F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
March 21, 2004

Were Renault playing games?
Were Renault playing games with their Formula One rivals in qualifying?

In session-one, Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli were fastest of all with 1min33s laps, but the best Trulli (8th) could ultimately manage was a 1.34.41.

It sparked speculation that the team was trying to convince Ferrari that it was opting for a three-stop race, when a two-stop strategy is actually more likely.

Alonso, the Spaniard, spun off the track at turn-fourteen.


'Our strategy was to initially run relatively light ... to take advantage of the change in circuit temperatures we had noted on previous days,' said Pat Symonds.

The engineering chief notes that the current qualifying format goes beyond four o'clock, so running on a cooler track would probably boost drivers' lap-times.

'But the second session ran less smoothly,' he said.

'Three mistakes compromised Jarno's chances - it lost him nearly a second.'

Symonds said Alonso was heading for a front-row berth when he beached-it.

Webber doesn't dream of Sepang-podium
Mark Webber crossed the line and his pit-to-car radio instantly crackled.

'Very, very good job,' said the Australian's race-engineer.

'I looked at the big screen to see if I'd got Rubens,' second-placed Webber said in Malaysia, 'and I was so happy to see it said number one at the time.'

Webber reckons the race 'is going to be tough' with a scarlet-racing champion, who goes by the name of Michael Schumacher, just ahead on the highest grid-row.


Mark, 27, isn't really dreaming of the Malaysian GP podium.

'We need to finish the race,' he said, 'as we didn't do it in Australia.'

He warned that no F1 car is bullet-proof, especially on a 55-degree circuit.

'We are hoping to get some decent points,' said the Queanbeyan-born charger.

Ferrari charge to second 2004-win
Ferrari are charging to their second-win of the new Formula One season.

That was the claim of BMW-Williams technical director Patrick Head even if the Michelin-challenge is stronger in the stifling-heat near city Kuala-Lumpur.

'I doubt they are particularly lowly fuelled for the race,' said the Briton.


Most analysts agreed that Ferrari's Bridgestone tyres would be shaded by the French-made product at Sepang - but Head is always wary of the scarlet machine.

'I won't go to bed in rosy comfort tonight,' he said with a sickly-smile.

BMW-Williams isn't giving much away about its own race-strategy for Sunday.

'With the new regulations,' said chief operations engineer Sam Michael, 'strategy has changed and is now a fine-balance of risk versus gain.'

Montoya hopes for better manual-start
BMW-Williams' drivers are hoping for a better manual-start today in Malaysia.

Launch-control is banned this year but Juan Pablo Montoya in particular, and team-mate Ralf Schumacher, didn't get-off to a brilliant start in Australia.


'The clutch was very cold,' said the Colombian.

'It works better with higher temperatures.'

Montoya, Grove's highest-placed driver in fourth, said he'll do some burnouts on the formation-lap in Malaysia and 'if I slip the clutch, we should be okay.'

Alonso's new engine to start from pitlane
F1 team Renault has opted to change Fernando Alonso's engine.

The Spaniard was heading for a front-row berth but he lost the R24 under-braking in final qualifying and instead faced a grid-spot near the rear of the field.

'For the sake of caution, we've decided to change his engine,' said Pat Symonds.

The decision, under new single-engine rules, carries with it a 10-grid penalty but the 22-year-old has little to lose by being so-far down the pecking-order.

'It will be replaced with the engine from the spare car,' Symonds continues.


Renault's tech-chief said the plan improves the likelihood of race-reliability.

'It doesn't give us a performance advantage,' he insisted, 'but of course it is better to use a low-mileage engine. Our reliability has been impeccable.'

The Enstone-based team later hinted that Alonso would start from pitlane.

'What we're doing also opens up other strategic options,' Symonds said.

'They are currently under consideration.'

Symonds said both two and three-stop strategies are likely for the Grand Prix because the Sepang circuit is so-hard on the tyres - especially the rears.

Renault can't live with Ferrari: Alonso
The back row of the grid is 'no problem' for Formula One's charging Spaniard.

Renault's youngster was heading for the front-row in Malaysia yesterday when he threw it in the gravel - but Fernando Alonso thinks points are still realistic.

'A couple of times last year I was right back here,' he said at Sepang.

'But I managed always to be in the points.'


Team-strategists are already counting on Renault's sterling-new manual-start system which should rocket Fernando up to about fourteenth by the first-corner.

Alonso, 22, doesn't think he threw-away a win under the Malaysian sun.

'We're not strong enough,' he said. 'The Ferraris are much stronger.

'I don't think we can live with them.'

Head marvels at Ferrari progress
Patrick Head marveled at the pace of his scarlet Formula One rivals.

The BMW-Williams tech-chief doesn't think Ferrari will win by sixty-seconds at Sepang but reckons the Maranello-juggernaut has made 'remarkable progress.

'Look at [Michael Schumacher's] pole time,' the Briton started.

The German's flat 1m33-lap against the 2003-pole of 1m37, set by Fernando Alonso in the Renault, is no less than a four-second advance in just twelve months.


