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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
March 23, 2004


Schu was not fastest in Sepang
Michael Schumacher was not the fastest F1-racer in Malaysia on Sunday.

The German, in the apparently dominant Ferrari, may have won the hot-Sepang event but it was second-placed Juan Pablo Montoya who topped the timesheets.

SIX-TENTHS

Montoya's 1.34.2 was nearly six-tenths faster than Schumacher's best.

'The fact that Juan Pablo was able to keep up with Michael's pace over the race distance,' said BMW motorsport director Mario Theissen, 'is very encouraging.'

Just slower than the Ferrari was podium-debutant Jenson Button, in the BAR.








Who's better - Webber or Alonso?
Who's better - Formula One racers Fernando Alonso or Mark Webber?

Both drivers started their grand prix careers at back-of-the-grid outfit Minardi, owned and run by Australian airline-entrepreneur Paul Stoddart.

'I don't think there's much in it,' he said at Sepang.

Stoddart's support for Webber, also an Australian, is well-known in pitlane.

In terms of talent, he thinks Webber is as-good as the young Renault star.

F1 PACKAGE

'They're both stronger than any other driver I've worked with,' he added.

But in assessment of the total 'Formula One package,' the Minardi principal believes he has only ever seen one driver on a par with Jaguar's Mark Webber.

'He lives, thinks and breaths F1,' said Stoddart.

'Michael Schumacher is the only other guy like that in the game.

'If Webber goes to Williams you're looking at a world champion.'








Ferrari reject Montoya accusation
Rubens Barrichello reacted with confusion to a complaint from his F1-friend.

Fellow South American charger Juan Pablo Montoya accused Rubens and Ferrari of deliberately holding-up his charge to track-down race-leader Michael Schumacher.

'I got a run on him,' said the BMW-Williams star in Malaysia, 'in turn-four, but as soon as I moved he closed the door on me and then he backed his pace off.'

Barrichello denied any ploy or intentional Ferrari-tactics.

NOTHING DELIBERATE

'I don't know where this has come from,' the Brazilian told Autosport.

'I had a slow Minardi in front of me and I lost three seconds. Juan was just behind me. Maybe that's why Juan is pissed-off - he didn't try to pass me.'

Tech-boss Ross Brawn agreed that Ferrari didn't instruct Rubens to hold Juan up.

'Rubens was second and Montoya was third,' said the burly Englishman, 'so we're not going to wave him past. But it was nothing deliberate that went on.

'Maybe Juan was just a little emotional.'








EJ defends Ferrari-domination
Rival F1-boss Eddie Jordan has fended-off claims that Michael Schumacher and Ferrari's domination of Formula One is damaging the multi-million dollar sport.

'In some ways,' said the Irishman, 'I think it's a good thing.

TIGER WOODS

'He's the best. When Tiger Woods wins nine majors in a row, everyone sings his praises but in F1 we're very critical and we say that the show is impaired.'

Undoubtedly, it is in Jordan's interest to talk-up Formula One as he is struggling to put-together a budget capable of fighting the bigger teams.

He admitted that it is too-easy to verbally start a recession.

'It is so competitive at the front of the grid,' he smiled. 'It's magic.'








No improvement until Barcelona: McLaren
Sunday's Malaysian GP marked one-year since McLaren last won a Formula One race.

And it's not going to be a matter of mere weeks before that statistic is put to the back of the Mercedes-powered team's mind, according to principal Ron Dennis.

'It's a mountain to climb,' said the Briton, 'but we're climbing it.'

B-VERSION MP4-19

The silver MP4-19 car upped its pace in the Malaysian heat to get within a second-per-lap of Ferrari's times, after trailing by 2-seconds in Melbourne.

Dennis admits that the next couple of races are likely to also be tough.

But he says things should improve by the time F1 moves on to the Spanish GP.

That's where the first-evolution 'B' MP4-19 chassis comes online (May 9).

'It's going to be tough until then,' said Ron.








