Latest F1 news in brief
by Andrew Maitland
 February 1,  2006

Rossi's disastrous debut
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.1) If you read and believe Ferrari's press release, multiple MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi did only one lap at the Valencia group test on Tuesday because it rained.

But that's only half the story. In fact, the 26-year-old Italian - on his first flier - slid off a curve with wet tires, and beached his 2004 car in the gravel.

''The track was very wet,'' team spokesman Luca Colajanni explained. ''He just spun off.''

Rossi will try again on Wednesday.

His slippery first of three days in Spain followed the friendly welcome of countryman and Toyota racer Jarno Trulli, who wrote an open letter to Rossi that was published in La Gazzetta dello Sport.

In a transcript translated from Italian, Trulli wrote: ''I really did not expect that you would want to compare yourself against us yet.

''Since I am a few years older than you, allow me to give you some advice -- don't look at the stop watch, be calm, try to learn how the car behaves as the fuel goes down, as the tires wear, how a strategy would play out.

''Hats off to your courage.''

McLaren, Williams and Red Bull were also in action, with Honda pair Rubens Barrichello and Anthony Davidson setting the fastest times.

Split threat nearing end - Renault
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.1) A feeling of optimism about formula one's post-2007 future is growing nearly daily, with Renault president Patrick Faure now admitting that peace is near.

The Frenchman told Reuters that he would not even rule out a definitive agreement with Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA, to end the GPMA group's split threat, before the first grand prix of 2006.

''It's not impossible,'' he said.

Faure said at the Grimaldi Forum in Monte Carlo: ''It seems that now everybody is conscious that a good compromise ... would be a good solution for the future of formula one.''

Renault to lose title sponsor
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.1) After a twelve year pairing, Renault (formerly Benetton) will part with title sponsor Japan Tobacco at the end of season 2006.

With cigarette advertising bans now sweeping Europe, the brand's Mild Seven logos - like 'West' at McLaren and Honda's 'Lucky Strike' - will disappear from the livery.

''Mild Seven will not be easy to replace,'' said team president Patrick Faure, who admitted that two or three new sponsors will need to be signed up to replace the lost dollars.

Renault president to retire
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.1) Renault president Patrick Faure will retire at the end of 2006.

The Frenchman, who said he turns 60 later this year, informed reporters at the launch of the team's new 'R26' grand prix car in Monte Carlo.

''I dedicated twenty one years of my life to formula one,'' Faure said.

Team principal Flavio Briatore's contract, too, expires at the end of 2006, but the fifty-five year-old Italian wasn't giving anything away.

He told reporters: ''This isn't the moment to discuss it. We are focused on the season ahead.''

Renault's 'future' made Alonso quit
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.1) At the launch of his new title challenger in Monaco, world champion Fernando Alonso spent the afternoon justifying his 2007 switch to McLaren to the assembled press corps.

''I am still young,'' the 24-year-old Spaniard said at the Grimaldi Forum. ''I feel I need a new challenge.''

As ever in formula one, however, there is always more to it. One reporter managed to squeeze a definitive answer of 'yes' to the question about whether Renault could have fought harder to retain him.

Many observers say Renault simply wasn't prepared, unlike McLaren, to treble his salary. Others reckon it is an indication that the team is not fully committed to the grid.

''Probably (Renault could have done more to keep me) but that's between me and the team,'' Alonso insisted.

''It was not (about) the money, it was more (about the) future.''

Fernando even managed to slip out the news that his new McLaren deal is for a guaranteed three year period. ''Maybe at the end of 2009,'' he stated, ''I will need another new challenge.''

Team president Patrick Faure, however, denied Alonso's claim that Renault weren't too bothered about letting their champion defect. The Frenchman said Alonso made 'no approach' to team management and that 'no (2007) talks' took place.

''If he was worried about the future he should have asked me. I would have told him we will be there in 2008.''

Flav slams Red Bull 'betrayal'
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.1) Red Bull 'betrayed' every other Michelin clad team, Renault chief Flavio Briatore says.

