Latest F1 news in brief
by Andrew Maitland
January 18,  2006

Alonso won't slow down - Villeneuve
(GMMf1NET -- Jan.18) F1's reigning world champion is favorite to retain his title in 2006.

That's the opinion of BMW Sauber driver and grand prix veteran Jacques Villeneuve, who collected the sport's biggest trophy back in 1997.

JV, 34, thinks Spain's 24-year-old Fernando Alonso is the man to beat.

''He did well last season,'' the French Canadian said at the launch of BMW Sauber's 2006 car in Spain, ''so I don't see a reason why it would suddenly change.''

Paddock players like Toyota technical director Mike Gascoyne, however, reckon that Alonso's already-announced switch from Renault to McLaren for 2007 could unsettle the constructors' title team.

The Englishman said: ''It can't help but have some effect.''

But Villeneuve doesn't see it that way. Why, he wonders, would a mere press release alter Alonso and Renault's desire to win, or slow down the car?

''I can't image that Alonso suddenly slows down, or the team stops working well,'' Jacques said.

''Nobody acts against his own interests, so I could see (2006) turning out just the same.''

MotoGP's Biaggi to test for Midland
(GMMf1NET -- Jan.18) Ousted MotoGP rider Max Biaggi has turned up at Silverstone (UK) to test Midland's F1 racer.

The 34-year-old Italian is expected to move to world Superbike racing this year, but is certain to create intrigue in F1 circles as two-wheeled rival Valentino Rossi is also strongly linked with a future move to grands prix.

Biaggi is expected to test alongside Midland's confirmed 2006 driver Christijan Albers, and Tiago Monteiro -- whose once solid-looking ride has still not officially been confirmed by the Northamptonshire-based squad.

Biaggi is a four-time champion of the 250cc world motorcycle category.

Meanwhile, Midland's interim test car is now fitted with the electronics of the 2006 'M16' model, and the gearbox is also expected to run this week.

Teams working on new test accord
(GMMf1NET -- Jan.18) F1 teams are still discussing a new gentleman's agreement to limit in-season track testing in '06, Mario Theissen said on Tuesday.

The sport's newest team principal, in Spain for the launch and roll-out of BMW's first works F1 car, agrees with those who reckon testing is one of the biggest scourges on spending at the pinnacle of motor sport.

In 2005, every team except Ferrari signed up and adhered to a voluntary test agreement, which basically limited running to 30-days between the first and last grand prix, and two team cars per test day.

''We have to look at the costs,'' Germany's Theissen explained at Valencia.

But most of the carmakers on the grid are mindful of the need to keep F1 as a technology arena, Mario added, hinting that this caveat would be considered in any accord.

New BMW-Sauber smooth and fast
(GMMf1NET -- Jan.18) BMW-Sauber's new 'F1.06' car completed a smooth and quick first test day in northern Spain.

With Nick Heidfeld at the wheel of the white and blue racer, it racked up 29 trouble-free laps to wind up at least half a second quicker than teammate Jacques Villeneuve in the '05 model.

''I was much more nervous than before any other roll-out,'' Heidfeld admitted, ''because this is a bigger and long-term project.''

French-Canadian Villeneuve's first day in his new baggy white overalls didn't start well -- his engine cover was smoking at the end of the first lap.

But the 34-year-old ultimately collected 50 laps.

Testing resumes at Jerez
(GMMf1NET -- Jan.18) Three teams brought the wail of formula one engines back to Jerez, in southern Spain, on Tuesday.

McLaren, Toyota and Williams comprised the field of five, with the first two outfits putting two cars each on track, and Pedro de la Rosa (McLaren) emerging with the top time.

It ended up pretty warm and sunny on track, but a cold and damp start meant that little running was seen before lunch. Toyota's race lineup of Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher put more miles on their new TF106 car, while Williams rookie Nico Rosberg brought up the rear.

30-year-old Ralf sat out most of the afternoon after his car's 2.4 litre V8 failed.

''That's what testing is for,'' the German insisted, ''and that's why we can benefit from having the engine out early.''