Alonso: R24 not as good as F1 thinks
Our car is not as good as the Formula One world thinks.

That is the opinion of Renault ace Fernando Alonso who struggled to seventh place with an ill-handling R24 in Sunday's steaming Malaysian Grand Prix.

'We're learning all the time,' the Spaniard told reporters.

'We made mistakes all weekend but we learn from them. Something else we've learned is that our car is not as competitive as a lot of people seem to think.'

RELIABLE

22-year-old Alonso believes the R24 car is reliable and easy to set-up but not the very-best Michelin-runner despite his drive to the podium in Australia.

'Like Ferrari, we're the only team that's finished both races with both cars.'

Fernando continued: 'But we're still behind in the fight. We can't ignore teams like BAR and Jaguar - we are not Ferrari. We simply cannot fall asleep.'

He targeted another podium-finish in the inaugural grand prix of Bahrain.








Ferrari at Bahrain disadvantage?
Top F1-team McLaren-Mercedes is upset that a rival has stolen an early advantage ahead of next weekend's first-ever Formula One Grand Prix in the Middle East.

Similarly Michelin-clad outfit BMW-Williams sent a year-old car to the newly-completed circuit in Sakhir last week as part of its inauguration ceremonies.

It's clear champions Ferrari were not offered the same advantage.

INSIGHT

Tester Marc Gene was able to run on the circuit over a few laps and it must have given the team as insight into how the Michelin tires work on the hot tarmac.

'I am not going to get into that,' said Ferrari boss Jean Todt.

The Frenchman's team runs on Japanese-made Bridgestone tires.

'All I'm going to say is this,' he continued.

'Imagine what our competitors would have said if we'd done the same ...'








Only a mistake can halt Ferrari's charge
Only a Ferrari-blunder can halt Michael Schumacher's charge to the championship.

That's the belief of Pierre Dupasquier, competition-boss for Michelin who supply French-made race-tires to every top-team in Formula One except the Scuderia.

'Ferrari and Bridgestone are going to have to help us a bit,' he smiled.

Dupasquier hinted that the problem for BMW-Williams, McLaren and Renault is not tires - it is putting-together a challenge to the mighty Ferrari juggernaut.

MISSING

'They're competent ... they have the resources,' he said of Michelin's partners.

'They're just missing a few little things. Last year, Ferrari made errors and it gave us a chance to look at them. We spoiled it, but we had that chance.'

Pierre insists that F1-analysts should not confuse Ferrari and Bridgestone.

'If [Ferrari] had Michelin tires,' he said, 'there would be no competition.

'We're not at fault. Just one weak point and that is the end of it.'







No special security for Bahrain GP
No special security measures are to be in place at next weekend's Bahrain GP.

The race marks Formula One's first trip to the Middle East - a region Britain's Foreign Office still lists as having no less than a 'high threat of terrorism.'

Bahrain's grand prix will go ahead with the 'normal preparations from the viewpoint of spectator safety, crowd and traffic control,' said a spokesman.

NO INTELLIGENCE

The race-organisers also told The Guardian newspaper that that 'no intelligence' or specific terror threat would indicate that the western-event is a target.

King Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa arrived at the $150m circuit last week, for its inauguration ceremonies, in a helicopter protected by two army-gunships.








BAR expects repeat performance
BAR-Honda expects to repeat its podium-performance at the next F1 race.

Jenson Button was the first BAR-Honda-Michelin star to achieve the feat in Malaysia and new car-parts might be enough for the double at the Bahrain GP.

'We have to take it on,' said team chief David Richards.

'We have some new parts for Bahrain and Imola.'

Button, 24, confirmed that a one-off podium is not in the game-plan.

NOT THE PINNACLE

'It's great but it's not the pinnacle,' said the Englishman.

'We expected these results and now we've got to do it again in Bahrain.'

In reality, BAR has no fewer than 20-seconds to gain on Ferrari before actual grand prix wins are in the sights for Geoffrey Willis' tidy Honda-powered 006.

