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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
March 30, 2004


Bahrain 'amazed' Button
Jenson Button was amazed - a crowd of Bahrainis chanted his name.

The Briton visited the Kingdom late last year and could hardly believe that a Middle Eastern region not only knew about F1, but knew exactly who he was.

'I was amazed by the hospitality,' Button now says ahead of the weekend's race.

A new $150 million F1-circuit amid the desert-sands of Sakhir is now complete and is already starting to fill-up with Formula One's equipment and personnel.

KNOWLEDGEABLE

'Everyone was hugely enthusiastic about F1 and incredibly knowledgeable too.'

Jenson, BAR's 24-year-old team-leader, walked around the souks of capital-city Manama and, despite the region's bad-name, was impressed at the warm welcome.

He said: 'I had some great food - vine leaves and some nice spicy dishes.

'It's a cool place and I think a lot of the F1 fraternity will be pleasantly surprised when they go for the first time. I'm looking forward to going back.'








Ferrari about a second-per-lap in front
Ferrari are about a second per-lap ahead of top F1-team rival BMW-Williams.

According to technical director Patrick Head, that equates to about a year of aerodynamic development 'so we're going to have to make it up in other areas.'

But chief operations engineer Sam Michael is happy with the FW26 vehicle.

'It's very good,' the Aussie told Reuters.

EASY TO RUN

'It's easy to drive, to set-up. You turn-up at a track and it runs in whatever set-up you like. If you change a spring, it does what you think it should.'

Michael concludes that the 'tusk-nosed' challenger has no vices.

But Colombian driver Juan Pablo Montoya knows that FW26 needs more work.

He finished second in Malaysia but not only wants to match the Ferrari's pace on Sunday afternoon - he wants to stroll ahead of F1-champion Michael Schumacher.

'We're not trying to be at their level,' said the 28-year-old, 'but above.'








Rubens learns circuits in 'old-fashioned' way
Rubens Barrichello learns new F1-circuits in the 'old fashioned' way.

Unlike new-boy Christian Klien, who is a devout follower of the 'PlayStation' method, Ferrari's veteran intends to hop-on a bike later this week in Bahrain.

'I've never been anywhere in this part of the world,' said Rubens.

'I'll probably do a couple of laps - walking, running or cycling - to get a feel for it. Then all you can do is drive and learn the track phase by phase.'

NO LANDMARKS

Barrichello said memorizing the $150m layout will not be such a 'big deal.

'But I've heard there are not many landmarks around the track,' he added, 'as it's in the desert. But sometimes there's a bridge ... a change in asphalt.'

He'll need about ten-laps to know the track well, according to the Brazilian.

Rubens is spending a couple of days in Dubai prior to setting-down in Bahrain.








Dixon 'definitely' desires F1 switch
Scott Dixon has decided - Formula One is where his heart really lies.

The IRL champion got his first-taste of a BMW-Williams car last week at Paul Ricard and reckons if he could get back behind the wheel today, 'I would.'

'It's definitely what I want to do,' he told the AFP news-agency.

'It was good to turn right again! The car kind of shocked me.

EAR TO EAR

'I had a smile from ear to ear all day.'

Dixon, from New Zealand, could hardly believe what happened when he hit the carbon-brakes and 5-times the weight of his head crashed down on his shoulders.

'It's huge,' he beamed. 'My neck was done - I couldn't hold it up.'

The 23-year-old's next Formula One test with the Oxfordshire-based outfit is a 'proper' three-day one at the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona (Spain).








Bridgestone to resume streak in heat?
Bridgestone is confident it can resume a winning-streak this weekend.

The tyre-supplier carried Ferrari's Michael Schumacher to victory in the cool ambient conditions of Albert Park and in the searing heat of Sepang, Malaysia.

Japan's brand ended season-2003 behind-the-game to Michelin on a hot track.

'That was one of our main aims over the winter,' said director of motorsport Hiroshi Yasukawa, '... to improve the competitiveness of our tyres in the heat.'

DARK TARMAC

Bahrain's dark tarmac may bring track-temperatures above the 50C-mark.

'It will retain the heat,' said technical manager Hisao Suganuma.

Bridgestone teams, including Sauber, Jordan and Minardi, will benefit from the brand's new-shaped front-tyre on the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir.

Michelin boss Pierre Dupasquier says neither tyre-rival knows 'much about what lies ahead,' except for the expected heat and the risk of sand on the tarmac.

Bibendum will offer three middle-range tyre-options to teams this weekend.








