Latest F1 news in brief
by Andrew Maitland
 February 6,  2006

'06 to be 'Alonso v. Schu' duel
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.6) Gerhard Berger thinks the 2006 world championship will be a duel between Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher.

The veteran of 210 grands prix in the 80s and 90s said the victor's spoils will depend nearly exclusively on the fortunes of tire suppliers Michelin and Bridgestone.

''If Bridgestone is strong, I see Michael Schumacher on top,'' Austria's Berger told the 'Tiroler Tageszeitung' newspaper.

The 46-year-old added: ''And among the Michelin teams, Fernando Alonso is my favorite.''

Ferrari's Schumacher, himself, agrees that Michelin clad Alonso and Renault are so far the pacesetters with their new 'R26' race car.

After last week's test at Valencia in the '248 F1' machine, the German said: ''And not far behind Renault, I see Honda and us.

''At the moment that is the way I see it.''

Schumacher will test again this week, in Italy.

No McLaren 'crisis' - Haug
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.6) On the face of it, McLaren do not appear to be having a first-rate winter.

Regarding the Woking based team's areas of staff, budget, driver, car, gearbox, speed, engine and reliability, the specialist media has been filled with negative stories from the pre-season test tracks.

Mercedes' motor sport boss Norbert Haug, however, dismisses any claims that - despite having the quickest car in 2005 - McLaren is entering an era of crisis.

''Last year, too, we were not the winners of the winter test phase,'' he told Express, ''and the same is true for the beginning of last season.''

Spain's 'Marca' newspaper claimed last week that the MP4-21's biggest problem is not the V8 engine, but the gearbox, and that new parts will be ready for the Jerez tests this week.

Colombian driver Juan Pablo Montoya says: ''The car is getting better the more we run it.''

Haug also rejected claims that, with the loss of title sponsor 'West' and the fact that Vodafone is not arriving until 2007, money might be a problem.

The German said: ''There is no hole in the budget. In this department we are doing well.

''There is no crisis. Our objective has always been to win the title and it remains so.''

'MF1' targets points with M16
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.6) MF1's Christijan Albers was given the honor of driving the new M16 for the first time at Silverstone on the weekend.

It is the start of a bigger car development plan than with the Jordan car of 2005, and more investment in the team in general, according to the Dutchman's teammate, incumbent Tiago Monteiro.

''Even though it is not like a top team's budget,'' the Portuguese rookie of 2005 said, ''it will be nearly double what we had.''

'M16' will get three or four upgrades during the 2006 grand prix season, the first to be applied to the car around the time of the Australian race in April.

Russian-born team owner Alex Shnaider said the UK-based outfit was on the hunt for Russian 'aerodynamicists and engineers', while other team chiefs highlighted Red Bull, Sauber - and possibly even BMW and Williams - as '06 targets.

''I hope we can be reliable and that we don't need so much luck to get points,'' said team principal Colin Kolles.

Aguri Suzuki expects tough start
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.6) Aguri Suzuki admits that his new 'Super Aguri' formula one team is not entirely ready to tackle its debut season.

The 45-year-old Japanese, who himself raced in 88 grands prix and even tasted a podium in 1990, told the 'Daily Yomiuru' publication that sitting on the pitwall in Bahrain next month will be a 'dream come true'.

''I had many sleepless nights (recently), but not anymore,'' Suzuki, whose Honda backed team has been given an official green light, said.

''When I finished my career as a driver, I hoped I could come back at the age of 45 or so.''

However, the team's first car - SA05 - will actually be a reworked Arrows A23 of 2002, while the bespoke SA06 is readied for a European debut in mid-May.

Aguri Suzuki conceded: ''We lack preparation. Things never go well at first.

''But in the Japanese Grand Prix (on October 8), we're sure to achieve moderate success.''

Piquet turned down F1 offers
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.6) Triple world champion Nelson Piquet says his son has turned down several offers to become a F1 test driver.

The Brazilian revealed to Italian magazine Autosprint that youngster Nelson Piquet Jr had to reject the 'impossible' conditions proposed by grand prix teams.

''They can't tell you when you will test, they can't tell you if you will ever race, they just guarantee that you will appear for the sponsors,'' 53-year-old Piquet revealed.

''(So) I said no, always.''

20-year-old Piquet, often referred to as 'Nelsinho', raced - as well as in the 'A1' field - in GP2 last year, but won only the race in Belgium, finishing seventh overall.

'Thanks for the seat and the cash, JB!'
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.6) Nico Rosberg has cheekily thanked Jenson Button for making his 2006 formula one debut possible.

The 20-year-old GP2 champion told England's 'Sunday Mirror' newspaper that, had it not been for Button clinging to his Honda seat, there would not have been a vacancy within the Williams team.

''Button is my hero,'' Nico laughed.

''He gave me an F1 seat and gave the team a huge amount of money to help us with our racing!''

Rosberg, the German-born son of 1982 'Flying Finn' and world champion Keke, also denied that new teammate Mark Webber would go out of his way to welcome him to the grid.

''At the end of the day we are opponents,'' Rosberg admitted, ''(so) I don't think he will give me so much advice.''

RB2's cooling flaw still not fixed
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.6) A cooling flaw in Red Bull's new 'RB2' F1 racer should be fixed with a new bodywork package.

That's the reassurance of technical director Mark Smith, whose team admitted that testing laps have been limited so far because the Ferrari engine was overheating the new car.

