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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
April 6, 2004


Montoya's off to a team in crisis
Is Juan Pablo Montoya worried that he's off to join a top-team in crisis?

The Colombian will switch from BMW-Williams to McLaren in 2005 but the outfit in Mercedes-Benz silver has rolled out its worst start to a season in 23 years.

'It's too early to say anything,' Juan told Autosport.

'It's still a year to go before I go there, so I'm not really bothered.'

Montoya, 28, admitted that Woking's MP4-19 motor car is not performing.

'But maybe they're looking at the future,' he continued. 'It's not a one-year thing, maybe ... Don't know. Right now it doesn't look that good here either.

'The idea is to win but we don't seem to be catching Ferrari.'

Montoya is taking a few days off but he'll be in Paul Ricard next week.

'Right now, we've got what we've got,' he said. 'We have to deal with it.'








Silverstone faces uphill struggle
Silverstone is facing an uphill struggle to keep the British Grand Prix.

It's a message pedalled by F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone but even one of Northamptonshire's staunch supporters admits that the ageing track's in trouble.

'I'm English ... so I've always supported Silverstone,' said Frank Williams.

The Grove-based team boss told Reuters that Ecclestone, 73, might be trying to 'kill' the future of the British race in favour of a push out of Europe.

'Damn Bernie if he tries to kill it,' he scowled.

But, looking at the $150m Bahrain facilities on the weekend, Williams admitted that Ecclestone just might be right. 'You can see where he's coming from.'

Fellow F1 owner Eddie Jordan bases his factory across the road from Silverstone.

'They should up their game,' the Irishman agrees.

'If they don't, they will suffer the consequences.'








Kimi's future is red
Kimi Raikkonen's future is at the controls of a red cockpit.

Speculation in Bahrain last weekend hinted that the Finn, three times given faulty machinery at grands prix this year, is fed up with life at McLaren.

There's also talk that he doesn't want Juan Pablo Montoya as an '05 team-mate.

According to speculation, the 24-year-old might be in a Ferrari by 2007.

Luca di Montezemolo reckons the boyish star is the 'best driver after Michael Schumacher' so who better to replace the world champion when he retires ... ?

Raikkonen is under contract to McLaren until the end of 2005.

Before that, the deal is 'absolutely watertight,' a source told The Guardian.

Bahrain whispers also put the short-term future of Cristiano da Matta in doubt, especially after ITV's Martin Brundle linked tester Ricardo Zonta with the seat.








Ferrari aren't sporting: Irvine
Ferrari must have changed their tactics.

Michael Schumacher's former 'number two' Eddie Irvine was bemused when current lackey Rubens Barrichello denied that he'd performed team tactics in Malaysia.

Barrichello was accused by friend Juan Pablo Montoya of blocking him.

'I can't even remember how many times I was asked to slow down the pack so Schumacher could enjoy a trouble-free run to the finish,' Eddie told The Sun.

EVERY TRICK

'There's only one thing on Ferrari's mind ... winning all the time.

'They'll use every trick in the book to do it.'

Irvine, who came closest to the Formula One title as runner-up in 1999, believes his former employers' 'win grands prix at every cost' tactics are not sporting.

'It shows a lack of passion,' said the retired Ulsterman.








Schu gives away Ferrari
Michael Schumacher gave away a Ferrari Modena 360 in Bahrain on Sunday.

The German, in his scarlet surrounds at Sakhir, was asked to draw the winner of a race-organized raffle set up to give away the red road car worth $155,000.

* 'Star Wars' creator George Lucas was spotted at the weekend's Bahrain GP.








Ferrari in own class: Theissen
Ferrari are still in a class of their own, according to Mario Theissen.

The BMW motorsport director said Williams' FW26 can't get close to the red pace in grands prix even if Juan Pablo Montoya is a match over a single flying lap.

Michael Schumacher set the fastest race tour by half a second in Bahrain.

Second best was Fernando Alonso, and Williams' Ralf Schumacher only third.

Theissen, though, is confident that the Grove/Munich outfit can claw it back.