The Italian revealed that Dieter Mateschitz's two Michelin clad teams voted to axe the 2005-spec 'single tire per race' rule, a regulation credited for helping the French tire supplier to dominate Japanese rival Bridgestone.

''Somebody betrayed us from within the Michelin family,'' Briatore told the Reuters agency. ''Red Bull voted against us -- I'm upset.''

Like Bridgestone shod Ferrari, Red Bull has signed the 2008 Concorde Agreement, and Mateschitz is a close friend not only of FIA president Max Mosley but also Bernie Ecclestone.

Michelin won 18 of the 19 grands prix last year.

Bridgestone teams sign F1 pact
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.1) All Bridgestone shod teams have signed an unique agreement to share information and work together this year.

Before Williams and Toyota fled the Michelin camp, Ferrari - with only Jordan and Minardi also on Japanese rubber - failed to win a single grand prix on merit in 2005.

Ferrari, Williams, Toyota, Midland and Super Aguri, then, have signed a document that is apparently titled the 'Bridgestone Users Cooperation Pact', under which tire development information from both races and tests will be collectively pooled and made available to the teams.

The problem with such an agreement, of course, is that firstly it might be seen to most benefit the less competitive teams, while misinformation and deceit could conceivably become an issue should two or more Bridgestone teams emerge as F1 title rivals.

While the true packing order in the new Michelin-Bridgestone fight is not yet known, Williams' technical director reckons he witnessed at least one advantage of switching tires for the 2006 season.

At the sodden Valencia test on Tuesday, Sam Michael said: ''It was evident from the lap times ... that Bridgestone have an advantage in wet conditions.''

F1 is Rossi 'hobby' - spokesman
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.1) A pair of spokespeople close to Valentino Rossi have played down the Italian's presence at the group formula one test in Valencia this week.

The MotoGP champion's Spanish seat in the Ferrari camp has been widely interpreted as the most serious indication yet that he could switch to the four wheeled category in 2007.

Indeed, it is a media circus at the southern Spanish venue, with nearly 150 journalists accredited to attend his 3-day run. They had a field day on Tuesday, with Rossi spinning on his eleventh corner of the day.

A spokesperson for Rossi's Yamaha team said: ''He's a Yamaha rider this year and all parties are 100 per cent aware he is testing F1 cars.''

A spokesman for Rossi's agent, meanwhile, told the BBC: ''Two wheels is his job, four wheels is his hobby.''

New Honda is a winner, says Rubens
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.1) Rubens Barrichello thinks his new Honda 'RA106' will be up to the task of winning races.

The 33-year-old Brazilian, who has switched from Ferrari after six years of being Michael Schumacher's number two, has been one of the revelations of recent winter tests, and tasted the top of the times on the first day at Valencia this week.

Rubens, who initially spent a day in the 2005 BAR, told Italy's La Gazzetta dello Sport: ''The car is good -- better than last year's. In my opinion, I will be able to fight for victories with this car.

''I am very ambitious and I left Ferrari because I want to finally become champion.''

Even with the highly rated Jenson Button as teammate, Barrichello - who won 9 races for Ferrari - is gushing about his new Honda team.

In an exclusive translation of the interview, 'RB' continued: ''With Honda, I can win. Everything I have seen so far confirms this feeling -- the people are motivated, the team has the financial and technical means, and the RA106, from the very first lap, has shown as one of the quickest.''

World champion to get married
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.1) World champion Fernando Alonso was the centre of attention at Renault's Tuesday launch.

But, curiously at Monaco's Grimaldi Forum on the Monte Carlo waterfront, hardly a single member of the world's media noticed a little detail on his left hand -- an engagement ring.

The 24-year-old Spaniard said: ''I have nothing to say about it.''

Late last year, Alonso was spotted out and about with Raquel Rosario, singer for the Spanish band Morpheus's Dream. He split with former girlfriend Carolina in August 2005.

