Latest F1 news in brief
by Andrew Maitland
 February 17,  2006

Spa won't be replaced - FIA
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.17) F1's governing body has ruled out replacing the axed Belgian grand prix in 2006.

Although the stage of nineteen races was originally set for this year's championship battle, the FIA will reject the offers of would-be venues like Rio de Janeiro and settle instead for a three week break between Monza and Shanghai.

''The FIA does not seek to replace the grand prix of Belgium,'' an FIA official said.

Indeed, replacing Spa Francorchamps would be problematic, because the venue in the Belgian Ardennes - and Bernie Ecclestone - intend to reinstate the event in 2007.

FIA president Max Mosley said about the 'classic' circuit this week: ''I think everyone realizes that we have got to have it on the calendar.''

According to Germany's Auto Motor Und Sport magazine, the likely 2007 deal - with Bernie as promoter - will extend for no less than eight years.

Hockenheim asks Bernie for help
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.17) With the classic race at Spa Francorchamps already on the 2006 scrap heap, Hockenheim has pleaded for help as the health of the historic German grand prix continues to diminish.

According to reports in the German press, the Prime Minister of the local 'Baden-Wurttemberg' region has formally asked F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone to intervene as Hockenheim runs out of money.

Among his requests, PM Guenther Oettinger asked the 75-year-old to reduce his fee - or, at least, slow the annual fee increases - for the annual German grand prix, the 'Stuttgarter Nachrichten' newspaper wrote.

Bernie's actual reaction is not fully known, but the Briton is believed to have entertained the idea of subsequent discussions with the people involved.

By 2008, Hockenheim's annual race fee could be as much as $25 million.

A department of the Baden-Wurttemberg government will meet on Friday to examine the Hockenheim crisis, a spokesman told the 'paper.

Honda clock most winter laps
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.17) Honda has topped a list of the biggest winter testers in formula one, with a staggering tally of nearly 22 thousand kms.

The Japan-owned, Brackley based outfit - with Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello also impressing on the near-daily time sheets - appear a full four thousand kms clear of McLaren, in the list of total mileage tallied up since late November 2005.

Renault is third (17,200km), ahead of Toyota (15,000km), Williams (13,000km), BMW Sauber (11,600km), Red Bull (7100km), MF1 (6600km) and Toro Rosso (5000km).

The list's two omissions, compiled by Sir Frank Williams' Grove based team, is Ferrari - the only team resisting a new voluntary test limit - and Super Aguri, who make their proper track debut in Spain next week.

While some drivers who wear scarlet might have figured in the running, then, it is nonetheless Honda's Button (8700km) on top of the list of drivers who have had the busiest winter, followed by Pedro de la Rosa (7500km) of McLaren.

JB could lose 'edge' - Mansell
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.17) Jenson Button risks going into cruise control because he has already made his millions.

That is the fear of countryman and 1992 world champion Nigel Mansell, who marvels at the Honda driver's huge pay packet despite not having won a grand prix.

''I didn't start earning big money until after I won the world championship,'' the 52-year-old told 'The Sun'.

Mansell said: ''You have to ask if that will take the edge off him.''

JB, at the age of 25, is on a long term driving contract at the cost to Honda of at least $16.5 million a year.

But Nigel Mansell called Jenson's winless record, despite more than 100 career grands prix with Williams, Benetton (Renault) and BAR, a 'monkey on his back'.

Mosley defends Red Bull 'betrayal'
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.17) Max Mosley has defended Red Bull for casting a controversial vote to axe the single tire rule in formula one for 2006.

Renault boss Flavio Briatore recently slammed the Dietrich Mateschitz-owned camp for 'betraying' the other Michelin teams. Austria's Mateschitz voted in favor of the FIA president's proposal, thus appearing to gift rival Bridgestone its favored rule.

Some said Red Bull's move was political, as the team is allied with engine supplier Ferrari, Bernie Ecclestone - via the 2008 Concorde - and skiing buddy Mr. Mosley.

But Max insisted: ''Mateschitz voted for it because he thought the most important thing was the spectacle.''

At his media lunch with reporters in London this week, Mosley backed his call to axe the single-tire plan by saying that the spectacle of pit stops had dipped.

Ralf - I want to win
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.17) Ralf Schumacher would like to win the first grand prix of season '06.

For a private team test, the German was at Vallelunga (Italy) this week, where teammate Jarno Trulli lapped more than half a second per lap quicker than him.

However, although the track deficit failed to make him smile in 2005, Ralf will have been pleased -- JT was at the wheel of Toyota's Bahrain-spec aero package, while 30-year-old Schumacher steered the older 'winter' version.

''It is still a little early to be making statements about winning races,'' Schumacher told the 'Euro Sport Automagazine'.

Ralf said: ''So, what I'm saying is not really a prediction. However: I believe we can win this year -- and I would like to get started on March the twelfth.''

Toyota's private run in chilly Italy has been a rather secretive affair. Any comparisons with other teams' tests at the circuit are meaningless, because the Cologne squad installed a new chicane at the end of the straight.

The race-ready TF106 will, however, make its group appearance next week, at Barcelona in Spain.

''Then we will start to find out where we really stand,'' said Trulli.

Mansell reignites old Piquet rivalry
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.17) Even the passing of two full decades has not calmed the hostility between former F1 teammates, and champions, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet.

When publicly rejecting a recent invitation to race in the 'Grand Prix Masters' series, Piquet - in an oblique reference to front-man Mansell - said it was designed 'for people who want to live in the past and make money out of it'.

During a press conference in Oxford this week, 52-year-old Mansell - who like Piquet is now supporting the career of his sons - had the opportunity to rebuke the title winning Brazilian.

He said: ''I have known Nelson for a long time.