Dennis has 'no respect' - Briatore
(GMMf1NET -- Jan.18) Renault principal Flavio Briatore has blasted his McLaren counterpart for the way Fernando Alonso's switch for 2007 was handled.

55-year-old 'Flav' reckons Ron Dennis showed 'no respect' in announcing the coup hardly two months after Spain's Alonso had secured the world title for a rival grand prix team.

He told the Agence France-Presse agency: ''It was not pleasant at all.

''There should be more respect in formula one.''

Former Renault driver Jarno Trulli agrees that Alonso's McLaren switch 'could have been done in a different way'.

''The situation is not nice,'' the Italian added, ''because they (now) have two drivers whose contracts will expire.''

Briatore also suggested that the proximity to Alonso's Renault triumph was not the only motivating factor behind the early announcement.

He added: ''Ron Dennis has not won the world title for seven years so now he wants to manufacture good news.''

BMW coy on Villeneuve's future
(GMMf1NET -- Jan.18) Nick Heidfeld's future at BMW may be more secure, but new teammate Jacques Villeneuve will not be treated as his 'number two'.

BMW Sauber team leader Dr Mario Theissen insisted at the 2006 car launch that both racers have equal status.

The facts, however, are hard to ignore. Heidfeld, 28, is on a three-year deal, while JV - the former '97 world champion - will be out of contract at the end of the current year.

Theissen was cagey when asked about the French Canadian's future at BMW.

''At the moment, we look at 2006,'' said the German. ''We expect results from both and then we'll talk about the future.''

But even Jacques expects a better season than his full-time comeback with the Peter Sauber-led team in 2005.

The 34-year-old has endured a tough recent history in the sport, struggling as Jarno Trulli's Renault sub in late 2004 before failing to shine in the first part of last season.

He said: ''It will be difficult to find hard seasons like those again.''

BMW serious about F1
(GMMf1NET -- Jan.18) BMW is serious about F1.

That was the loud-and-clear message at the launch of the first 'F1.06' BMW-Sauber racer at Valencia (Spain).

Not only is the German manufacturer ramping up the formerly Peter Sauber-led team's Swiss factory and boosting staff numbers, but a separate test team will be put in place in the coming weeks.

''Then we will be testing like the other big teams,'' motor sport director and team boss Dr Mario Theissen revealed.

Even so, some suggest that BMW - to maintain operations at Munich - should be going the Ferrari-Toyota route of building both the car and engine under one roof.

Mario Theissen insisted: ''We will have people in Hinwil and Munich who work on both areas, so you cannot really talk about a split operation.''

BMW board member Burkhard Goeschel says the new works team represents a 'long term commitment' to the sport.

F1 dispute nearing end - BMW
(GMMf1NET -- Jan.18) Mario Theissen has added to a growing feeling in formula one circles that doubts about the future of the sport are nearing an end.

The BMW F1 boss, whose employer is one of five carmakers threatening to quit and race in a rival championship in 2008, says he thinks the dispute 'will be settled'.

''I am quite confident that we will reach agreement to continue in formula one,'' Germany's Theissen said in Spain.

Ferrari, Red Bull's two teams, Midland and Williams - that is, every non-manufacturer outfit - have already signed up to Bernie Ecclestone's 2008 Concorde Agreement, while Japan's Toyota and Honda are reportedly adamant that the sport should not split.

BMW board member Burkhard Goeschel, meanwhile, indicated that the Munich based carmaker is unlikely to ultimately threaten the success of the race series.

He said: ''F1 seems tailor made for BMW's brand values, and there's no other sporting event that generates so much attention on such a regular basis worldwide.''

Renault 'planned' test lull
(GMMf1NET -- Jan.18) After a week off, Renault will return to the test track next Wednesday with a second 2006 R26 formula one car.

Although action is taking place this week at Jerez, the reigning constructors' world champions are only scheduled to run at Circuit de Catalunya, with both team race drivers present, next week.

Technical director Bob Bell, however, dispelled any images of engineers enjoying a rest, or the brand new car already collecting dust.

