Latest F1 news in brief
by Andrew Maitland
 February 10,  2006

Spa seals new F1 deal for 2007
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.10) Despite getting the axe for 2006, F1's highly popular Belgian grand prix has penned a new five year contract with Bernie Ecclestone to return Spa Francorchamps to the calendar.

The deal will run between 2007 and 2011, according to the Belgian public broadcaster RTBF, quoting local politician Jean-Claude Marcourt.

Marcourt, who is the Wallonian region's economics minister, said the agreement would cost the government $7m per year, with about $3m raised with sponsorship.

The sport's governing body, however, cited track renovations as the reason for the removal of the 2006 race, adding in a statement that it 'hopes ... the event will be included once again ... from 2007 onwards.'

But Marcourt explained that the 2007-2011 F1 deal is not entirely official, with the agreement still needing to be ratified in parliament. The Wallonian parliament is expected to debate the issue as soon as next week.

News from F1 tests
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.10) Bringing Midland's fears to reality, Toro Rosso's new car - powered by a controversially rev-limited V10 - proved immediately quicker on its maiden run in Jerez.

But although putting both Tiago Monteiro and Christijan Albers in the shade, and although the car looks almost identical to the 2005 Red Bull, Vitantonio Liuzzi felt something different about his 'STR01'.

''The (Cosworth) engine,'' the Italian - who broke down once - admitted. ''It makes a strange noise, has less power and the power band is in a different place to what I was used to.''

Despite earlier promise about Mercedes' new V8, Kimi Raikkonen continued to languish in the midfield with the 2006 McLaren. The Finn spent much of the day having a gearbox and leaky V8 unit repaired.

Still quick, though, was Renault, although Fernando Alonso left the running to Giancarlo Fisichella after Thursday's wing fault.

Toyota, meanwhile, confirmed that its Bahrain-spec package will be tried next week, at the rarely-used Vallelunga circuit (Italy).

''At the moment we are not that quick,'' Jarno Trulli confessed at Jerez, ''but we know that we are getting this major step next week.''

Renault not committed to F1 - CEO
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.10) The CEO of Renault says the French carmaker's participation in formula one will be reviewed 'year by year'.

Intensifying speculation about Renault's future on the grid, Brazilian Carlos Ghosn - nicknamed 'Le Cost Cutter' after his recent stint at Nissan - told a news conference that the team was only committed for the current 2006 season.

The 51-year-old said: ''We're going to see how things go year by year. The day it is no longer a good investment for Renault, we go.''

Ghosn also suggested that changes to F1's rules in 2008 would be pivotal to the decision to either keep racing or quit.

Honda's concern with V8 engine
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.10) Although impressive on the test timesheets this winter, reports have identified Honda's V8 engine as a weak point of the 'RA106' package.

At Jerez on Thursday, Jenson Button continued the trend of recent track sessions, getting his off-white 2006 racer to within a few tenths of the leading Renault.

But Honda's engineering director, Shuhei Nakamoto, admitted in Spain that the Japanese element of the team has identified 'some issues' with the 2.4 litre power plant this week.

He said: ''Overall we are in good shape.

''We will have some new improvements on the engine next week that we will be running in Bahrain.''

Industry analysts believe that Renault has probably done the best job with its 90-degree V8 for 2006, although Cosworth's engine - mounted in the FW28 Williams - is also so far surpassing expectations.

Spain heads for grand prix sellout
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.10) A new grandstand will be unveiled at Circuit de Catalunya, the Spanish grand prix venue near Barcelona has announced.

Near the 'Seat' corner, 'Grandstand P' will accommodate another 3,800 fans, as Spain continues to revel in the popularity of new world champion Fernando Alonso.

Indeed, 70,000 grandstand and general admission tickets are already nearly sold out, despite Circuit de Catalunya expanding the capacity of the track by 8,000 spots for 2006.

'Grandstand P' tickets went on sale on Thursday.

V8 Sauber as quick as 2005 car - Villeneuve
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.10) F1's V8 engines of 2006 pack about 200 less horse power than the V10s of last year, but - even still - the cars have not significantly slowed down.

Drivers may complain about the power loss, but the bare statistics are telling a different story.

Take, for example, Sauber.

With the V10 Ferrari-powered C24 in July 2005, Felipe Massa clocked a best time at Jerez of about 1m17secs.

Albeit now owned and powered by BMW, Nick Heidfeld - at the wheel of the '06-spec 'F1.06' on Wednesday - powered around the same Spanish track with a best lap time of 1m17.5secs; just half a second slower.

In the rear of the car, of course, is a V8.

There are a few explanations for this. First, the new Sauber is inherently a better car. But while the V8s output less power, they are also smaller, giving more freedom for the work of aerodynamicists.

Moreover, a V8 runs cooler than a V10, allowing for gains in the cooling departments - such as side pod size - and therefore better weight distribution via ballast through lighter parts.

And, of course, 2006's tyre regulations are actually increasing mid-corner speeds, because the shorter-life boots are softer and therefore more adhesive.

''We are as quick with the V8 motor,'' BMW Sauber's Jacques Villeneuve confirmed to Swiss newspaper Blick, ''as we were with the old Sauber with a V10.''

Berger to attend most races in 2006
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.10) Gerhard Berger is expected to make his first appearance as a formula one team co-owner on Friday, we can reveal.

The 46-year-old Austrian, who has exchanged half of his late father's shipping company for half of friend Dietrich Mateschitz's 'Scuderia Toro Rosso' outfit, is apparently travelling to Spain to watch Scott Speed make his debut in the new 'STR01' at Jerez.

Berger, the veteran of 210 grands prix and 10 wins, withdrew from his role as joint BMW motor sport director in 2003, but is expected to once again attend most races.

He told the 'Austria Presse Agentur' news agency that the Red Bull deal was only cooked up in the 'last few days'.

Berger said former BMW colleague Franz Tost would remain Toro Rosso's 2006 team principal, but vowed to work 'closely' with him.

''It is my responsibility,'' Gerhard explained, ''to assist in guiding my team in the right direction.''

'Doctor Brawn'
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.10) Brunel University, on the outskirts of London, has given Ferrari's Ross Brawn an honorary doctorate in engineering.

The university, formerly a technical college, is known for offering a degree in 'motor sport engineering'.

Manchester-born Brawn, 51 and technical director for the Italian formula one team, actually trained in the atomic industry in the early 70s, before getting his first job in motor sport as a machine operator.

Flav's fuel is 'beating Ron'
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.10) Flavio Briatore says he gets his racing buzz from beating pitlane foes like McLaren's Ron Dennis.

Renault's team principal, who denounced formula one in the mid-1980s, started out on the Italian stock exchange before running the Benetton fashion company.

But, having graduated to the Italian label's Enstone based formula one team (later bought by Renault), Briatore soon tasted the thrill of high level competition -- even if the smells of burning fuel and smoke still do not stoke 55-year-old 'Flav'.

''If this was just any old business, I think I would have left it by now,'' Briatore told 'Auto Motor und Sport' magazine, whose latest edition went on sale on Friday.

''But do you know what feeds my passion? Beating people like Ron Dennis at the race tracks.''

Despite a less competitive car and a lower budget, Briatore's Renault won the drivers' and constructors' world title double in 2005, ahead of Dennis-led McLaren.

Dennis, who recently stirred Briatore's fury by announcing that Fernando Alonso would move to McLaren in 2007, made his first mark in motor sport at the age of 16, when he swept the floor as an apprentice mechanic for the formula two Cooper team.

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