F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
April 3, 2004

Michelin blame Bahrain
Michelin blamed the Bahrain F1 circuit for a few spectacular tire failures.

Three French clad drivers, including top aces Fernando Alonso and David Coulthard, suffered cut tires during Friday practice at the new desert venue.

Michelin and the FIA's Charlie Whiting launched a joint investigation.

'We found identical marks on all three affected tires,' said Pascal Vasselon.


Michelin's project manager said the marks were caused by 'kerb impact' damage.

An inspection of the track revealed that two drainage hatches had become detached from their concrete bases during the sessions creating sharp ridges.

Vasselon said a temporary cure was set up for the remainder of Friday and a 'permanent solution' will be in place before F1 practice resumes on Saturday.

Track temperatures topped 50 degrees on Friday.

BAR sign technical partnership
F1 team BAR has announced a technical partnership with software firm SAP U.K.

It formalizes an existing three year relationship, said a statement.

'SAP gave us the opportunity to maximize our performance across a range of functions and is now an integral element of our operation,' said Dave Richards.

Bruni caught speeding - again
On Friday in Bahrain, Gianmaria Bruni's wallet became $12,000 lighter.

The Italian brings around $5 million to his Minardi seat but the FIA slapped a hefty fine on him in the desert for a pitlane speeding infraction of 23.5kmh.

Bahrain's Friday limit is 60kmh but GB was clocked at 83.5kmh.

'It wasn't Gimmi's fault this time,' a Minardi spokesman told Autosport.

Graham Jones said the PS04B's speed limiter didn't work.

Bruni was pinged in Australia and Malaysia, too.

Two of Jordan's drivers, meanwhile - Timo Glock and racer Nick Heidfeld - were handed $750 fines when their speed limiters settled on 62.2kmh in the 60k-zone.

Rain should stay away
Despite earlier reports, it is not likely to rain this weekend in Bahrain.

Weather forecasters say Saturday is heading for a top of 33 degrees and any rain that might have moved-in on grand prix Sunday has now abated until next week.

Sunday is heading for a sweltering high of 36 degrees.

Scattered thunderstorms are predicted on Monday and Tuesday.

Track temperatures peaked at a challenging 51 degrees at Sakhir on Friday.

Novelty for Zsolt Baumgartner
It was a novelty for Zsolt Baumgartner to power above some of his F1 rivals.

The Minardi pay driver ended Friday practice in Bahrain faster than Jaguar's Bjorn Wirdheim, teammate Gianmaria Bruni, and rated Jordan ace Nick Heidfeld.

'I struggled for traction initially,' said the 20th placed Hungarian.

'But we found a balance eventually and I could set a reasonable time.'

Yellow flags and traffic prevented rookie Bruni (22nd) from doing better.

'We found a good chassis balance,' said the Italian.

Team boss Paul Stoddart said he was 'particularly pleased' with Zsolt's form.

Schumacher not sliding out of F1
Ralf Schumacher is not about to slide out of Formula One.

The German is stuck in negotiations with BMW-Williams and in Bahrain denied speculation that he is about to complete a $110 million switch to Toyota.

'I've been in F1 long enough - people know me well,' he told reporters.


'Where I go doesn't really depend on race results.'

Schumacher, 28, said he 'promised' to be in F1 for a few more years yet.

He said: 'Whatever happens, even if I do badly in four of five grands prix, I will still be in Formula One next year and the year after that - no problems.'

Bahrain's grid girls wear trousers
The closest thing you'll find to a 'grid girl' in Bahrain this weekend is one of 24 hostesses of the Formula One Paddock Club ... wearing trousers and a blazer.

Visual Image selected two dozen girls aged 18 to 35, said director Judy Dodwell.

The girls' uniform includes navy blue trousers and a red blazer.


Visitors to the Arabic state on Friday noticed men in white flowing robes and women wearing the traditional Islamic headscarf otherwise known as a 'hijab.'

'We are promoting our kingdom in the traditional way.'

Those are the words of Sheik Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, Bahrain F1 chairman.

Smaller than expected crowd
A smaller than expected crowd shuffled into the Bahrain circuit on Friday.

Someone estimated that about half - just 20,000 - of the seats were filled.

One was Briton Derek Roberts, who spoke to the Gulf Daily News.

He lives in nearby Saudi Arabia and works for the defense ministry.

'We're big time fans. I used to go to Silverstone quite regularly.'


A group of Ferrari fans - from Germany - flew in from Qatar.

'We fly in and out,' he said, revealing that he couldn't find a hotel room.

A couple of Kimi Raikkonen fans, however, were refused entry to the brand new Bahrain International Circuit because they still had their luggage with them.