'And Alonso only went to lap-14 in the race,' Head exclaimed.

'We've found 3.9s but we were in a position of not being fast enough.'

Patrick therefore predicts that BMW-Williams is a long-way from winning.

'If the Ferrari is a lap faster just as a car,' he said, 'we need to improve the aero by probably more than 12 percent. That usually takes a year to achieve.'

Gap is 'bigger than expected': Ferrari
Even Ferrari, on new hot-weather tyres, didn't expect to be this far ahead.

Conventional-wisdom said that in the conditions, with track-temperatures topping fifty-degrees, rival-brand Michelin would have an upper-hand near Kuala-Lumpur.

Michael Schumacher's Bridgestone-clad car is six-tenths faster than the nearest French-clad challenge, which comes in the form of Jaguar's ace Mark Webber.


'The gap is bigger than I expected,' said a cautious tech-director Ross Brawn.

'We'll have to wait to see what strategies other people are on.'

Ferrari boss Jean Todt said all the work done over the winter in conjunction with Japanese-brand Bridgestone is 'bearing fruit' at the heat of a race-track.

But he advised: 'It will be a long and very difficult race.'

Has Trulli shelved dream of victory?
Surely, Jarno Trulli has shelved any dreams of a maiden victory at Sepang?

'Anything can happen here,' said the Italian after qualifying eighth.

Trulli and Renault team-mate Fernando Alonso were quickest-of-all in the first-session but they were just running-light to get a better final-quali spot.

The new R24, however, is much better over long-runs than on a single flying-lap.


'I made some mistakes,' Jarno continued, 'because I wanted to get on the second row. But I'd rather lose tenths attacking than go out and be cautious.'

Melbourne demonstrated that the new blue-car is like a bolt off the start-line.

'The ideal thing would be to take four cars at the start,' Jarno smiled, 'gain a few more during the pitstops ... and then hope for a couple of retirements!'

Trulli said Sunday is likely to be a 'very hard' and physical grand prix.

Sunday at Sepang: track-notes
Michael Schumacher romped to his fifty-seventh career pole-position and his fifth in the six-year history of the Malaysian Grand Prix held at Sepang.

One of the features of yesterday's attendance at the Sepang F1-circuit was an air-show performed by the Kuantan-based Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF).

Six MIG 29M jets flew in tight-formation during the 10-minute show.


Minardi ace Gianmaria Bruni was slapped with a $750 fine on Saturday.

He was clocked at 62.7kph in the 60kph-limited pitlane during final qualifying.

Mark Webber, second on the Sepang grid, does not expect to win today's Malaysian Grand Prix but equally he does not expect Michael Schumacher to romp ahead.

'It's going to be an interesting fight,' said the Jaguar driver.

'But Michael is in a good position.'

Williams has 'quiet word' with F1 drivers
Frank Williams has had a 'quiet' word with his feuding Formula One drivers.

The BMW-powered boss said earlier this weekend that he would not 'control' Ralf Schumacher in his threat to punt teammate Juan Pablo Montoya off the circuit.

But Frank did whisper in both drivers' ears, according to Patrick Head.


'I think he reminded them that the focus of their competitive spirit should be pointed outside the team rather than inside the team,' said Patrick Head.

The technical director thinks Ralf probably regrets what he said in Malaysia.

'Maybe he was just feeling generous to the media,' the Briton laughed.

Qualifying is two-hour tedium
It took two-hours and five-minutes to complete the qualifying-process at Sepang.

McLaren chief Ron Dennis insisted that the top Formula One teams are not 'closed minded' to getting rid of the tedium but only after another grand prix weekend.


'If you make a mistake in life,' he said, 'you have to stand up and say 'we have made a mistake' and then the next step is doing something about it.

'But it would be prudent to wait three races so everybody understands.'

Dennis also revealed that all ten team-bosses were likely to green-light minor changes to the back-to-back process to aid television broadcasters from Bahrain.

Michelin thinking about Bahrain
The F1-circus is still in Malaysia but already the sport's tyre-manufacturers are thinking hard about the next challenge near the desert-sands of Bahrain.

'We've looked at the circuit now,' said Michelin manager Pascal Vasselon.


He commented: 'We have software that allows us to recreate the track electronically, and then we can get to work on conducting computer simulations.'

The Frenchman said a quite narrow selection of compounds was taken to Sepang but a range with a 'broader operational spectrum' should make the flight to Bahrain.

'This minimizes the risk of error,' he explained.

Race-fans can't vote for Schumacher
F1-fans have been warned - you can't vote for Michael Schumacher.

Malaysian politicians are worried that citizens will forget to cast their votes in today's national elections and instead travel direct to the Grand Prix.


'I urge voters who are Formula One fans to vote first,' said Chan Kong Choy.

The Transport Minister added that fans are still urged to attend the event.

Jordan 'fight back' still on track
F1 team Jordan's 'fight back' is still on the race-track.

Team-owner Eddie Jordan nearly didn't roll a yellow-assault onto this year's championship but when he did it was with the uncompetitive EJ14 race-package.