'I've always been confident in Button - from the first moment David and I talked about getting him in the car,' said the team's English technical director.

Richards agrees that race-wins are a little way off yet.

'Let's get another podium first and be realistic,' said the principal.








Montoya: I can still win F1-title
Juan Pablo Montoya has not given up an ambition to leave Williams as champion.

The Colombian may not have the fastest Formula One car in pitlane but he did beat Sepang-winner Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) to the quickest race-lap.

Montoya, second in Malaysia, said he can 'still fight Michael' in 2004.

'You need a car that is consistent enough to win everywhere.

CLOSE IN PLACES

'Ferrari obviously has a winning car and we are close in places.'

If there is a secret to stealing the championship, said the third-placed driver of 2003, it is taking eight-points on a day when the car is not a race-winner.

'And then you've got to win when you are in a position to,' Juan added.

Montoya will not join the other three contracted BMW-Williams test-aces in France this week and instead has vowed to indulge in a little leisure time.








Coulthard races for helmet-safety
David Coulthard rushed from Malaysia to - slip on a bicycle helmet.

The Scottish ace got straight on a plane after finishing sixth near Kuala-Lumpur to participate in a push to make wearing helmets compulsory for young Britons.

'I wouldn't go on my bike without a helmet,' said Coulthard.

MP Eric Martlew launched his Bill in the House of Commons on Monday.

UNCOOL

It would make wearing a helmet compulsory for under-16 cyclists.

Coulthard, who drives a McLaren-Mercedes in F1, is a patron of the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust, and insisted it is not 'uncool' to wear a helmet.

'I think my helmet is really cool,' he said, wearing an example.

'I've got my own design on it.'








Who'll dominate in Bahrain?
Who knows which Formula One team will dominate in Bahrain.

Michael Schumacher won the opening two grands prix in Australia and Malaysia and on both occasions track-analysts made predictions about who should be on form.

They said Melbourne, cooler than usual, favoured Ferrari's Bridgestone tyres.

And the gap closed to Michelin-runners at the hot and humid Malaysian Grand Prix near Kuala-Lumpur because the French-made boots are better in the conditions.

TOUGH RACE

'Nobody knows exactly what's going to happen [in Bahrain],' said Schumacher.

'For sure, it should be another tough race.'

Michael's Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello predicted before Sundays' race that the inaugural event in the Middle East could be equally hot and humid.

'We don't know what sort of characteristics the track has,' the German went on.

Schumacher said: 'We don't know who it favours, or what's going to happen.

'We do know that our rivals can react very fast with their development.'








Ferrari thank Bridgestone for win
Sunday's win in Malaysia meant more to Ferrari than its season-opening feat.

Technical director Ross Brawn said tyre-supplier Bridgestone had done an 'exceptional job' to pull-off a win where Ferrari had previously struggled.

'This win is really down to them,' he said.

BAHRAIN

Brawn went on that decent-pace in the heat of Sepang bodes well for Ferrari's imminent trip to the equally-stifling Middle Eastern venue in Bahrain.

Ferrari team chief Jean Todt admitted that, prior to setting-down in Malaysia, Ferrari wasn't sure how-well Bridgestone's new compounds would perform there.

'We did not have enough information,' said the Frenchman.








'Good job' - Schumacher tells Button
Michael Schumacher leant-over and whispered something in Jenson Button's ear.

'He said 'good job',' the podium-debutant admitted after the ceremony.

Schumacher, who took the top-step, made a point of congratulating BAR-Honda's star after JB soared to a third-place he probably should have earned in 2002.

'I'll never forget I stole his first podium,' smiled the German.

NEAR-MISS

Schumacher explained: 'I passed him near the end when he had some troubles.'

That near-miss came when Button's car-suspension broke, leaving him fourth.

Button, the young Briton, could barely breathe when Schumacher and second-placed Juan Pablo Montoya fired a double-stream of champagne right into his mouth.

'I couldn't see - I was absolutely covered in it,' JB laughed.

'The whole crowd went crazy, chanting my name. It's a great feeling.