'I hope we can repeat what we did last year,' said the German. 'We just have to move on. But I think the tyres and the weather might have a lot to do with it.'

He concluded that the Imola race track should suit BMW-Williams a bit more.








Three weeks to bridge gap
F1 teams have three weeks to bridge the obvious gap to Scuderia Ferrari.

Tuesday sees most teams start at Barcelona for a pre-Imola test session.

Ferrari will be there, too, alongside McLaren, BMW-Williams and Renault.

Williams are to again run IRL champion and New Zealander Scott Dixon.

Toyota is set to start off the four-day session with tester Ricardo Zonta.

Jaguar, Sauber and BAR are all planning to be out in sunny Spain.

Minardi will not test, and Jordan are heading to their local Silverstone.








Fans prepare for season-2002 repeat
F1 fans are facing up to a probable repeat of season 2002.

Two years ago, Ferrari dominated as it won 15 of the 17 races and Michael Schumacher has now kicked off the new year by cleaning up the first 3 rounds.

'We deeply believe the others will catch up,' the German said in Bahrain.

'But certainly we'd rather finish more comfortably than last season.'

SUSPICION

Mark Webber has a sneaking suspicion about how the season is to pan out.

'I hope it's not going to be that way,' said the highly-rated Australian, who drives a green Jaguar, 'but I've got to say that I have a feeling it is.'

Schumacher, 35, wouldn't mind another romp to victory - his seventh F1 title.

'I don't have any problem with that,' he smiled after a walk in the desert.








Ferrari might not have it easy
Ferrari might not have it as easy as Formula One fans suspect this season.

The world champions' technical director said despite a clean sweep of events so far, the team is 'concerned' about some of its less-favorite race circuits.

In Hungary and Hockenheim last year, the red package did not have winning pace.

'We're anxious [about that],' said Ross Brawn.

'We've got to make sure the tyre works on those sorts of tracks.'

Brawn told Autosport that his fears aren't just to spice up the pre-Imola media, but in reaction to fears on the Sakhir pitwall towards the end of Sunday's race.

'The drivers didn't have the grip they had at the beginning,' he said.

'Conversely the Michelin guys had more grip.'

He admitted that, sometimes, Michelin have an advantage over Bridgestone.








Heads to roll in McLaren crisis
McLaren's worst ever start to a Formula One season means heads will roll.

David Coulthard is already half way out the door for 2005 but he reckons other people are set to 'drop out of the system' as Woking completes a restructuring.

'You have to be hungry in motor racing,' said the Scot.

McLaren is moving into a brand new factory later this season.

INGREDIENTS

'If you look at the ingredients that the team has, there's no reason why we shouldn't be going out onto the circuit knowing that we can be the quickest.'

Team CEO Ron Dennis denied the charge that he's taken his eye off the ball.

Some say he should be totally focused on making the silver cars go quicker.

'In motor racing you need the best of everything,' said the Briton. 'The best facilities is just one of those tools. I'm convinced we're doing things right.'







Webber apologizes to Alonso
Mark Webber apologized to Fernando Alonso for 'screwing him' in Bahrain.

The Aussie was accused of unfair driving tactics on Sunday when 22-year-old Alonso waved furiously after taking avoiding action from an apparent brake test.

'Fernando must have thought I was really screwing him,' said Webber.

The Jaguar star said he was trying to decipher conflicting information.

'I had someone at the side of the track waving a blue flag at me and someone from the team screaming in my ear that I was racing for position,' he added.

BRAKE TEST

On-board footage suggested that he intentionally braked for a corner too soon.

'I didn't brake,' Webber retorted, 'but I was slowing down to let him pass me.

'And then I was racing him again. I apologized to him afterwards.'

A disgruntled Alonso, who drives a Renault, hopped out of his car after 57-laps in Bahrain describing Webber as one of the 'hardest' drivers in F1 to overtake.

'It was his attitude [that made it so hard],' said the Spaniard.








Germany celebrates Schu's seventh
Germany is already celebrating Michael Schumacher's seventh world title.

If he makes it four in a row at Imola, Michael would never have put a more resounding start to a campaign on track since his first championship of 1994.

