Latest F1 news in brief
by Andrew Maitland
 February 28,  2006

Ralf predicts 'podium' start for Toyota
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.28) Ralf Schumacher has refused to admit that winning the first race of 2006 is Toyota's goal.

The 30-year-old German told Sport1.de that winning 'podium places' is the Cologne based team's initial season target.

''Renault look very strong,'' said Ralf, ''and Honda also seem to be in good shape.''

He also admitted that elder brother Michael's Ferrari camp has shown improvement in winter tests, as has silver McLaren.

Schumacher, however, played down suggestions that - with F1's biggest budget - Toyota should be more of a player for the 2006 spoils.

''I hear about our 'biggest budget' all the time,'' Ralf confessed, ''but the truth is that our budget is similar to all the other top teams.

''Renault, Honda and Ferrari all have a budget similar to ours.''

He also downplayed suggestions that, with 37-year-old Michael Schumacher to possibly retire at the end of the year, 2006 could be Ralf's last chance to win the title while his brother is still on the grid.

Ralf insisted: ''Beating Michael is not my goal. My goal is to win the world championship -- whether my brother is there or not.''

Winter's last tests kick off
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.28) The pre-season's final tests got into gear at Valencia (Spain) and Mugello (Italy) on Monday.

Williams' Nico Rosberg - to make his F1 debut in Bahrain next Sunday - led in chilly northern Spain, ahead of runners for McLaren and Renault.

''It was a tough day for us because of mechanical problems,'' said Renault's chief engineer Christian Silk.

In gloomy Italy, meanwhile, Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa each drove a 248 Ferrari.

Legends to rock Magny Cours
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.28) Pink Floyd will add spice to the 2006 French grand prix in July.

The legendary British rock band's Roger Waters, and drummer Nick Mason - a renowned formula one fan - will perform on Friday practice day of the French race's 100th running.

Jacques Regis, chief of the event at Magny Cours, confirmed the news in a press conference at the Automobile Club de France.

He also said: ''We are planning an historic formula one car exhibition and a parade in Paris early in June.''

The first 'grand prix' was run in France in 1906.

Glock, not Firman, on Aguri shortlist
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.28) On a shortlist already occupied by Franck Montagny and James Rossiter, former Jordan racer Timo Glock - despite his 2006 GP2 deal - is also in contention for Super Aguri's Friday seat, a source in the German media says.

However, not to confuse issues, there is no link between another ex-Jordan racer - Ralph Firman - and the Japanese formula one team.

In actual fact, the Anglo-Irishman, 30, has penned a 2006 contract to drive for F1 team owner Aguri Suzuki's 'Super GT' team in Japan.

Aguri's F1 rookie Yuji Ide, meanwhile, has set pulses racing by vowing to 'imitate' the driving style of controversial countryman and teammate Takuma Sato.

He also told La Gazzetta dello Sport that he is not worried about the giant leap from Formula Nippon to F1.

''The jump from F3 to Formula Nippon was harder,'' the Japanese said.

''I just need to improve my English and my knowledge of the tracks.''

Brundle to manage McLaren tester
(GMMf1NET -- Jan.28) Martin Brundle, a former McLaren race driver and commentator for British television, will manage the F1 team's English test driver Gary Paffett in 2006.

Although Paffett, 24, was managed by Martin Hines since he was 11, the hopeful has now switched to '2MB' -- the management company run by Brundle and another of Ron Dennis' ex-charges, Mark Blundell.

Of the current F1 crop, 165 GP-veteran Brundle - who was instrumental in negotiating Paffett's McLaren test contract - also manages Red Bull veteran David Coulthard.

Gary Paffett said: ''The goal of succeeding in formula one has now become a reality and the significant knowledge and experience that Martin and Mark have will be invaluable to me.''

Montoyas expecting second child
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.28) Less than a year after becoming parents, Colombian formula one driver Juan Pablo Montoya's wife Connie is again pregnant, according to media reports.

The German 'Auto Motor Und Sport' magazine's online publication claimed that Mrs Montoya, who gave birth to son Sebastian last April, is eleven weeks pregnant.

Rather than drive at the pre-season's final test in Spain, then, 30-year-old Montoya is currently in America for routine medical tests with Connie, Auto Motor Und Sport contended.

Montoya, however, vowed last year that fatherhood would not change him.

Talking to the 'Speed Matters' publication, he denied that Sebastian had softened his desire to race, adding: ''I'm a racer. Here is where I belong.''

Red Bull unveil paddock innovation
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.28) Red Bull has unveiled a new innovation for the formula one race paddocks.

After stunning the F1 world with the imposing 'Energy Station' motor home last year, the team debuted a striking 'Tree House' for its busy engineers at the recent test in Barcelona.

The glass and metal structure, oddly, perches atop two Red Bull trucks behind pitlane, and will be used at all European races.

''Getting in and out of the Tree House requires nerves of steel,'' read a Red Bull alert, ''as it is approached by an incredibly steep and very narrow staircase.''

Mosley predicts 'surprises' in 2006
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.28) Max Mosley has forecast a 'very exciting' formula one contest in 2006.

