Latest F1 news in brief
by Andrew Maitland
 March 7,  2006

Toyota 'not fast enough' - Ralf
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.7) Ralf Schumacher has ruled out winning the opening grand prix of 2006, claiming that even a second place would be a 'big surprise'.

The Toyota driver candidly told German newspaper 'Bild' that his Cologne-built car is simply 'not fast enough'.

''Of course I am hoping (I can win),'' 30-year-old Ralf said, ''but it does not look very good. Last year (teammate Jarno) Trulli finished second, but it would be a big surprise if it happened again this Sunday.

''We are simply not fast enough.''

Schumacher, the younger brother of seven time title winner Michael, puts Renault at the front of the pack. ''I take my hat off to (Flavio) Briatore and his men,'' Ralf praised.

Like Toyota, he also ruled out a title bid for his brother's red team.

Schumacher said: ''Ferrari are not as good as Renault, Honda or McLaren. Because Toyota is now a Bridgestone team, I have seen (Ferrari's) data.

''They will not win the championship. They are clearly behind Renault. Unless they suddenly find 100 kilos to shed from their car, they are a long way behind.''

Police clock Frentzen at 210kph
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.7) Police have caught former grand prix winner Heinz-Harald Frentzen speeding -- at a mind-blowing 210kph.

The German, whose motor racing career was recently rescued by DTM carmaker Audi, was clocked by a radar in Italy as he sped near the small town of Vallelunga after a test.

Reportedly, Frentzen told the police he was speeding home to be with his pregnant wife Tanja, and therefore escaped with only a $430 fine.

Michelin still seething at FIA U-turn
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.7) On the eve of its final year in formula one, tire marque Michelin has sustained its assault on the governing body.

The French supplier's F1 director, Nick Shorrock, called the FIA's controversial decision to axe the single-tire-per-race rule of 2005 'disappointing'.

''The rules were changed (in 2004) in a bid to reduce costs,'' he said, ''(but) Michelin will have to carry more stock to grands prix this season. Michelin finds itself having to supply more than 300 extra tires per race weekend.''

But while departing Michelin is still enraged by the about-face, world champion Fernando Alonso thinks the supplier will continue to set the pace.

Renault's Spaniard said: ''I think they were under pressure when the rules changed, but (the tires) are there.

''We have a super tire now.''

Michelin's disparaging start to 2006 could not be more different to the approach of rival Bridgestone, set to embark on its tenth season at the pinnacle of racing.

''We are delighted to be here supporting the championship,'' said director Hiroshi Yasukawa.

Gene and Stoddart team up again
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.7) F1 personalities Marc Gene and Paul Stoddart have joined forces to rev-up grand prix engines in Spain.

At a Monday launch in Valencia, it was announced that 'Best Lap F1 Events' - with the involvement of Gene, the Ferrari test driver and former Minardi racer - would bring Stoddart's 2-seater racers to Spain and Portugal.

''Our aim is to make it possible for as many people as possible to experience the same sensations as those of us who are lucky enough to drive F1 cars,'' said Gene.

Stoddart, who sold his Minardi team to Red Bull last year, owns a fleet of eight 2-seaters.

Murray Walker joins Honda
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.7) F1's legendary 'voice', Murray Walker, will emerge from retirement in 2006.

The 82-year-old Briton, who hung up his microphone after a long commentating career in 2001, has been lured back into the paddock by Honda to be a 'team ambassador'.

''He will provide Honda's VIP guests with an insight into the team's progress and entertain them with his inimitable brand of F1 commentary,'' read a statement.

Walker will attend 9 of the 18 grands prix this year, starting with the European races in April.

Honda separately announced that sunglasses sponsor Ray-Ban would stay with the team in 2006.

F1 gets permanent FIA steward
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.7) F1's governing body has appointed a permanent chief steward to officiate at grands prix.

Amid calls for greater transparency and more consistent decision-making, Britain's Tony Scott-Andrews will fill the new FIA role, replacing the old system of four rotating stewards.

Scott-Andrews, a lawyer, told the Daily Telegraph newspaper that the system should bolster consistency in steward decision-making, and he expects to 'have a greater awareness of the global scene' than any temporary chief steward.

He has been a F1 steward for four years.

Haug plays down McLaren crisis
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.7) Norbert Haug has played down '05 title runner-up McLaren-Mercedes' disquieting start to the new formula one season.

The German, racing director for the team's engine partner, went on the record this winter admitting that the silver collaboration was not where it wanted to be.

Indeed, the most trouble was in the V8 engine department. Reliability had seldom looked worse, and independent analysis' put the 2006 unit at the very bottom of the pile in terms of performance.

''However, since the start with the new car at Barcelona in January, our team showed what it's capable of,'' Haug insisted.

He said: ''The lap time improved continuously throughout the tests and the long runs were ok compared to the fastest.''