'Thanks for another fantastic title,' said newspaper Bild on Sunday.

After Schumacher sailed to a hat trick of wins in the desert sands of Sakhir, Bild praised its countryman for being one of the only 'heroes of our nation.'

And Michael, 35, isn't only a role-model for winning, the journalist said.

'Loyalty. You have been married happily for many years.

'Speed. You are the fastest man in the world.'








Frank vows to keep head low
Sir Frank Williams has vowed to 'keep his head low' at the upcoming Imola GP.

Ten years ago, in 1994, his champion driver Ayrton Senna was killed when his Renault-powered racer puzzlingly speared off the track at the Tamburello corner.

An Italian court has cleared the way for a new manslaughter investigation.

'It's not going to weigh on my mind,' Williams said in Bahrain.

ACQUITTED

'But it will if we are put in jail.'

Frank, his technical director Patrick Head and former chief designer Adrian Newey - now at McLaren - were all acquitted at an appeal's court five years ago.

'We'll keep our heads low,' said Williams, 'because it's a sad event.

'We don't want to be reminded of it too overtly.'








BAR threaten Ferrari
BAR-Honda is the latest threat to Formula One's top-four teams - even Ferrari.

Maranello's technical director Ross Brawn noted Jenson Button's consecutive podiums in Malaysia and Bahrain just off the heels of winning scarlet one-twos.

'They'll want to improve the consistency next,' said the Briton.

Brawn said that while 24-year-old Jenson's lap times were competitive in the middle and final sections of the race, he had a 'relatively poor' first stint.

INEXPERIENCE

But he added: 'They're going to be a threat.

'In some ways they look to be the coming threat of the Michelin tyre teams because their main competitors are having a difficult time of it at the moment.'

Brawn's BAR counterpart Geoff Willis owns up to some team inexperience.

'We could race the Williams throughout,' he said in Bahrain, 'but we probably showed our lack of experience with the tyres in qualifying on Saturday.'








Webber got off the line
At least Mark Webber got his R5 off the line in Bahrain.

The Australian qualified on the front-row in Malaysia but his failing clutch was the subject of investigation prior to Formula One's first trek to the Gulf.

'Yeah, this time it started well,' the Australian told us.

Indeed, he was up to tenth position (from 14th) by the end of the first lap.

'We've still got a few areas to work on but we're making progress.'

REASONABLE

Team-mate Christian Klien also bogged down on the line at Sepang.

'My start was ok,' said the rookie after the Middle Eastern event ...

'... even if I had a difficult first few corners.'

Dr Mark Gillan clearly believes there is still room for improvement on the car's manual-start system as he described Jaguar's Bahrain getaway as 'reasonable.'

The head of vehicle performance added: 'I was pleased with [our] pace on track.'








Button sings Button's praise
Formula One's consecutive podium-getter Jenson Button spent the short road trip from his hotel to the Bahrain International Circuit on Sunday on a mobile phone.

On the blower were BAR-Honda engineers, not his pop-star girlfriend.

'It's just an example of how he's maturing,' said his father John.

SEVEN O'CLOCK

John, who has watched his lad race all over the world, also rode in the vehicle at seven o'clock in the morning, according to 'The Evening Standard' newspaper.

'He's growing into the role of being team leader,' Button Senior added.

'It's the sort of dedication for which Schumacher is renowned.'








Ferrari admit $10,000 mistake
Ferrari won't contest a $10,000 fine for causing a near-crash in pitlane.

The team's scarlet crew were reprimanded for releasing ace driver Rubens Barrichello from a pit stop into the path of Jarno Trulli's Renault R24.

'It was our fault,' technical director Ross Brawn admits.

He explained that lollipop man 'Hugo' was 'unsighted.

'The guy on the right rear hadn't finished - he was just turning around to get a wheel gun. Luckily the rear jack man was watching and didn't let him go then.'

Brawn said that despite pit problems, it is a team's duty to watch pitlane for a suitable moment before releasing a grand prix charger back into the action.