''If he really said that, then he is probably just jealous that he was not with us.

''Or maybe he just wants to get under our skin. I think we have been in this business long enough that we can ignore what Nelson says.''

Six favorites for '06 crown - Alonso
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.17) Reigning champion Fernando Alonso says he is one of six favorites to wear the 2006 crown.

The Spaniard, who has previously singled out Renault, Honda and Ferrari as the standouts of winter running, denied that he would enter the Bahrain opener as the hot contender.

''I will be among the favorites,'' Alonso, 24, told Spain's daily Marca newspaper, ''but I am not the only one. I think there are six.''

He is probably referring to himself and Giancarlo Fisichella (Renault), Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello (Honda), and Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa (Ferrari), therefore possibly discounting the challenge of his 2007 team, McLaren, including '05 title runner up, Kimi Raikkonen.

But Alonso clarified: ''McLaren is not having a good pre season, and the team seems a little bit down, but it could all turn around if their car becomes quick.''

On the other hand, the Renault 'R26' looks mighty, with very few reliability concerns and impressive lap times.

But Fernando said: ''We are still missing a bit of (horse) power, and we can still keep working on the aerodynamics.''

Renault still leads test race
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.17) Renault remains the force to be reckoned with of 2006, with Heikki Kovalainen logging the quickest lap of the entire Valencia test on Thursday.

As strong winds played havoc with the five teams present, however, Juan Pablo put his McLaren within a breath of the Finnish tester's time, with Williams' Mark Webber appearing next on a list of the test's stand out runners.

MF1 and Red Bull also ran on the tight twisty layout this week, with many outfits now heading to Barcelona for the second last week of major winter running.

In warm Bahrain, meanwhile, Honda and Toro Rosso concluded their running on Thursday, while Ferrari - where Michael Schumacher again struggled for laps in the '248' - expelled the public and the media in readiness for a further five days at the scene of the '06 opener.

BMW Sauber, with Nick Heidfeld proving substantially quicker than Jacques Villeneuve, similarly concluded testing after a lone week at Barcelona, to be joined by Scuderia Toro Rosso at Imola early next week.

Alonso uses Rossi for F1 mind game
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.17) World champion Fernando Alonso is either unimpressed with MotoGP counterpart Valentino Rossi's F1 forays, or he is ramping up some mind games with Ferrari prior to kick off in 2006.

Speaking at a news conference in Madrid this week, the 24-year-old Renault driver said it did not bother him that the motorbike racer joined the F1 world at a recent test in Spain.

''I'm glad he drove with Ferrari,'' said the Spaniard, ''because it means they lost valuable time preparing their cars during that show.''

However, Alonso did not criticize Rossi, who - albeit with a more powerful engine - logged impressive lap times in Spain. But he did warn that switching to two wheels would likely be 'very difficult' for the Italian.

''He might finish fifth or even get on the podium some time,'' said Fernando, ''but I could do the same on bikes if I was given a bit of time to practice.''

Alonso is the third commentator to muse on the Rossi topic this week, after Gerhard Berger and Alex Zanardi both said the 27-year-old is made of the right stuff to succeed in F1.

''I would rather hire him than anybody else at the moment,'' Toro Rosso co-owner, Berger, told 'Motor Cycle News'.

Former F1 and Champ Car driver Zanardi, however, was quoted as telling Gazzetta dello Sport that Rossi is not yet ready to change grids.

''I think if he went to Melbourne today he would be three seconds too slow,'' the Italian told the newspaper. ''But, with the talent he has, he can be ready with a full year of testing.''

Scott Speed - 'I'm arrogant'
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.17) Scott Speed, the first American on F1's full time racing grid in thirteen years, is self-centered and arrogant.

That is not the opinion of a daring grand prix journalist, but - rather - the 22-year-old Californian's own confession.

Red Bull-backed Speed, to debut with the energy drink's junior 'Toro Rosso' team in 2006, told F1 Racing magazine that he is hardly the easiest man in the paddock to deal with.

''I think that, fundamentally, I'm self-centered, I'm arrogant and very competitive,'' he confessed.

''But they're definitely the reasons I've gone so far in racing.''

Although hauled to Europe after winning the famous Red Bull driver search, Speed has not had an easy ride to the grid -- in 2003 he pulled out of the British F3 championship to be treated for serious and painful ulcerative colitis.

Still, some people insist that Speed's biggest problem is his attitude.

He told the British magazine: ''Yeah, my personality is sure not easy to deal with sometimes.

''But I've stopped trying to change it and have realized that the way I am is what makes me so good in racing.''

Massa urges Ferrari to improve
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.17) Although most observers have been impressed with Ferrari's winter form, Felipe Massa reckons the team must improve 'a lot' in the three weeks before Bahrain.

Actually at the scene of the Sakhir opener for testing, Massa led a field of six on Thursday -- but his mount was a 2004 F1 model with a V10 engine.

Dead last, and more than 2 seconds adrift, Michael Schumacher had endured yet another day of technical trouble at the wheel of the new 248.

In comments reported by Speed TV, originating in La Gazzetta dello Sport, Brazil's Massa tried to downplay the significance of the times.

''The important thing here is to find and maintain reliability,'' said Schumacher's teammate, who noted that the 2006 car will now be fitted with new parts.

Massa continued: ''At that point, I'm sure, the times will improve.''

Ralf fit after back injury
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.17) Toyota's Ralf Schumacher says he has fully recovered from a back injury.

The German, who broke bones in his back in a huge Indy shunt in 2004, had to pull out of a test late last year with renewed back pain.

But, with many kilometres under his belt since then and this week at Vallelunga, 30-year-old Schumacher told 'Euro Sport Automagazine' that everything is fine.

''I do not have any complaints about my back,'' Ralf said, ''and I am training as normal.''

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