The FIA president, 65, reckons at least three teams - and five drivers - are in the running for the F1 crown.

Mosley told 'Welt am Sonntag': ''I count Michael Schumacher among the contenders. But I think the true state of affairs is difficult to judge -- all I'll say is that there could be surprises.''

No contemporary interview with Max, meanwhile, could pass without the Briton taking a dig at F1's irritated carmaker group.

So, far from apologize for provoking 'GPMA' with his recent contentious statements, the FIA president claims the manufacturers should 'send us a letter of thanks' for working to protect the financial viability of F1's future.

Mosley added: ''Unlike Bernie Ecclestone, I have always been of the opinion that a manufacturer series will not occur -- there are just too many views.

''Renault would like reduced costs, but Honda and Toyota want reduced limits on spending.

''How would they ever find common ground?''

Speed debut 'positive' - Villeneuve
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.28) Jacques Villeneuve has welcomed Scott Speed to F1.

The 1997 world champion, who won the Indy 500 and the CART title in America before switching to formula one, said the Californian's debut for Toro Rosso is 'positive' for the category.

The last American to race in F1 was Michael Andretti in 1993, who spent a disastrous part season alongside Ayrton Senna.

Canadian Villeneuve, 34 - to race an eleventh season in F1 this year, for BMW Sauber - added: ''The US has always been a difficult market for F1.

''For the fans, it's difficult to love the series as there's just one round held in USA.''

F1 test seat is 'best option' - Finn
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.28) Heikki Kovalainen reckons being Renault's test driver in 2006 will be good for his future.

The rising Finn, who - like Fernando Alonso in 2002 - is viewed as a future race prospect for the team, denied that he finds the task of mere test driving 'boring'.

''Of course I would like to be racing,'' 24-year-old Kovalainen, a GP2 driver last year, told f1total.com, ''but my management and I decided that this is the best option for my career.''

Heikki, meanwhile, is the last Renault driver still on the test tracks this winter, after Giancarlo Fisichella and Fernando Alonso's R26s were sent back to England to be readied for the Bahrain season opener next weekend.

Webber expects 'tough phase' in '06
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.28) Australia's Mark Webber expects the Williams team to have an average start to the 2006 season.

Although the British team's new Cosworth V8 engine has been lauded in winter testing, 29-year-old Webber admitted that Williams' immediate future with the 'FW28' '06 package will be a 'tough phase'.

For the first time since 1999, the Grove based squad is without a works engine supplier, and title sponsor 'HP' also departed late last year.

Webber told the Herald Sun newspaper: ''We are going all right but we've got a bit to do.''

Webber also admitted that his Sir Frank Williams-led employer is likely to begin the 2006 championship behind at least Renault, Honda and Ferrari.

Niki's speedy brother
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.28) The brother of former triple world champion Niki Lauda has been caught speeding in Austria.

Florian Lauda, a couple of years younger than his 57-year-old sibling, was clocked at a whopping 200kph in a 100kph speed zone, according to the 'Krone' newspaper in Austria.

''There is no excuse for my behavior, which was wrong,'' said Florian, who will probably lose his license.

In 1997, Florian - who runs an online sports betting agency - donated a kidney to his ill brother, Niki Lauda.

Lauda won the drivers' titles in '75, '77 and '84.

Honda is most reliable '06 team - study
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.28) Honda, an outside tip for championship glory, has been the most reliable formula one team of the 2006 pre-season.

While a similar analysis named the Brackley based outfit as the biggest testers, 'Auto Motor Und Sport' now reveals that the Japan-owned camp topped F1's eleven teams in a study of those least likely to break down this year.

With an average of 438 kilometres on a single test day, the German magazine lists Honda ahead of F1 rival and second most reliable team Renault, which clocks up an average 399km.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Toro Rosso - with a development of last year's Red Bull car and a V10 engine - came in third (376km), ahead of BMW (355) and Toyota (294).

Ominously, '05 runner up McLaren is just sixth of the eleven teams, with an average of less than 300km per test day, but Ferrari fared even worse, collecting just 278 km per day to finish eighth.

Williams amassed 280km per winter test day, according to Auto Motor Und Sport, MF1 came next (272), then Red Bull (175) and Super Aguri (173).

''I feel very comfortable going into the first race,'' Honda's Rubens Barrichello said last week.

Ralf, Jarno, disagree about '06 'knockout'
(GMMf1NET -- Feb.28) On the topic of F1's controversial new 'knockout'-style qualifying format for 2006, Toyota teammates Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli do not agree.

Schumacher, the 30-year-old German, thinks it should be a good step for the premier category.

He told Sport1.de: ''I will only be able to give an objective answer on Saturday in Bahrain, but this sort of format is generally a good thing for the show.''

Replacing the various one-lap formats of 2003-2005, the new system will see slow cars knocked out during the qualifying hour, resulting in a top-ten challenge for pole position.

But the complicated detail of the format, according to Italy's Jarno Trulli, will be a real pitfall in season '06.

''Personally, I feel that it is not an advantage for anyone,'' JT told f1.com, ''and I find it to be rather complicated for the spectators.''

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