Where does Jenson's future lie?
Jenson Button isn't really sure where in pitlane his Formula One future lies.

The Briton is contracted to Honda-powered BAR and the Brackley-based team's 006 was good-enough to help him end a four-year void of podium places in Sepang.

'I'm contracted ... for the next two years,' he told The Guardian.

'So that's where I'm going to be - for the moment.'

If you read the newspapers, or listen to the subtle messages of F1-bosses Frank Williams and Patrick Head, JB is top-of-the-list for a BMW-propelled return.

WILLIAMS PRAISE

Juan Pablo Montoya, who displaced Button in late-'00, is off to McLaren in 2005.

Button, 24, has heard the praise of his former team-principal.

'It's great when Frank says nice things about you,' the Englishman told the newspaper. 'It's very special because Frank doesn't dish out praise lightly.'

The Frome-born challenger has no doubts about his desire to become champion.

'If I don't do it one day,' Jenson added, 'I'll be very disappointed.

'You need to be with the right team.'








Schu says sand is the 'real worry'
Michael Schumacher has more than Bahrain's predicted heat on his mind.

Forecasters say the Middle East is heading for a weekend of mid-30s but Ferrari's Formula One champion reckons the real worry is sand on the track.

'We are all concerned about it,' said the 35-year-old German.

Not only would sand reduce circuit grip-levels, it could damage the internals.

Schumacher continued: 'I'm quite confident, though.'

WEEKEND OFF

Michael spent his week testing in Italy but he had the weekend off and chose to visit family and friends back in Koln before catching the flight to Bahrain.

He said he'd stay near the desert to acclimatize.

'I am very curious,' said Schumacher. 'Even if we can't always understand the new cultures we visit, travelling is always something that enriches the soul.'

It is understood that Bahrain organizers have coated the fine coral-sand around the new Sakhir circuit with a type of glue to prevent it from blowing around.






Opposition groups promise no disruptions
Opposition groups have vowed to stay-away from the running of the Bahrain GP.

Reuters reports that four such groups, including Al-Wefaq, said they would postpone planned protests in city Manama including one against the constitution.

PEACEFUL

'[They] wish the event to pass-by peacefully and quietly.'

Al-Wefaq head Sheikh Ali Salman also predicted 'no disruptions' at all despite recent protests against Western influences including the sale of alcohol.

Bahrain is home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet and is just 600 miles from Iraq.








Toyota want a point or two
Toyota wants a point or two from the inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix.

The Cologne-based team was actually only a few seconds from a world championship-point at the second grand prix of the 2004-season at Sepang.

'We're aiming to continue our momentum,' said technical director Mike Gascoyne.

At Albert Park and in Malaysia, both TF104s made it to the finish-line.

Bahrain is the first new-venue since Indianapolis in 2000, and the first brand-new Formula One circuit since the first Malaysian Grand Prix late in 1999.

PLAYING-FIELD

So it's the first time Toyota has entered a GP-weekend on a level playing-field.

'The result will be dictated as much by how quickly teams and drivers can learn the circuit, as it will be determined by competitiveness,' Gascoyne added.

'I think that we can expect another respectable showing,' said Tsutomu Tomita.

The team principal added that Cologne is 'already working' to rectify the Gustav Brunner-designed TF104's competitive problems both for the short and long term.








Sauber brings F1 closer to fans
Formula One is again moving to bring fans closer to the inner sanctum.

In Australia, it was Grand Prix Drivers' Association director Mark Webber who fronted a competition with the prize of sneaking a look at the F1-paddock.

On Thursday morning in Bahrain, Swiss-team Sauber takes-up the theme.

After visiting a falcon farm in capital Manama, the Hinwil-based operation's team drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa will run a competition.

MEET THE TEAM

'The lucky winner will get the chance to visit the Formula One paddock and meet the Sauber team on Sunday just before the race start,' said a team spokesman.

Sauber ace Massa, 22, earned the team's first 2004-point in Malaysia.

'I always love going to different places,' said the Brazilian.

'I enjoyed taking the C23 to Borneo recently - they'd never seen an F1 car before so they were going crazy. I think this weekend could be similar.'








Renault has learned from its mistakes
F1-team Renault has learned from its mistakes in the Malaysian heat.

It is expected to be just as hot amid the desert-sands of Bahrain this weekend but Italian-driver Jarno Trulli does not anticipate the same handling problems.

'The R24 went well [in Malaysia],' said Trulli.

SURPRISED

'But we were surprised by what happened when the temperature changed.'