The talented grand prix driver made it clear that he does not enjoy certain aspects of the media's interest in him.

''It's not possible for me to just go out for dinner in Spain anymore,'' Alonso explained.

Haug denies driver unrest
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.1) Norbert Haug has attempted to allay suspicions that not all is well within the silver McLaren-Mercedes camp.

Mercedes' 53-year-old racing chief denied claims of unrest within the cockpit -- both Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya, it is reported, may be unhappy and both intending to leave the Woking based team for 2007.

''I have spoken to them both,'' Germany's Haug told the 'Sport Informations Dienst' agency, ''and they said they were concentrating on what is important for 2006 before thinking about what comes (in the future).''

The alleged driver unrest follows the McLaren signing of Renault's Fernando Alonso for 2007, and Colombian Montoya's claim that he is therefore on the market.

Raikkonen, too, is reportedly either already signed up to switch to Ferrari next year, or now even more motivated to make the move official. He was quoted recently as criticizing Mercedes' progress with its new V8.

But Haug says: ''In formula one there is always speculation and always criticism. The truth is, Kimi and Juan Pablo will do their talking on the race track.''

Germany's Bild newspaper, meanwhile, claimed that the team's unreliable 2.4 liter engine will miss rivals' pace by around 20 horse power at the start of the 2006 season.

Massa to shine alongside Schu - Gene
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.1) Ferrari tester Marc Gene is predicting a close duel between Michael Schumacher and new 2006 F1 stable-mate, Brazilian Felipe Massa.

Like Eddie Irvine (1996-1999) and Rubens Barrichello (2000-2005) before him, the 24-year-old arrives at the Scuderia without a single win under his belt.

But Gene, the team's 31-year-old test driver from Spain, observes that Felipe Massa could well give the seven time world champion a harder time than Irvine or Barrichello ever could.

He told Motorsport Aktuell: ''Barrichello liked a car that understeered. Felipe, though, can deal with a car with a lively rear end -- just like Michael.''

Villeneuve ... the singer?
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.1) It's unlikely that Jacques Villeneuve is lining up an alternate career, but the 1997 champion did recently take his hobby to a new level.

BMW Sauber's French Canadian 2006 driver is also a dab hand at guitar playing, singing and songwriting, so he put his talents to the test by performing live to a crowd at his 'Grand Prix 24 Heures' ski event in Switzerland (Villars) last month.

According to reports in the German press, the 34-year-old's original 'set' was his stage debut.

''It was fun,'' Villeneuve said, ''but I was rather nervous.

''I had great musicians supporting me, but just in case the nerves got the better of me, I had the song lyrics close by!

''It went well,'' JV continued, ''everyone stayed for the whole set and their feedback afterwards was pretty good.''

Schu's the favorite - Alonso
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.1) He might be the reigning world champion, but Fernando Alonso does not think he should be regarded as the 'reference' for his rivals.

That privilege, the 24-year-old Spaniard insisted, belongs only to Michael Schumacher, the most successful grand prix driver in history.

Alonso said: ''If Ferrari turn out in races to be as good as they seem in testing, then Michael is definitely the favorite for 2006.''

Interestingly leaving Renault's 2005 challenger McLaren out of the equation, Fernando said the 'best teams' of the winter have been Renault, Honda and Ferrari.

''At least for the moment, these three teams are in front,'' he said.

Alonso also admitted that teams on Michelin tires, like Renault, had been caught up by the Bridgestone shod camps, including Ferrari.

He said the axing of the one tire per race rule had worked in Bridgestone's favor.

''Last year, we had a fantastic (Michelin) tire for the whole race, so we have perhaps lost this advantage.''

But although Renault's new R26 looks almost identical to the 2005 predecessor, it has leapt ahead in technical advancements for the new season. For one, the gearbox has shifted from six to seven speed, and is now made entirely of titanium.

In addition, the cooling system is more advanced, allowing for smaller radiators and side pods.

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