The ticket-holders had flown in from Dubai.

'The bus took us straight here,' said the disgruntled Finns.

Bahrain not 'overtaking friendly'
Bahrain is not as 'overtaking friendly' as it had been touted.

Circuit designer Hermann Tilke is in town this weekend and he said special attention was paid here to putting in long straights before tight hairpins.

'That's been our aim,' he said, 'to create spectacular races.'

Only Sunday will test how successful he's been.

Certainly David Coulthard doesn't think he'll try too many moves in the race.


'If you want drivers to overtake,' said the Scot, 'there should be a carrot dangling above every corner to make it possible - there are no carrots here.'

Some of the blame for that can be laid at Michael Schumacher's door.

The six-times world champion had a hand in the design of the Bahrain layout.

'I was asked for advice on overtaking opportunities,' said Michael.

The German added: 'But now ... I am not sure there are a lot. Maybe one.'

No 'fresh evidence' in Senna re-trial
Prosecutors don't have a case against Williams' technical team.

That's the belief of F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone who told the Telegraph that he reckons the trial into the death of Ayrton Senna may be reopened for publicity.

Italy's Supreme Court has annulled an appeal verdict reached in 1999.

It means the path is clear for Frank Williams, his technical director Patrick Head, and former chief designer Adrian Newey to be tried again for manslaughter.


'I'm sure [it's] because of the tenth anniversary,' said Ecclestone.

'The court reached a decision based on evidence. There is no fresh evidence.'

Furthermore, the old evidence - like Senna's car - has been destroyed.

'If we have to defend our position again,' said Patrick Head, 'we will do.'

Webber on cusp of 'biggest' career decision
Mark Webber is on the cusp of the 'biggest decision' of his career.

Quite soon, he may have to decide - should I stay or should I go ... ?

'I do have a contract with Jaguar next year,' the Aussie told ESPN.

'You have to be very careful. Everyone wants to win - and I want to as well. But I'm very close to these guys, the closest I've ever been to a team.'


Sir Frank Williams has at least one spot to fill at BMW-Williams next year.

And Webber is managed by Flavio Briatore - boss of the rising Renault outfit.

Obviously, then, the pressure is on Jaguar to retain their 27-year-old star.

'If I was to stay,' said Webber, 'we need to be challenging for the top-three.

'We need to take another big step forward. I'm coming into my prime.'

Button pledges future to BAR
Jenson Button has counted himself out of the running for a BMW-Williams seat.

'I'm 100 percent sure,' said the Briton, 'I'll be at BAR next year.'

Button, 24, told the Mirror that following his maiden F1 podium in Malaysia a fortnight ago, he is comfortable about finding success with his new 'family.'


In 2000, Williams replaced Button with the now defecting Juan Pablo Montoya.

'I know everyone at BAR,' he told the newspaper.

'It's great and I'd love to get success with them from this building phase.'

Drivers offer Bahrain 'thumbs-up'
F1's drivers offered a thumbs-up to the 'dusty' new Bahrain circuit.

'I think it's quite nice,' said McLaren ace Kimi Raikkonen on Friday.

'There's quite a bit of sand around but it's getting better.'

World champion Michael Schumacher lauded the 'interesting' track layout.

'It's tricky - nice up and down bits. They've done a good job.'

Schumacher, 35, noted that the track is 'like ice' just off the racing line.


'All the little edges of the tarmac that we brush away,' said the Ferrari driver, 'go there next to the line so we can run wide or spin or whatever.'

Bahrain was built at a cost of $150m in just 483 days.

'It's quite hard on brakes,' said rookie Christian Klien.

Spaniard Fernando Alonso complained that a number of corners are quite similar - slow hairpins, 'but the rest requires different things from the car,' he added.

'It's not too hard for us,' he smiled, 'we get time on the straights to rest.'

DC pushes McLaren through sand
Image of Friday ... David Coulthard pushing his McLaren through the desert.

The veteran driving Scot, visibly shaken, had just flown at 200kmh through the sandy surrounds in Bahrain when a Michelin tire delaminated on a sharp kerb.

But it summed up where his Mercedes-powered team is in early 2004.

'On the back foot,' DC agreed.


'We're at the bottom of the hill and trying to climb back up it.'

Coulthard said the problem is harnessing the MP4-19's pace over a lap. 'Sometimes we're ok - we're fast,' he added. 'But we can't get a grid spot.'

At least David's Friday flying lesson didn't occur in Monaco, or Imola.

'Sure - the barriers are a long way away,' said Coulthard.

'Otherwise it could have been messy. I would have swapped places with anyone.'

