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F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
April 8, 2004


BAR not ready to take on Ferrari
David Richards has denied that BAR is ready to take on F1 champions Ferrari.

The reds' technical director Ross Brawn told the media this week that Honda-powered BAR, led by team principal Richards, is now a 'threat' to Maranello.

'We can fight with anyone except Ferrari,' DR told Motorsport News.

MISTAKES

He added: 'Clearly they've got the edge on us all.'

Richards said Jenson Button, who drove his 006 to the podium in Malaysia and Bahrain, is only a threat to Ferrari if the pacesetting team makes mistakes.

'In a straight fight,' said Richards, who smoked another cigar after JB's Bahrain result, 'nobody can claim that they're going to be as good as them.'








Nissan deny F1 assault
Nissan is not about to launch an assault on Formula One.

Chairman of Renault, Patrick Faure, fended off Japanese rumours that the sister brand might be contemplating a role as engine supplier to smaller F1 outfits.

'There won't be any involvement,' he told Motorsport Aktuell ...

'... as long as Renault is in Formula One.'








Webber leaves Surtees confused
It takes a lot to confuse motor racing legend John Surtees.

The grey-haired Briton has been champion on two wheels and four, and even attacked F1 as a constructor - but the form of Mark Webber has him puzzled.

Webber, 27, put his green Jaguar on the front row in Malaysia.

'Then he had a scrappy race,' Surtees told Vodafone Racing.

EVEN KEEL

'And I thought that in Bahrain, with a new circuit and everybody starting on an even keel, we might have seen something a little special again from him.'

But it was not to be - even inexperienced team-mate Christian Klien got the better of Australia's championship hope as F1 went racing in the Middle East.

'He wasn't really fast in the race ... and again he made mistakes,' said John.

'I'm scared that for some reason he's lost some composure and is overdriving.'








Trulli quick but also smoky
Jarno Trulli put on a fast pace with his new-spec Renault engine on Wednesday.

But the Italian's running at Barcelona was limited with an engine oil leak.

Team-mate Fernando Alonso, down in fifth, didn't fare much better.

The 22-year-old Spaniard, under blue skies, also ran the new RS24 - which he initially pronounced as a 'step' - but he too encountered a smoky failure.

BAR's Takuma Sato was equally fast, in the 006 contender.

The Japanese was trailed by an improving McLaren unit headed by David Coulthard.

TWO F2004

Ferrari's Luca Badoer alternated between two F2004 cars, completing a long run, and will hand over to Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello on Thursday.

BMW-Williams' assault comprised Marc Gene and IRL champion Scott Dixon.

The latter New Zealander, getting his first full three-day session this week at Circuit de Catalunya, was seven tenths off Spaniard Gene's pace in the FW26 car.

Olivier Panis and Ricardo Zonta continued to drive Toyotas.

Jaguar and Bjorn Wirdheim joined the test, with Felipe Massa (Sauber) slowest.

Massa's race engineer Mike Krack said the Brazilian had an engine problem.








Dixon starts 'proper' F1 test
Scott Dixon started his 'proper' evaluation run in a F1 car on Wednesday.

The IRL champion first drove an FW26 at Paul Ricard but this week at Circuit de Catalunya he's fighting for a 2005 BMW-Williams seat with a three-day session.

Dixon lapped 96 times, later playing with chassis set-ups.

SEVEN TENTHS

The Kiwi's best lap was seven tenths slower than official tester Marc Gene, but the Spaniard put in some quick runs as he evaluated new types of Michelin tire.

On Thursday, 23-year-old Scott's benchmark will be German racer Ralf Schumacher.

'Scott spent ... the morning completing familiarization runs,' said Tim Newton.








Bernie's pad sold for $50m
One of Bernie Ecclestone's old houses has sold for about $50 million.

The F1 impresario recently sold the London flat to a development company.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the Chelsea abode - with a floor plan twice the size of the Dorchester ballroom - is now owned by an unnamed businessman.








Ferrari set for Imola upgrade
The spines of Ferrari's rivals are no doubt still tingling after technical director Ross Brawn said his dominant red F2004 is to get an Imola upgrade.

He told Motorsport News that there's a 'new package' for the San Marino GP.

Ferrari's quadruple consecutive drivers' world champion Michael Schumacher has won the opening three grands prix of the year in Rory Byrne's latest design.

'There's no reason why we can't keep on improving [it],' Ross continued.

Brawn reckons Ferrari's constant increments are borne out of team 'stability.'








$1b to be poured into Bahrain
A further $1 billion is to be poured into the Bahrain Grand Prix project.

The universally praised track cost $150m but president Shaikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa says the new money is to be put into development and infrastructure.

Bahrain's race is 'not only a sports event,' claims economist Ahmed Al Yushaa.

He told local publications: '... it's [also] a major economic investment.'

A study predicted that Sunday's race should generate $74 million, leaving Al Yushaa surprised that the private sector should 'hesitate' in investing.








Firman tastes touring car
Former F1 driver Ralph Firman tried a touring car on for size.

Jordan's 2003 ace drove the VX Racing Vauxhall Astra, which contests the British series, at a Magny-Cours test for a feature in a leading motorsport magazine.