'Jordan have always had a fighting spirit,' he told the Daily Telegraph.

The Irishman said he has changed his mind about assaulting F1 with experienced drivers and has instead gone back to his roots of bringing-on young rookies.


'We discovered them and now I look at them all on the grid,' he said.

Jordan gave brothers Michael and Ralf Schumacher their first-rides in Formula One, as well as Giancarlo Fisichella, Rubens Barrichello and Takuma Sato.

'Right now we are not going to beat ... Ferrari and McLaren,' he continued.

'So we've gone for young drivers and targeted the year as the fight-back. We've gone through hell but we're strong and commercially we're stronger than ever.'

EJ is hoping that the reign of the carmakers ends soon.

'I see a slight glimmer of hope,' said Jordan, 'for us guys. The manufacturers aren't going to be there forever - history proves that time and time again.'

F1-banks sue Ecclestone
A group of banks who own the majority of Formula One commercial-rights company SLEC has filed a lawsuit against 73-year-old race-impresario Bernie Ecclestone.

The Reuters news-agency is reporting that a suit has been filed in London and German bank Bayerische Landesbank confirmed the speculation through a spokesman.

He declined to go into more detail than that.


Bayerische, JP Morgan and Lehmann Brothers, the banks, own seventy-five percent of 'SLEC Holdings' taken-over after the collapse of the Kirch media empire.

Ecclestone owns the remaining quarter.

Sources in the banking industry said the suit probably concerns the banks' desire to make appointments to their property's (SLEC) board of directors.

Bernie's allies dominate the present SLEC-board.

Alonso won't abandon Renault
Fernando Alonso has vowed to not abandon Formula One team Renault.

The Spaniard's contract lasts for another two full-seasons and he said in Malaysia yesterday that he is 'happy to stay' with manager Flavio Briatore.

'Renault's growing up very well,' he told the Guardian.

'At the end of two years we'll study the possibilities.'


Alonso, 22, praised Briatore - the Renault managing-director - for supporting his charge up the Formula One grid starting with a race-drive at Minardi in '01.

'Everything I have achieved in F1 is down to him,' said the youngster.

The Ovierdo-born star has been linked with a switch to Scuderia Ferrari.

But Alonso wants to be world champion with Renault and believes it can be so.

'If I didn't think that,' he said, 'I wouldn't be on the grid.'

Not only terrorism threatens Bahrain
Not only terrorism threatens the upcoming grand prix in Bahrain.

F1 officials have been alerted to an incident in the Middle Eastern country last Wednesday when forty youths violently attacked a restaurant in capital Manama.

They were protesting about the sale of alcohol in the country and, worryingly, the arrival of Formula One also has been slated for its non-Islamic influence.


The youths attacked 'La Terrasse' with knives and set fire to it.

One of the attackers was stabbed.

'The government and the private sector are working so hard to attract foreign investors to Bahrain to create employment,' said businessman Dr Esam Fakhro.

He told the Bahrain Tribune, just fourteen days from the inaugural F1 race in Sakhir, that the 'forces of intolerance' are destroying everyone's good-work.

Davidson didn't look great
Anthony Davidson didn't look great after Friday practice at Sepang.

The young Englishman is BAR-Honda's 'third' driver this season but he didn't have the luxury of the race-aces to adjust to the heat and humidity last week.

'Ever since I got here I've struggled a bit,' he said.

Davidson, 23, said the worst-part was coming back into the garage after a run.


'You just sit there and cook,' he smiled.

He added: 'At the end of the run I was quite nauseous, which isn't nice, but fitness-wise I'm fine so I had no problems whatsoever with that aspect of it.'

The Briton ended the first-session third-quickest before an engine-failure.

'I really like the circuit,' he said. 'It suits my style.'

Who's plumped for a three-stopper?
A three-stop strategy is a viable option for this afternoon's Malaysian GP.

Last year, Kimi Raikkonen's winning formula was two-stops but the pitlane speed limit has been increased to 100kph making an extra-service seemingly workable.


'Strategy will be governed mainly by tyre-war,' said a Ferrari media-release.

The statement explained how those stopping in the pits three-times could be looking to make their first visit 'as early as around lap-seven or eight.'

Like Fernando Alonso, who spun out of final-qualifying on Saturday, BAR-Honda's Takuma Sato has also changed his engine ahead of the afternoon's Malaysian GP.

Jordan loses key F1-sponsorship
Jordan has lost a key-sponsorship worth around eleven-million dollars.

Scottish telecoms group Damovo has pulled its support of the Silverstone-based Formula One team after a legal battle, according to a Glasgow newspaper.

There was still a year to run on the agreement but Michael Collins, the new Damovo CEO, terminated because he saw it as too-expensive for the company.


Damovo has retrenched workers in recent months, said a source.

Eddie Jordan signed the deal in 2001 with former boss Pearse Flynn.

Flynn left Damovo last August after a disagreement with majority shareholders Apax Partners, and Collins quickly appointed lawyers to dismantle the F1-link.

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