Smith said: ''We will be testing the new elements ... later this month.''

He confessed that the technical team is unsure about how such a flaw was allowed to creep into the car's design, but reckons the bodywork has 'solved the problem' even if it will only be tested shortly before the cars are shipped off to Bahrain.

Smith denied that the lack of extended running at recent tests has put Red Bull behind.

He insisted: ''Ferrari have been running the same engine ... so they have a good understanding of its durability.''

Another Biaggi test possible - Kolles
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.6) Max Biaggi is likely to get more time at the wheel of Midland's formula one car, team boss Colin Kolles admits.

The MotoGP refugee, now seriously linked with a full time move to a test berth, recently ran a few laps at Silverstone in the rain.

''Maybe he will have another try in Spain,'' Kolles was quoted as saying in a translation of a Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper article, intensifying the media-driven Biaggi vs. Valentino Rossi 'race' to make the switch.

Romania-born Kolles would not be drawn on the seriousness of Biaggi's next trials, but he could not resist mentioning the possibility of seeing a certain Italian rider tackle a Friday practice session in 2006.

He said: ''I hope this situation will become clearer in the following days.''

For his part, Biaggi, 34, has now confirmed that he definitely will not appear either in MotoGP or the World Superbike category this year.

Bahrain expect F1 sell out
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.6) Bahrain is expecting a sell out crowd for its first season opening grand prix date next month.

With Australia taking a break from the calendar's first slot due to the Commonwealth Games, Bahrain has been promoted from round three to round one for 2006.

A spokeswoman for the Sakhir circuit said she did not know exact figures, but expected higher numbers than in '05.

''If we compare this year's sales to last year's six weeks before the event,'' she told the TradeArabia publication, ''there is a 15 per cent increase.''

Hoteliers in the area, however, have come under fire for exploiting the accommodation shortage by raising normal room fees by between 45 and 75%.

One single and double room for radio journalists for three nights, according to TradeArabia, was costing them about $1400.

The circuit's hotel manager, however, defended the rate rises.

''The (hotel fee) structure used in Bahrain is an international one,'' said Abdulrahman Qarata, ''and based on all other countries that host (grands prix).''

Midland 'plan' to stay in F1
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.6) Midland is in formula one for the long haul, the 'MF1' squad's owner Alex Shnaider has asserted.

Amid speculation last year that the naturalized Canadian - a billionaire businessman in Canada - was already looking to sell the Silverstone based team, he insists that F1 is a 'great' sport.

''The plan is to stay in F1,'' the 36-year-old said.

''I do not intend to sell the team, but that doesn't mean that we are not open to partners. At the moment we are the Midland team, but if someone can offer us something, we will look at it.''

Shnaider reckons he is an F1 'fan', but highlighted the sport as an 'excellent global platform' for his steel company.

Ralf waits for new Toyota package
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.6) Ralf Schumacher has urged F1 observers to assess the '06 pecking order when Toyota have brand new bodywork up and running later this month.

With the new TF106 car, the German and his colleagues have recently looked little more than potential midfield runners in winter testing, with Renault, Honda and Ferrari seemingly dominating the top order.

But an all-new aerodynamic specification will be debuted at Barcelona later in February, and could also be concurrently run at an Italian venue in the very same week, according to speculation.

Late last year, Toyota became the first of formula one's eleven teams to run a 2006 car, while the plan was always to launch a second aero package prior to the first race.

After that, a 'B' car is expected in Monaco (May).

30-year-old Ralf Schumacher said last week in Valencia: ''When the new package arrives in the coming tests, we will see how competitive we are going to be.

''Aerodynamically, the car's not ready yet.''

Toyota will test at Jerez this week.

Kolles hints at legal issue in V10 row
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.6) Colin Kolles has questioned the legality of team rival Scuderia Toro Rosso's intention to use V10 engines in 2006.

The team principal, whose MF1 squad is likely to be a main rival of the former Minardi team, says that since Red Bull took over, STR's justification for needing the low-cost option no longer exists.

At some expense, Midland-owned MF1 will run a 2.4 liter Toyota V8 in 2006, while Toro Rosso plug ahead with the limited V10 option that was organized by the departed Paul Stoddart.

''(The option) was accepted due to a financial reason for Minardi,'' Kolles said, ''and this is not the case any more.''

He stopped short of threatening legal action to force STR to use a V8 like the rest of the field, but said the Faenza based team would 'have a problem' if their racer turned out quicker than the M16.

Kolles insisted: ''It is in the hands of the FIA.''

Equivalency rules, certainly in F1, have always been murky and debatable. After all, STR's new car might simply be better than the Midland, irrespective or whether the engine packs more power.

But apart from that, running a V8 in 2006 means that - financially - Midland must cope with a bigger engine bill than Toro Rosso.

It is also significant that the V10 option is not actually mentioned in the technical regulations in 2006 -- it is a separate agreement forged to help Stoddart's team survive.

Moreover, Toyota engine technical director Luca Marmorini told Gazzetta dello Sport that Ferrari's way of simulating V8 power with a V10 on the test tracks is more effective -- engine mapping.

MF1's Portuguese driver Tiago Monteiro, meanwhile, makes it clear that - debate aside - he is unhappy about F1's shift to V8s.

''Personally, I don't like it at all,'' he stated.

''Going from V10 to V8 motors in formula one is - in my opinion - a big backwards step for us.''

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