Trulli insists that Renault has 'learned' from Sepang.

'Overall the car performs well in high temperatures,' said Jarno Trulli, who revealed that he would walk the circuit with engineers on Wednesday evening.








Jaguar miles ahead compared to last year
Jaguar is miles-ahead of where it was this time last-year.

That might be surprising to hear from an ace driver who has so-far not managed to reach the chequered-flag after two rounds of the new Formula One season.

'I am frustrated that I've yet to finish a race,' said Mark Webber.

'But it's not through a lack of trying by myself or the team.'

DUBAI

Webber has touched-down in Dubai prior to his flight to Bahrain later this week.

The Australian notes that his R5 'Leaping Cat' was four-seconds per-lap quicker around Malaysia's Sepang circuit than the green-challenger had been last season.

'So our hard work is certainly paying off,' said Mark.

'Progress at this level does not happen overnight. We're still learning.'








Ecclestone slams British government
Bernie Ecclestone has lashed-out at the British government.

The F1-impresario reckons the Foreign Office was wrong to re-iterate its travel advisory warning tourists against traveling to Bahrain for the grand prix.

'None of us has ever discussed this terrorism business,' said Bernie.

The 73-year-old told 'News of the World' that some people are 'stupid.

'Especially the government - they come out and stupidly tell us not to go.'

600-MILES FROM IRAQ

Bahrain is just 600-miles from war-torn Iraq.

'You must do whatever you feel is right,' added F1 champion Michael Schumacher.

'I'm sure security in Bahrain will be very high.'

BAR ace Jenson Button finds it hard to dismiss the troubles of the Middle East.

He told the Guardian: 'The bombings in Madrid remind us that no one's safe anywhere. You're just as likely to be blown-up in a bus in London.'








Drive a Formula One car ... blindfolded
Want to drive a Formula One car ... blindfolded?

Believe it or not, the offer of 'Record Breakers' founder Anita Knight is real and their latest challenge is to beat the blindfolded land-speed world record.

Any proceeds would go to British charity 'Blind Sport.'

144.7 MPH

The current blindfolded-record is 144.7mph and Knight reckons it is 'possible to exceed' that mantle by more than 50mph in a 800-horsepower Formula One car.

Anyone willing to take-on the speed-challenge would be properly trained at the wheel of a Tyrrell car in Northern France by EuroBoss trainer Matthew Mortlock.

'Do something amazing this year,' is the catch-cry of 'Record Breakers'.








Can Ferrari be beaten this F1-season?
With two red-victories in the bag, can Ferrari be beaten in season-2004?

'Ferrari are just so superb,' said BAR boss Dave Richards after Malaysia.

He told Reuters: 'But even they can make mistakes.'

Pierre Dupasquier, who runs the Michelin-challenge of top-teams including BMW-Williams, McLaren and Renault, is pessimistic about the fight to Ferrari.

ACHIEVEMENT

'It's going to be a great achievement if we get close to them,' he said.

But McLaren chief Ron Dennis is reluctant to talk-about domination.

'I think it's a bit premature,' said the Briton.

'Other teams are going to win races this year but not one team is going to compete constantly against Ferrari so it's going to be difficult to beat them.'








Renault advance plans for engine-step
Renault is advancing plans to introduce a major performance-evolution of its new-architecture Formula One engine, the RS24, by the next-race of San Marino.

Engine technical director Rob White said approval of the new pieces requires 'rigorous endurance testing' on the dyno and verification through track-testing.

FAVOURABLE

The revised 72-degree V10 unit is scheduled to debut at Imola next month.

White said: 'The signs are favorable as we enter the final phase of approval.'








Williams to attend Formula BMW opener
Sir Frank Williams is to attend the series-opening Formula BMW UK event.

The eponymous Formula One owner and principal will be accompanied by BMW motorsport director Dr Mario Theissen at the Thruxton circuit on Easter Sunday.

CONVICTION

Formula BMW also runs in Germany and Asia.

'I have a strong conviction that F1 may one day be graced by Formula BMW graduates,' said Frank, who added that Williams would be involved in the series.








Button 'felt sick' on first F1-podium
Jenson Button 'felt sick' as he stepped-out onto his first Formula One podium.

The BAR driver told 'The Guardian' that he was exhausted and dehydrated but only realised it when the adrenalin had stopped pumping after the race in Malaysia.

'That would have made the front pages,' Button, 24, laughed ...

'... if I'd ended-up vomiting over Schumacher.'

