongest non-Bridgestone challenge in the Malaysian GP.

Pointing to Renault's Fernando Alonso, he said: 'I think it will be this guy.'

First qualifying is 'pointless': Rubens
The first part of 'back-to-back' qualifying is pointless.

Rubens Barrichello was the first-man on-track at Albert Park a fortnight ago and he said there was 'no point' to push and risk the car ahead of run number-two.

'With the heat here,' he said, 'it might be cooler at the start [of the second session] so it might be an advantage to run then in the second session.

'So there's no value in finishing right up the top in first-qualifying.'


Renault youngster Fernando Alonso, who scored his maiden Formula One pole-position here in Malaysia a year ago, agrees with the scarlet-clad driver.

'You can't make any mistakes in the first one,' said the Spaniard, 'and that's not just my own feeling - I'm sure the team wouldn't be happy if I crashed it.

'You'd have to take the T-car and lose places - so why push?'

Rubens favors a return to the 2003-system of Friday and Saturday one-lappers.

'You have time to get it in the press, you have everything,' he continued.

'At least it gives you a chance to push.'

BMW-Williams to bounce back: Alonso
Fernando Alonso reckons BMW-Williams might bounce-back in Malaysia.

The Renault star beat Grove's two race-drivers home at the opening Australian Grand Prix but feels they have very competitive cars for the upcoming season.

'I'm sure we're a bit quicker than McLaren,' said Alonso, 22.


'But I think BMW-Williams is very strong.'

Alonso said Melbourne was difficult for Sir Frank's outfit because Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya got stuck in traffic after the first corner.

'I don't think we have any advantage [over them],' he continued.

'They will be very hard to beat.'

Alonso stamps on launch-suspicion
Fernando Alonso has stamped on suspicion that Renault are beating the rules.

The Spaniard and team-mate Jarno Trulli burst off the start-line at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix despite the winter banning of launch-control.

'Obviously we've just done a very good job,' said Alonso, 22, at Sepang.


'We've tested the starts a lot, and I think we've got good natural traction.'

The Formula One team benefits from a close collaboration with the Renault Technocentre and has been trying its manual-start system in normal road-cars.

'We've only got off the line the best once so far,' Fernando tempered.

'Hopefully we'll do it here too, but it's too early to say.'

Barrichello worried about Bahrain
Rubens Barrichello is a little worried about Formula One's next-stop.

Already, more than 33-degrees and 75-percent humidity hangs over the Sepang F1 circuit but the circus can brace itself for even harder weather in Bahrain.

'A guy said to me this morning that [Bahrain] is even more humid, and even more hot, than here,' the Ferrari ace said at the race-circuit in Malaysia.

'I told him we are going to die inside our F1 cars!'


Most F1-players were not expecting humidity to be a problem in the desert-location of Sakhir, some twenty-kilometres south of Bahrain capital Manama.

'I've only seen the racing track on paper,' Barrichello continued.

'So I'll get down there very early before the race to get a feel for it.'

Fernando Alonso, the Spanish ace who's tipped to challenge Ferrari in Malaysia on Sunday, is also surprised that humidity might sweat the drivers in Bahrain.

'I heard it was hot and dry - not humid,' said the 22-year-old.

Renault's young star concluded: 'I guess we'll find out.'

Ralf vows to speed-up BMW-Williams
Ralf Schumacher has vowed to turn BMW-Williams' form upside-down.

'Clearly we are not happy with where we are now,' said the German.

The boys in BMW-blue were surprised at the cool Albert Park circuit to, first, be so far behind Ferrari but, more significantly, trail the pace of Renault.

Schumacher, 28, said: 'I guess it will be a bit different here.


'We were definitely surprised in Australia because the tests had gone well for us, we were at the top, so we expected also to be on top in the grands prix.'

Any significant turn-around in form, though, is going to have to wait.

'We don't have anything significant (new) on the car here,' said Ralf.

'It's a bit short of time between Australia and Malaysia. For Bahrain we expect something but for here it is basically the same package - little changes.'

Is Mercedes' new engine rev-limited?
Is Mercedes-Benz's new Formula One engine rev-limited?

McLaren driver David Coulthard hinted after the season-opening Australian Grand Prix that the F1-powerplant had been turned-down to ensure car-reliability.

'Sometimes, inevitably, you get misquoted,' he said at the Sepang Circuit.

Coulthard, when originally asked if the engine had been tuned-down, said the journalist should direct his question to Ilmor, to ensure an accurate answer.


'Maybe it was perceived as me saying 'oh, talk to them, I'm not happy'.'

David said: 'That's not at all the case.'

The 32-year-old suggests that his Mercedes unit is not 'significantly lower' in revs or power both compared to the Formula One race-competitors and last-season.

'I think our starting-point this year is reasonable,' said Coulthard.

McLaren's two drivers completed very few laps in official Friday practice.

Jet-lagged Rubens deserves to win
Fernando Alonso spent his lead-up to the Malaysian Grand Prix in the sunny Maldives; he snorkelled, played beach-volleyball and did a bit of training.

Poor old Rubens Barrichello went round-and-round the Valencia test-track.

'Ah huh,' the Brazilian confirmed. 'So I deserve to win, then?'

Of the top four or five Formula One teams, Ferrari ace Barrichello was the only race-driver who jetted-back to Europe to try-out new developments for his car.

'It's a tough business,' he smiled. 'I wish I had been in the Maldives!'