'I hope there's more of that to come this season.'








Webber fell-out a very tall tree
Mark Webber climbed to the top of a very tall metaphorical tree on Saturday.

The Jaguar star put his green-liveried car on the front row of the grid; the first-time for an Australian since Alan Jones did it in a Williams in 1981.

When the fifth-light went out, so Webber fell from his tree.

'We didn't even get to see anything up there,' said the 27-year-old.

'We just triggered the anti-stall off the line and you can't do that. We didn't get away and unfortunately it was the worst-case scenario.'

INVESTIGATE

Head of performance Dr Mark Gillan said an investigation is to take-place at Milton-Keynes this week to find out why both R5's bogged-down at the start.

BMW-Williams' driver Ralf Schumacher felt the wrath of Mark Webber in Malaysia.

'If you make a shit start,' Mark told reporters, 'you've got to get back.'

But Webber denied that he'd done anything overly-aggressive to the German.

'He didn't even try to overtake me,' said the Aussie. 'He just launched himself from so far back and steamed into me. I think he was pissed off.'

Webber had passed Schumacher around the outside a few laps earlier.







Richards reckons Sato is overdriving
BAR boss David Richards reckons Takuma Sato overdrives his Formula One car.

The Japanese got a reputation as a crasher at Jordan and he's continued the trend since joining BAR including spins in qualifying and the race at Sepang.

Asked by Autosport whether Sato is overdriving, Richards said 'yeah.

GOLF

'We've talked about it. I told him the way I play golf is the way he's driving - I really lash at the ball and I think I can hit it further than anyone else.

'[In F1] you have to let the car do the work.'

Richards said he would work with Honda's favourite son, who was shifted into Jacques Villeneuve's race-seat late last year, throughout the current season.

'That will be a focus now,' DR concluded, 'to see if I can raise his game.'








Button's podium-dream nearly ended
Jenson Button's debut podium nearly went missing at the first F1-corner.

Italian racer Jarno Trulli, who drives a Renault, admitted on Monday that he 'definitely' hit former team-mate JB's BAR-Honda off the Sepang start-line.

'I didn't mean [for it] to happen,' said Trulli.

'Fortunately it didn't spoil his race - sorry Jenson!'

24-year-old Button diced with Jarno throughout the Malaysian GP.

'We hit wheels on the straight so that was a little worry,' said the Briton.

NICE FIGHT

'I thought something must be wrong. But I went around the next corners and everything felt fine - I had a nice fight with him for the first few laps.'

Trulli said he enjoyed the duel, which also involved Rubens Barrichello.

'We all passed each other a few times,' said the Renault racer.

'It was all very clean, very good fun.'

A late-race technical glitch on his 006 car, however, was not so much fun as Jenson was told to slow down and run less revs while a Ferrari ran him down.

'It was a nightmare,' said Button.








Head proposes 'aggregate' qualifying
Another proposal to alter the format of 'back to back' qualifying was rejected.

BMW-Williams' technical director Patrick Head said 'at least two teams' were not happy to scrap the first single-lap on Saturday in order to shorten the process.

He added that, under the proposed system, cars would have qualified for the grid in the order of the previous race rather than the order of first-qualifying.

MORE INTERESTING

The Englishman suggested a system of 'aggregate' times from the two sessions.

'It would make it more interesting,' said Head.

'And it would cause you to run with low fuel in first qualifying.'








Irvine takes delight in F1 driver-spat
Eddie Irvine takes delight in the team-feud of BMW-Williams' F1 drivers.

The former Ferrari and Jaguar star predicted there would be trouble this season between Ralf Schumacher and his feisty Colombian team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya.

Schumacher threatened to 'have Montoya off' if he plays hard-ball this season.

'It isn't ideal for Williams,' the Ulsterman told his column in The Sun.

POLITICALLY CORRECT

'But I applaud him - there are too many politically correct drivers around.'

Irvine wonders why 28-year-old Ralf got so riled-up in a media conference.

