F1 Hot News
By Andrew Maitland
December 16, 2004

Minardi's Merry wish
(GMM -- Dec.16) Smallest team Minardi endeared itself to the F1 print media on Wednesday when it sent out by fax and email a Merry Christmas ('Buon Natale') card.

A picture of a speeding Xmas tree - and the signatures of Paul Stoddart, Gianmaria Bruni, Zsolt Baumgartner and Gian Carlo Minardi - carried the message 'Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuova ('and Happy New Year').

'F1 viewership in decline'
(GMM -- Dec.16) Less people tuned-in to Formula One in 2004, a UK-based marketing communication agency has found.

'Initiative' said despite the increase in grands prix from 16 to 18, and a six per cent total increase, average TV viewership actually went down compared to 2003.

A total audience of 800 million watched Michael Schumacher dominate title number seven, the report said, but China's new race - for example - was the 'second least popular' of all.

''The challenge for F1,'' said Initiative, ''is how to increase its global appeal without losing audiences in ... established markets such as Europe and South America.''

The report, highlighting the importance of time zones but also 'hero factor' in individual GP countries, added: ''F1 has the potential to be the world's most popular annual television event.''

Boris Yeltsin and F1
(GMM -- Dec.16) Boris Yeltsin will be marketing director at new Russian-backed Formula One team Midland.

He is the 23-year-old grandson of Russia's first president, Yeltsin Sr.

Alexander Radunsky, referred to as Midland F1's 'controlling partner' by a Russian newspaper, told ITAR-TASS news agency that Yeltsin Jr will work 'with (western) sponsors and promotion organizations.'

Yeltsin was educated in Britain and America and speaks fluent English.

''(He) is the ideal man for this job,'' Radunsky told the Kommersant newspaper, admitting that the family name is 'such a great brand.'

Midland founder Alex Shnaider, meanwhile, told Kommersant that the F1 project should help Midland - a steel production group - to secure lucrative contracts in the West.

No 'interim' no drawback
(GMM -- Dec.16) F1 team Renault has denied it will be disadvantaged in deciding not to build an 'interim' 2004/5 test car.

So far, the Enstone-based outfit ran at the pre-Christmas sessions in Spain with a modified R24, unlike - for example - main rival BAR's method to mate the 2005-car's rear end to a 'concept' or 'hybrid' model.

''There are pros and cons to both methods,'' said chief test engineer Christian Silk, ''and it is a question of how you choose to allocate your resources.''

He said, in fact, that Renault did plenty of on-track work for next season with the 2004 car -- such as running a revised aero kit and developing the new R25's electronic hardware and software.

Schu bought Jordan
(GMM -- Dec.16) Seven time world champion Michael Schumacher has snapped up a Jordan F1 car -- and that's not even an April fool-style wind up.

The 35-year-old German, according to a report in the UK media, bought the very Ford-powered 1991-spec '191' he used to qualify seventh on debut at the Belgian grand prix.

Ferrari's Schumacher also tested the car at Silverstone prior to the Spa-Francorchamps event. ''I'll never forget him coming around Stowe (in the 191),'' Eddie Jordan told Autosport, ''with all four tires squealing.''

By the very next grand prix, though - at Monza - a 22-year-old Michael had switched to Benetton and finished fifth -- a controversy that would lead to the establishment of the Contract Recognition Board.

Schu convicted of 'F1 murder'
(GMM -- Dec.16) With a respected British newspaper in the Judge's chair, Michael Schumacher was convicted of 'F1 murder.'

The Times of London hack Simon Barnes said Ferrari's seven time world champion 'murdered his sport' with a 'thousand cuts of excellence.

''It was a rare case of death by genius.''

Barnes said politico-financial news such as Bernie Ecclestone's court battle or the rise of the disgruntled carmaker is F1's 'dance of death.'

But why - unlike in other sports, like tennis or MotoGP - should Schumacher, for all his dominance and success, be branded a 'killer'? The Times said Schu robbed 'the humanity' from the sport. Simon Barnes argued that, because the best driver is at the wheel of the best car, 'no-one is interested.'

Worse still, he said, team-mate Rubens Barrichello is 'required to be a lackey ... a gopher ... '

Minardi court trial began
(GMM -- Dec.16) A court trial involving Formula One team founder Gian Carlo Minardi began last week, it emerged.

The Italian, as well as continuing financial director Stefano Sangiorgi, is charged with illegal financial activity relating to sponsorship deals in the mid-90's.

''Unluckily not everyone is clean and bleach-washed,'' he told website atlasf1.com, ''so we got involved. I hope we'll come out of it cleanly.''

Minardi, who sold the team to Paul Stoddart in late 2000 but remained at Faenza as an employee, admitted in Italian (he does not speak a word of English) that some wrongdoing may have occurred in a bid to keep the popular outfit 'alive.'

Juan Pablo's on a diet
(GMM -- Dec.16) The amply-proportioned Juan Pablo Montoya has lost about five kilograms since winning the year-ending Brazilian grand prix.