Pantano impressed with ... press
Giorgio Pantano's first impression of Formula One was ... the media.

'It's the press, the interviews, the television,' the Italian rookie said.

'It's quite impressive.'

Jordan's newcomer was the fastest Italian, in a crop which includes Renault star Jarno Trulli and Sauber veteran Giancarlo Fisichella, on Friday in Bahrain.

His EJ14 was also the quickest non-Ferrari on Bridgestones.

'We've worked hard to understand what the problem has been,' he said.

'We've found a balance with the car and my feeling is also improving.'

Klien likes teammate Webber
Christian Klien likes his first Formula One teammate - Mark Webber.

'I think he's one of the best drivers in F1,' said the Austrian.

A noticeable gap separated their Jaguar R5s in Australia and Malaysia.


'Well ... it was my first races,' 21-year-old Klien retorted.

The gap is smaller in Bahrain, though, and Christian actually outpaced Webber on Friday and was half a second better than the Aussie on Saturday morning (one).

'For sure, I can learn a lot from Mark. He's very friendly to work with.'

Montoya looks for F1 victory
Juan Pablo Montoya is looking for victory in the Middle East.

The Colombian was just a 1/1000th off Rubens Barrichello's time on Friday and he started Saturday official-practice by joining Jenson Button right near the top.

'We weren't anywhere near Ferrari [in Australia],' he said.


'But in Malaysia we had a competitive car.'

Montoya, 28, reckons BMW-Williams is usually 'miles off' Ferrari on Fridays.

'But here ... it's fantastic. I'm happy with the way it's going.'

Is the Iceman staying cool?
Is Kimi Raikkonen keeping his chin up?

The McLaren-driving Finn has endured a rotten start to the 2004 Formula One season including car problems and race retirements in Australia and Malaysia.

It didn't get any better as the circus moved onto Bahrain.

Raikkonen, 24, pulled over on Friday when his Mercedes V10 exploded in fire.

Wherever Kimi qualifies, then, he'll start the race 10 places further back.

'Of course it's not nice,' he told reporters at the Sakhir track.

'It's not nice for me ... not nice for the team. But this is racing.'

Raikkonen said everyone at Woking is 'pushing hard' to improve the situation.

'It just takes a little while before you get there - more than two weeks anyway. Also, I haven't had the best of luck yet but that is just the way it is now.'

F1 chiefs love Bahrain track
F1 chiefs have nothing but superlatives for the newest facility in Bahrain.

'This is a fine track,' said Michelin boss Pierre Dupasquier.

'It's an interesting layout and a really good surface - plenty of grip.'

Minardi principal Paul Stoddart said Sakhir's $150m track is 'magnificent.

'The facilities really have set a new standard,' said the Australian.

BAR counterpart David Richards praised a 'great' new venue.

'It's an incredible facility,' said the English team principal, 'and it's a testament to the vision and hard work of all those involved in its completion.'


On the driver front, Juan Pablo Montoya could give the layout no better praise.

'It's challenging,' said the Colombian, 'and that's how a good circuit must be.

'Of course the facilities are amazing as everyone can see.'

Ferrari boss Jean Todt has never seen a more state-of-the-art circuit.

'The organisers have done an extraordinary job,' said the Frenchman.

'Bahrain is a new experience for F1 - but the backdrop outside the circuit is more reminiscent of a rally than of a grand prix. That's ok with me!'

Saturday practice notes: Bahrain
David Coulthard (8th) spun off the track in the first session.

Initial reports are that it may have been another Michelin tire-failure.

Sauber's Felipe Massa (no time) didn't turn a lap with a fuel supply problem.

In session two, Kimi Raikkonen (11th) had yet more technical problems.

The Finn, trying to exit his pit box, stalled and was pushed back inside.


When he did hit the Bahrain circuit, the McLaren had a misfire and a few offs.

Team-mate Coulthard (no time) stayed in the garage all session with a problem.

World champion Michael Schumacher (5th) had a harmless spin in session two.

Fernando Alonso (9th), Giancarlo Fisichella (14th), Felipe Massa (15th), Zsolt Baumgartner (19th) and Jaguar's Christian Klien (12th) also all had spins.

BAR-Honda's Jenson Button was fastest in both pre-qualifying practice runs.

Button sets Bahrain pace
Jenson Button ruled the roost in Bahrain in Saturday's two practice sessions.

The BAR driver led the pace of the similarly Michelin-shod BMW-Williams cars of Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya, and then Honda team-mate Takuma Sato.

'I like this track,' Button, 24, had said on Friday.

'There are some really good high-speed corners.

'I think we're definitely on for points, and maybe another podium.'

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