He said: ''We planned this downtime in order to deal with the many small problems that arise in the first week of running.''

Bell insisted that the Enstone based camp did not chase lap times with the single new car at its Jerez debut last week. He said the drivers were told to take it easy because there were not enough spare parts to repair damage.

''Even so,'' Bob Bell enthused, ''the initial signs seemed very positive in terms of the car's performance.''

We won't beat Williams, yet - BMW
(GMMf1NET -- Jan.18) German manufacturer BMW does not expect to outpace its old F1 partner, Williams, in 2006.

New BMW Sauber team principal Mario Theissen, in fact, baulks even at the prospect of immediate podiums, let alone wins or titles.

''But we should start to close up to the other teams,'' the German said at the 'F1.06' car launch in Spain.

Theissen has repeatedly explained that the problem with the BMW-Williams project was a clash of corporate culture.

And he said with conviction: ''Eventually we will go beyond (Williams') level, but it will take some effort and patience.''

Theissen said part of the initial problem is that Grove based Williams is already efficiently functioning with about 500 staff. BMW hopes to get its numbers up to just under 400 by the end of 2006.

Spy charge leaves Brunner stunned
(GMMf1NET -- Jan.18) Ousted F1 designer Gustav Brunner says he is 'astounded' that he has been charged in the Toyota-Ferrari spy scandal.

Along with former team boss Ove Andersson and aero chief Rene Hilhorst, the Austrian is accused of being involved in the use of stolen Ferrari software for the design of Toyota's 2003 and 2004 cars.

''I don't really understand how and why this is all coming out now,'' Brunner told SportAutoMoto magazine, ''and this is something that annoys me greatly.''

He denies the charge outright.

''I've never copied anything in my life. This issue will be cleared.''

There is, of course, a seemingly intuitive link between the criminal charges and the fact that Brunner, Andersson, Hilhorst, and the two original Ferrari workers, no longer work for Cologne.

Brunner, 55 - currently living out his Toyota contract at home - was told to leave in December.

''Someone said to me, 'you have ten minutes to collect your things','' he told Motorsport Aktuell magazine.

Gustav Brunner explained: ''I have experienced some deep feelings in my formula one career before, but this totally perplexes me.''

Trulli urges Toyota to up its game
(GMMf1NET -- Jan.18) Italian driver Jarno Trulli has urged Toyota to up its formula one game.

The 31-year-old team driver is hopeful for the competitive-looking TF106 model, but said Cologne-based Toyota must be 'quicker to develop the car' throughout the '06 season.

''There were only two teams which made really good progress last year,'' Italy's Trulli told Motorsport Aktuell, referring to McLaren and champions Renault.

He insisted: ''If we want to become the world champions, then we must be able to at least keep up with their development rate.''

These days, the biggest spender in pitlane is Trulli's employer, but the driver suggested that succeeding in formula one is not all about having deep pockets.

''You need to know how to spend the money you have meaningfully,'' JT said.

He also rejected speculation linking big name drivers like Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen with his 2007 seat as 'useless gossip'.

Trulli said: ''I get along with Ralf (Schumacher) well; we cooperate very effectively.''

Webber failed to shine in '05 - BMW
(GMMf1NET -- Jan.18) Australian F1 driver Mark Webber did not perform well enough in 2005.

That is the opinion of BMW chief Mario Theissen, who worked with the 29-year-old in the carmaker's final collaborative year with Williams.

From 2006, BMW is the owner of the Sauber team, which has employed Webber's former teammate - Nick Heidfeld - for the future.

Theissen said: ''Mark's performance ... certainly was not satisfactory to the team and to him. He said that himself. He was not happy with his performance.''

The BMW motor sport director explained that Webber never came into consideration for a BMW-Sauber drive this year.

''Because he has a Williams contract,'' Germany's Theissen explained. ''It was always clear he would be a Williams driver in 2006.''

Even so, Webber is regarded as one of F1's very best qualifiers, but it was his consistency in the actual grands prix that let him down last season.

Mario said: ''If he gets that right he will be one of the very strong drivers in F1. I expect him to do that.''

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