'Maybe it's because Frank is breaking his balls,' said the 38-year-old.

Williams is scheduled to meet with Schu Jnr one more time in the heat of Bahrain to see whether the German has accepted a lower-salaried contract-offer for '05.

Irvine, however, predicts that Ralf might end up with no-team to turn to.








Ferrari's rivals should go-home
Ferrari's rivals should pack-up and go home.

That is the opinion of former Ferrari world champion Niki Lauda who was spotted amongst the celebrations as Michael Schumacher made it a double in Malaysia.

The Austrian notes that rivals BMW-Williams and McLaren-Mercedes enthused about their chances of taking the fight to the scarlet juggernaut this F1-season.

16-POINTS CLEAR

'Now Schumacher has come along and won the first two races,' Lauda, a triple Formula One champion, was quoted as saying by the German Press Association.

Ferrari's 33 points has put it 16-clear in the constructors' standings.

Chief operations engineer at BMW-Williams, Sam Michael, admits that his team's novel-looking FW26 car has not turned-out with enough ultimate performance.

'You can't start from fourth and then expect to win,' said the Australian.








Elections blamed for lower F1 turn-out
Lower attendance at the Malaysian GP has been blamed on the general election.

The two events clashed and caused spectator-figures to plummet well-below the expected race-day audience of 120,000 at the Sepang-circuit on Sunday.

84,010 SPECTATORS

Turn-stiles recorded 84,010 Sunday-spectators, according to organisers.

'It has never happened in any country where we have a F1 race on the same day as polling day,' said the general manager of Sepang International, Ahmad Mustafa.








Brawn wants single-engine clarification
Ross Brawn has asked for a clarification of the single-engine regulation.

The technical director of Ferrari wants to know whether Renault were right to change Fernando Alonso's powerplant just because he had qualified so poorly.

TACTICAL PLOY

'We need to understand whether you can make that decision as a tactical ploy.'

Brawn added that he thought a team had to demonstrate a technical-problem.

'Alonso had gone off the track,' the Englishman was quoted by Autosport, 'so maybe Renault could show that the engine was full of rubbish or was a risk.'








BMW-Williams admit Bahrain advantage
BMW-Williams might have gleaned an advantage ahead of the first Bahrain GP.

The Grove-based team participated in the inauguration ceremonies at the Middle Eastern venue last week by running tester Marc Gene and a year-old FW25 car.

He did 25-laps, and found the desert-shrouded track 'grippier than expected.'

DISCONTENT

First McLaren, and now Ferrari, made noises at the Malaysian event last weekend of discontent that the Michelin-clad team had been allowed to run in Bahrain.

Technical director Patrick Head admitted at least a slight advantage.

'What we learned can probably be put to use in the first half an hour of the first practice session there,' the Englishman told Britain's 'The Guardian'.

But he said the other top-teams would soon 'catch up.'








Luck did not fly to Malaysia with Ralf
Luck did not take the flight to Malaysia with Formula One star Ralf Schumacher.

It all started to go wrong for the BMW-Williams driver on Saturday.

'In qualifying,' the German said, 'it was probably my fault that I ended up seventh. It seems I was slightly too fast on my out-lap.'

Schumacher's Michelin tyres started to give-in at the end of the lap.

He ended up seventh, significantly behind team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya.

Ralf, 28, got off to a slow start when the fifth race-light extinguished.

WEBBER SHUNT

'And then when I collided with Mark Webber during a passing manoeuvre, my race was virtually over,' the young brother of Michael Schumacher told reporters.

The shunt had damaged the set-up of Ralf's front-wing.

'Afterwards, the handling was disastrous,' he explained. 'In some quick corners, I had to shift two gears further down just to make it through.'

Schumacher's run ended with the first BMW-V10 failure in seventeen grands prix.

He asks: 'Can I take anything positive from Malaysia? Yes - Juan Pablo proved that we aren't hopelessly behind. But there's still a lot of work to do.'

And it will start this Thursday, with a three-day test at Le Castellet.

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