'We were actually watching for Montoya instead of watching pitlane,' he added.

'It's only fair that we should be fined.'

Team principal Jean Todt concurred that Ferrari 'definitely made a mistake.'








Only a win is good enough: JB
Even consecutive F1 podiums aren't enough to satisfy Jenson Button.

'I won't be happy until I'm on the top step,' said the BAR star.

THIRD

Button, 24, now lies third in the drivers' championship, but reckons there is still 'quite a little while to go' before he fights for a grand prix win.

'I'll get there,' the Briton added.








Time's running out: Lauda
BMW-Williams and McLaren are sure to fight back.

That's the prediction of former triple world champion and Austrian Niki Lauda who won the last of his F1 titles in a TAG-powered McLaren car two decades ago.

'They'll both work hard to improve,' he told The Guardian in Bahrain.

But time's fast expiring for a challenge to Ferrari's start to the 2004 season, which has featured triple wins for reigning title master Michael Schumacher.

'If Ferrari keeps winning,' Niki said, 'it'll be too late for this one.'







Renault beating McLaren to checker
Renault is more likely than McLaren to win a Formula One race this season.

Someone told Ron Dennis what Renault managing director Flavio Briatore had said.

'Everybody can have their opinion,' said the silver-clad CEO in Bahrain.

FIRST PLACE

'Do I think it's the right one - No.'

Dennis said he doesn't see the Enstone-based outfit in first place yet.

'Perhaps he should save his comments until they are,' he concluded.








Trulli disappointed
After a single lap in Bahrain, Jarno Trulli was a little disappointed.

'The venue is incredible,' said the Renault driving Italian. 'It's like getting a sneak preview into the future of our sport - everything is made for us.'

But from a driver's eye view ... 'there are no fast corners!'








Schumacher in Dublin
Michael Schumacher has touched down in Dublin.

Together with FIA president Max Mosley, the Formula One world champion is to be guest of honour at the underwriting of an EU initiative to reduce road deaths.

IMPORTANT

'It's important for all of us,' he said on a flight from Bahrain to Switzerland.

On Thursday, the German will lap Spain's Circuit de Catalunya in his F2004.








Sand storms to blind F1 drivers
In future years, F1 pilots may be blinded by the desert sands of Sakhir.

As already reported, a sand storm - mixed with rain - struck on Sunday morning.

SEVERITY

It had abated by the time five F1 lights extinguished, but Ralf Schumacher said he witnessed the severity of the Bahrain storm whilst en route to the circuit.

'We were virtually blind,' the German driver explained.








Todt doesn't gloat
Jean Todt is not the gloating type.

Intensely anxious, the French boss was careful in Bahrain not to take pride in the mechanical problems of traditional F1 team foes McLaren and BMW-Williams.

'It inspires modesty in us,' said Ferrari's chief.

Just minutes away from a podium place, Williams' Juan Pablo Montoya fell down the race order with a gearbox gremlin - 'it could happen to us,' said Todt.

'Things change so quickly in F1,' added technical director Ross Brawn.








Sauber urges team to speed up
Peter Sauber has urged his Formula One team to speed up.

Team drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa finished out of the top ten in Bahrain and respectively complained of ill-handling C23 race challengers.

'I was really struggling for grip,' said Brazilian Massa.

OUT LAPS

Sauber, a Swiss, said Hinwil must 'work on the performance side.'

But the blue Ferrari-powered car is not only at fault, he hinted.

Peter added: 'We should improve our speed during out laps after pit stops.'








Renault vow to gee-up horses
Reliability achieved, Renault is now vowing to gee-up the horses.

Engine manager Denis Chevrier said that aside from a blocked injector on Jarno Trulli's V10 in Bahrain, the team has encountered no problems with the new RS24.

'We've emphatically achieved good reliability,' said the Frenchman.

ON TARGET

Performance steps are therefore on target for the first grand prix in Europe, mercifully for Fernando Alonso who said it was tough to overtake on Sunday.

'In a straight line, I'd like a bit more power,' he told reporters.

Renault goes to Imola in three weeks' time second in the championship.

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