Certainly, it wasn't Barrichello's choice to disrupt his sleep-patterns.

'On the first day, I was useless,' he said. 'I was so jet-lagged. I was glad when it rained, because I didn't have to do many laps - I couldn't do it.'

Rubens told Ferrari that they should rely on the feedback of tester Luca Badoer more than him because to fly in-and-out of Asia for a few hours was 'too much.'

Barrichello tested Bridgestone's new hot-weather tyres for the Malaysian GP.

After this race, though, Rubens is heading-off to Brazil for a break.

'Yep. So these others can go back and test - for me.'

Montoya's scared of heights
200 kilometres-per-hour around a corner? No problem, says Juan Pablo Montoya.

But put the BMW-Williams star at a bungee-jump in Australia, and he's a mess.

'It was in 2000,' the Colombian told The Daily Telegraph, 'when I was still driving in CART. I was invited to do a bit of filming on the jump.'


Montoya, 28, hates heights but agreed to the film-makers' demands to hold out his arm on the way-down with a camera in his hand to film the bungee-drop.

'I looked out and there's no security barrier,' he continued.

'It freaks me out completely. My CART team-mate was shaking and I just turned and said to the guys 'no way, sorry, this is not going to happen'.'

F1 notes in Malaysia
F1 team BAR-Honda has a new supplier in Italian machining manufacturer JOBS.

JOBS will provide BAR with a LinX Compact T3D 5-axis machining centre.

* Ford vice-president Richard Parry-Jones has warned Formula One that it cannot simply hop outside the European Union to avoid an impending tobacco ad-ban.

'It won't solve the problem,' he told Autosport.


Parry-Jones said: 'Certainly Ford, and I'm sure other companies, don't want to be associated with a sport which relies on tobacco for its commercial health.'

* Renault boss Flavio Briatore has become embroiled in a bitter legal row with ex-lover and super model Heidi Klum over where their child should be born.

Klum wants to have it in the US, but Briatore wants a German-birth.

'I suspect that this is a case of a very rich man wanting to keep hold of most of his fortune,' said one lawyer, who said both parties are now represented.

Iceman wants more horsepower
Kimi Raikkonen wants more horsepower.

The McLaren-driving Finn admitted in Kuala-Lumpur that the most serious shortcoming of his uncompetitive MP4-19 lies under the Mercedes engine-cover.

'I'm sure we're not on the level of BMW or some others,' he said.

Raikkonen, 24, said the anteater-nosed chassis is at least more reliable now.


'So hopefully we can improve the speed. Horsepower is not so easy to find.'

Last year, the monosyllabic blonde went neck-to-neck with F1 champion Michael Schumacher all the way to the chequered-flag of the concluding Japan race.

'We did not have a good start,' Kimi said, 'but there are 17 races to go.'

Raikkonen concluded: 'You never know. We just need to improve the car and then hopefully we can get back in the race for the world championship a bit later.'

Schu wouldn't mind 20 grands prix
Michael Schumacher wouldn't mind if the F1 calendar expanded to 20 grands prix.

Race-impresario Bernie Ecclestone wants to impose a test-cap in order to make room for more events and that's alright with the sport's fittest race-champion.

'I don't think there is a maximum number of races for us,' he said.

'It all depends how much a driver can take, physically.'


Schumacher, 35, said if there are more races on the F1-schedule, there will be less time for the often tedious routine of track-testing, 'which is no problem.

'I'd prefer more races and less testing,' the Ferrari star added.

F1 is going to Bahrain and China this season and an ever-expanded future-calendar would probably see the circus move further into the Far East and Asia.

'The transition is clear,' said Michael.

'I don't mind exploring other countries, especially if the facilities are as good as these. The only sad thing is that we will miss some European races.'

BMW-Williams stay out of driver-spat
BMW-Williams will not intervene in a new spat between its Formula One drivers.

Ralf Schumacher threatened to punt Juan Pablo Montoya off the Sepang circuit this weekend if he repeats the 'strong' overtaking move of the Australian GP.

'It's between them,' chief operations engineer Sam Michael said.

The Australian told The Guardian that until both drivers clash and end up in the kitty-litter, the team will encourage tough driving and vowed not to intervene.


'We have absolutely no problem with our drivers racing aggressively ...

'... as long as both the cars stay on the track.'

At Indianapolis in 2002, BMW-Williams DID intervene when the drivers tangled and incurred the wrath of team-chiefs Sir Frank Williams and tech-boss Patrick Head.

'If that happens, then we do get involved,' Michael confirmed.

'But in terms of straight, aggressive racing, we don't mind at all.'

Friday in Malaysia: track notes
Felipe Massa went-off the circuit just five-laps into practice in Malaysia.

A weather source predicts that thunder-storms may strike in the afternoon as the Sepang region near Kuala-Lumpur heads for a very humid top of 33-degrees C.

* Jordan 'Friday tester' Timo Glock was presented with a cake at the Sepang circuit on Thursday as the German celebrated his twenty-second birthday.


Race team-mate Giorgio Pantano, of Italy, surprised his friend, Glock, when he marched into the team's hospitality area with the sparkler-adorned white-cake.

'I'm not going to celebrate tonight,' said Timo, 'because I'm training.'

* F1 champion Michael Schumacher expects BMW-Williams to fight-back in Malaysia.

'If they get the tyres right,' said the German, 'I wouldn't be surprised if they outperformed Renault. They didn't do it in Australia but they could here.'

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