Spanish newspaper 'Marca' said the 29-year-old Colombian commenced a diet and exercise program in November at the behest of new F1 employer, McLaren's Ron Dennis.

Marca said Juan, formerly of Williams, must lose another two kg's before the Australian grand prix on the first weekend in March.

He's on a low-carbohydrate diet and completes two hours per day of aerobic and weight training.

''Complaints about my weight have followed me in my career,'' Montoya - nicknamed 'The Fatman' by friend and fellow Latino Rubens Barrichello - said, ''but I usually feel pretty good when I climb out of my car after a race.''

BAR man eyes Ferrari future
(GMM -- Dec.16) One day, BAR's Geoff Willis would 'love' to work for world champion Formula One team Ferrari.

A key vacancy or two at Maranello may open up when designer Rory Byrne and - possibly - technical director Ross Brawn choose to call it a day at the end of 2006.

''I've got no plans to change jobs,'' Brackley's current technical director told British F1 broadcaster ITV, ''but I have an Italian wife and one day we intend to live in Italy.''

In the immediate future, though, Willis - a former Williams man - said he is planning to win a world title with Honda and BAR.

Ferrari owner in dispute
(GMM -- Dec.16) Ferrari owner Fiat is trying to make GM (General Motors) buy the Italian marque's financially troubled auto division.

Reportedly, Fiat has a 'put option' on a four-year-old contract to compel the world's largest carmaker - who will now request mediation - to do just that, but they failed to find agreement.

GM owns ten per cent of Fiat. A spokesman said the carmaker reserved the right to seek a 'legal remedy' following mediation.

Albers in America
(GMM -- Dec.16) Dutch F1 hopeful Christijan Albers may turn to American-based Champ Car racing next year.

The DTM racing youngster tried a Jordan and Minardi in the pre-Christmas winter period, but flew to Florida (Sebring) this week for a run in a Derrick Walker-prepared racer.

Spotters said he drove 100 laps in a Dutch computer sponsor Trust-liveried machine.

''I think I've been handed an unique opportunity to get acquainted with this series,'' he told own website christijan.com.

New Euro 3000 champion Nicky Pastorelli - another Dutchman - also tried the Walker entrant.

Shake-up at Renault
(GMM -- Dec.16) There's been a major shake-up at Formula One team Renault's parent carmaker.

A statement said the changes were a precursor to the imminent arrival of incoming Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn. ''In this way,'' chairman Louis Schweitzer told French paper Le Figaro, ''there (will) be no uncertainty in the team.''

Sales and marketing chief Francois Hinfray is gone, as is industry and technology VP Pierre-Alain de Smedt and long-serving Renault man Georges Douin. Patrick Blain and Jean-Louis Ricaud are on the way in, Renault confirmed.

In addition, Patrick Faure is also to lose his spot on the executive committee, as well as his job as executive vice president -- but he'll remain president of Renault F1.

Want an ex-Schu F1 Ferrari?
(GMM -- Dec.16) Want a pair of 1969 Ferrari F1 driver Chris Amon's racing overalls? How about the very 1990 Ferrari car steered by quadruple world champion Alain Prost?

Then get yourself to the 'Ferrari Gstaad' auction - hosted by UK auction house Bonhams - at the Palace Hotel in Switzerland, on Saturday (18 December).

Also up for grabs are a pair of goggles worn by Alberto Ascari in grands prix, and the very last overalls worn by 10-GP winner Gerhard Berger (Adelaide 1995) in his Ferrari career.

If F1 cars are your thing, though, there's also a 1995-spec 412 and an ex-Michael Schumacher F399 (1999). It's all yours -- if you've got a spare bank account with more than $1.3m in it.

According to Bonhams, the F399 is 'maintained by the (F1) factory' and is presently having a 'routine engine rebuild.'

Dominguez signed Midland deal
(GMM -- Dec.16) A Mexican is well on the road to Formula One.

New-for-2006 Russian-backed F1 team Midland's founder, nationalized Canadian Alex Shnaider, told Kommersant newspaper that he is negotiating with 'one Mexican driver.'

Undoubtedly, it's Champ Car ace Mario Dominguez, whose manager revealed earlier in December that he's signed a 'preliminary' contract with an F1 team.

Shnaider commented: ''It looks like (a Mexican driver) will be racing for us.''

A potential title sponsor for the Midland entry may also have been weeded out of the woodwork. Boris Yeltsin Jr's mother is married to Valery Okulov, chief of Russian 'Aeroflot' airlines. Shnaider said they've been chatting.

Repsol keen to return
(GMM -- Dec.16) Oil giant Repsol is reportedly eager to return to Formula One as a sponsor.

We reported in September that the Spanish firm contacted Ferrari as a possible successor to their current Shell deal.

It also emerged around the same time that Spain's McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa placed high on Eddie Jordan's list of 2005 race drivers after Repsol pledged $10m if he landed a grand prix return.

Now, the English media says Repsol and former Jaguar team 'Red Bull' are close to agreeing an oil/petrol-supply sponsorship contract for 2005 and 2006.

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