BEST DRIVERS

But who better to share your first podium with than Formula One pacesetters Michael Schumacher, the reigning F1 world champion, and Juan Pablo Montoya ...?

'Everyone regards them as the best drivers,' said the Briton.

Button still ripples with anger when he recalls 1996 world champion Damon Hill's observation that he is 'too normal' to conquer the world of grand prix racing.

He asked: 'How many ordinary guys can get up on the podium alongside Schumacher and Montoya and talk about beating them? But I wouldn't want to be bonkers.'








Cristiano has an advantage ...?
Cristiano da Matta thinks he has an advantage ahead of the Bahrain GP.

The Brazilian switched as series-champion from CART to F1-team Toyota in '03 and had to swiftly learn the majority of race-circuits on the grand prix schedule.

QUITE ADEPT

He thinks that experience, under new F1-regulations that even further reduce practice sessions and miles, stands him in good-stead for this new circuit.

'It could offer me a slight advantage,' said da Matta.

'I've become quite adept at making up ground to my rivals.'








Bahrain is 'severe' test of reliability
Bahrain is likely to be a 'severe' test of a Formula One cars' reliability.

Renault technical director Bob Bell said there are a number of areas on the desert-town Sakhir track's layout where 'extremely heavy braking' is required.

Equally, there are extended periods - up to 13 seconds - of full throttle.

'It will be a tough challenge from that point of view,' said Bell.

PERFORMANCE

In terms of performance, Bob expects Bahrain to 'play less to the known strengths' of the R24 package, even though team-podiums are likely everywhere.

Moreover, ambient conditions - and particularly sand - may threaten the engine.

'Work has been done to mitigate ... the risks,' said Rob White, engine director.








First fruits of Sauber wind-tunnel are ready
The first-fruits of Sauber's high-tech new wind-tunnel should appear in Bahrain.

Technical director Willy Rampf said a range of aerodynamic revisions as a result of the new car development-programme may be ready to try on the C23 from Friday.

'I enjoy going to new countries and cities,' commented Giancarlo Fisichella.

OVERTAKING

The former Jordan driver, an Italian, expects a few good overtaking-spots on the $150 million Sakhir circuit but has also heard that it could be a bit slippery.

'... like Zandvoort, in Holland,' he said in a pre-event statement.

'I'm quite happy with the way the car is progressing and we're continuing to learn a lot about it. So I'm hoping that we can qualify and race well here.'








We're a long-way from Ferrari: Schumacher
Juan Pablo Montoya is relishing the challenge of a new Formula One circuit.

The Colombian says Bahrain's layout boasts 'several' overtaking opportunities.

'After my podium in Malaysia,' the star of top-team BMW-Williams added, 'me and the team are more confident and keen to improve on that performance in Bahrain.'

DESERT-TOWN

Team-mate Ralf Schumacher visited the desert-town of Sakhir last December.

He reckons Juan Pablo's second-place in Malaysia showed that the Grove-based outfit is not 'as far away from Ferrari' as they had feared after Australia.

'But we're still a long way from beating them,' the German concluded.








New rules not compatible with new F1-tracks
Fernando Alonso has criticized Formula One's new 'single-engine' regulation for being incompatible with the introduction of new circuits including Bahrain.

The Spaniard said there is 'no substitute' for lots of track-mileage.

While drivers want to study in detail the nuances of a new circuit, they must keep total laps down so that his sole-designated V10 makes the weekend distance.

What's more, Bahrain is hot, and drifting-sand further threatens engine-damage.

SURTEES

'Is this the way F1 should be?' asks former F1 champion John Surtees.

'I don't think so. The rules are not really suitable for new circuits.'

Nonetheless, Alonso thinks he'll know the Sakhir layout in about 10-15 laps.

The Renault driver continued: 'Then I should feel comfortable with the circuit and know which curbs to use. For sure it should be a real challenge.'








Bahrain's King has best F1-view
Who's going to have the best view of the inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix?

None other than the King, of course!

The nine-storey 'Sakhir Tower' is the show-piece of the $150 million Bahrain International Circuit's Formula One paddock, according to a Williams statement.

ABUZZ

And the top-floor is assigned to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and guests.

Pitlane is already starting to buzz with the F1 teams' personnel and the entire Gulf State is 'alive' with the anticipation of motor sport's prestigious race.

But Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello admitted the spectre of terrorism.

'Look at Madrid,' said the Brazilian. 'Such a beautiful city and something like that happens. It means that wherever you go in the world there is concern.'

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