'These cars are very different from the F1 cars I've been driving recently,' said the 28-year-old, 'not only in their speed, but also in their handling.'

Ralph's best time was just over a second outside the regular drivers' laps.

Firman is contesting the Dallara Nissan championship this season.








Nurburgring chops F1 tickets
Tickets for the European GP have been chopped almost in half.

Organisers said on Wednesday that also to boost attendance at the Nurburgring on May 28 - 30, an extra day - Thursday - is to be added to the F1 event schedule.

'Formula One doesn't sell itself anymore,' said business manager Walter Kafitz.

DOMINANCE

He added: 'We couldn't make a profit last year.'

Kafitz denied that Germans aren't enjoying Michael Schumacher's dominance, which could explain why less are flocking to the track to watch their countryman race.

'If [Rubens] Barrichello won all the time,' he said, 'then I'd be scared.'








JPM doesn't regret McLaren move
Juan Pablo Montoya is not worried about McLaren's miserable form.

The Colombian vowed to drive for Ron Dennis' Mercedes-powered operation from 2005 before the new MP4-19 showed a lack of track pace and car reliability.

'Even if at first it's a disaster,' he said, 'it doesn't matter to me.

'I feel that McLaren's potential is very good for the future.'

WEAK LINK

Montoya, 28, admits that the Mercedes V10 looks like a weak link.

'Right now it looks difficult,' the current BMW-Williams star confessed, but he also claimed that joining a team that is not winning might have its benefits.

He said: 'If I join and they're winning - you're just joining a winning team.

'To me, that isn't as worthwhile.'







Stoddart denies F1 airline loan
Paul Stoddart has denied using his airline to fund cash-strapped team Minardi.

The Faenza F1 principal called claims in the 'Daily Mirror' newspaper that a $10 million loan was made to Minardi is nothing more than 'malicious rumour.'

European Aviation chopped nearly 600 employees last month.

Some of the fired staff accused Stoddart of neglecting his business.

One said of the Australian: 'He's stuck two fingers up at us.'








Webber wants more pace from R5
Mark Webber is hoping Imola affords him a faster Jaguar car.

The Australian salvaged one point in Bahrain and he said working up from a disappointing fourteenth on the grid began when he got a decent race start.

'Looking back, I'm generally pretty happy with how it went,' he said.

'We're getting off the line now which is what we've got to do.'

In Malaysia, 27-year-old Webber bogged down at the start after qualifying 2nd.

'We learned a lot in Bahrain,' he continued, 'and we'll take all of that with us to Imola. Again, we'll be looking to challenge for good points in Italy.'

Mark said his R5 'wasn't as quick' in the Gulf as it has been elsewhere in 2004.

He added: 'But at least we were reliable.

'The car was also consistent and that helped. I think the drop in temperature may have hurt us a little in terms of pace, but I've got no real complaints.'








Schu: Bahrain no 'stroll in desert'
Winning in Bahrain was not a 'stroll in the desert,' as some headlines claimed.

That's the opinion of three times in 2004 race victor Michael Schumacher who serenely turned his Ferrari's steering wheel onto a comfortable win in the Gulf.

'I can understand how it could have seemed easy,' said the German.

'But we had to concentrate really hard.'

Schumacher, 35, reckoned Ferrari were worried about brake and tyre wear.

'It was also hard to stay on the correct line,' he said. 'If you were wrong by just a centimetre, you could be slowed down - and with serious consequences.'

The six-times title winner might also have a new favourite circuit.

'Everyone knows how much I love Spa [Francorchamps],' the Ferrari driver said.

'But I have to say that [Bahrain] comes pretty close.'








Brawn surprised by Ferrari gap
Ross Brawn is surprised at the margin by which Ferrari leads the F1 pack.

The technical director told La Gazzetta dello Sport that he honestly didn't expect Michael Schumacher to win the first three races from pole position.

'I'm surprised - but I don't mind,' Brawn smiled.

'But I don't think [our domination over rivals will] last long.'

FUNNY BUSINESS

Ferrari's technical Englishman insists that Formula One is a 'funny business' in that a competitive track situation tends to turn around 'very quickly indeed.'

'A few years ago, we managed to lose a 33 point advantage,' he continued.

'So it's better to keep our feet firmly on the ground.'

Brawn said that in Bahrain, particularly on race day, lower temperatures and a slippery track - thanks to a morning sandstorm - were 'perfect' for the red car.








Imola shapes up for last F1 race
The San Marino GP in a couple of weeks' time is likely to be Imola's last.

F1 impresario Bernie Ecclestone has said that unless the Italian track gets a $30 million upgrade before 2005, it will not get a race beyond this month.

Race legend John Surtees has great memories of the Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit.

'I won on both two and four wheels there,' said the 1964 F1 champion.

LAST RACE

He also won his last race before retiring on the track in a car of his own make.

In 2003, Michael and Ralf Schumacher grieved very publicly at Imola.

The German brothers' mother, Elisabeth, had died just hours before the grand prix' start and a tearful Michael dedicated his victory to her on the podium.

2004 is also likely to be an emotional event as it marks a decade since Ayrton Senna was killed in his Williams-Renault at the now defunct Tamburello bend.

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