Haug also reveals that the newest-spec Mercedes V8 has completed back-to-back race distances 'several times' in winter running.

Renault gets new look for Bahrain
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.7) F1's 2006 pacesetter, Renault, will race a 'major aero upgrade' in the first race of the year.

At Bahrain this weekend, the already dominant-looking R26 is to feature a new floor, a modified front wing, nose and suspension, and two small chassis winglets.

''Altogether,'' said technical director Bob Bell, ''(it) represents several tenths in lap time.''

Early wins may be out of reach - Schu
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.7) Michael Schumacher has admitted that his '248' Ferrari may not be capable of winning the opening 'few races' of 2006.

The German is adamant that his team has improved over last year, and said he is 'certain' that a title bid is not out of reach.

But he added: ''Even if we do not win in the opening few races, we have concrete ideas of the technical levels our car has to reach. The ideal scenario would be to score some early points.''

Schumacher, 37, conceded that Renault is out in front at present, followed by Honda, McLaren and Ferrari.

He continued: ''I think it will be a tough season and a tight battle.''

F1 war is nearly over, Bernie says
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.7) F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone says he is on the verge of ridding formula one of the carmakers' 'breakaway' threat.

The 75-year-old has told British newspapers that he would be 'surprised' if divisions between the sport and five heated carmakers still exist when the five lights go out in Bahrain this Sunday.

The news coincides with reports that Ecclestone is offering the carmakers two seats on the board of his company, Formula One Administration, in a bid to give them more say in the running of the sport.

Hinting that a commercial resolution is already in place, Ecclestone said: ''What we can agree on the technical side is dependent on how much money they want to save.

''I think there is a mood of conciliation now. The teams will earn double what they got before.''

Although the GPMA alliance - Mercedes, Renault, BMW, Toyota and Honda - appeared vehemently opposed to Max Mosley's cut-price plans, Ecclestone suggested that a compromise between the extreme views had been found.

The Briton added: ''We can all see the benefits of cutting costs while continuing to allow some areas of research and development.''

Button's not a top-3 driver - experts
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.7) Jenson Button is not one of formula one's top three drivers, according to two experts.

The first expert is John Watson, the Ulsterman who won five grands prix in the 70s and 80s, who said Button should have won at least one or two of his 102 career starts by now.

''I'm convinced (that) if Michael (Schumacher) had been in the BAR, they would have won races by now,'' 59-year-old John Watson told BBC.

The other F1 expert, Renault's executive director Pat Symonds, worked with 26-year-old Button at Renault (Benetton) in 2001 and 2002.

Unlike Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, he reckons JB is not a 'division one' F1 pilot.

Symonds said: ''You have this big division two, which has ... your Giancarlos, your Barrichellos, your Montoyas, and of course Jenson.

''He's outside the top three, but probably inside the top six.''

John Watson, meanwhile, criticized Button for damaging his reputation in the BAR-Williams contract sagas of 2004 and 2005, and for emerging in the lifestyle newspapers too often.

''He has to rationalize that aspect,'' Watson said, ''and put it into context.''

Rossi plans mid-year F1 decision
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.7) Valentino Rossi has promised an end to the 'will he-won't he?' saga by the beginning of June.

Perhaps coincidentally, the highly-talented Italian - a multiple world champion on two wheels but now a regular tester for formula one team Ferrari - vowed to let the world know his decision in June.

Ferrari incumbent Michael Schumacher says he will decide whether or not to renew his contract at the Maranello based team also in the middle of the year.

''The decision hasn't been taken yet,'' 26-year-old Rossi said, ''but you will know soon.''

He told La Gazzetta dello Sport: ''When? Two months' time is too little, let's say three.''

Bernie pushed for Rosberg debut
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.7) Bernie Ecclestone may have played a role in Nico Rosberg's F1 debut.

The 20-year-old German has admitted to England's 'Guardian' newspaper that Ecclestone, the F1 supremo, 'campaigned' to put the famous name back on F1 timing screens.

In 1982, Rosberg's Finnish father Keke - who is today Nico's manager - won the world championship in a Cosworth powered Williams.

Nico said: ''Campaigned might be too strong a word, but (Bernie) did speak to Frank (Williams) and say it would be a good idea to sign me.''

Ecclestone, 75, is not shy to enthuse about F1's youngest driver, who will debut at the Bahrain track this Sunday.

''He is excellent,'' the Briton told 'Kicker', referring to Nico Rosberg. ''I think he can follow in his father's footsteps.''

F1's Jordan returns to banking
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.7) After fourteen years and 231 grands prix in formula one, Eddie Jordan is returning to his roots -- as a banker.

The former grand prix entrepreneur, whose 'Jordan' team has now dropped off the grid after new owners renamed it, is to become a director and shareholder of a London-based hedge fund.

'EJ' started out as a banker, but will now sit on the board of 'Clareville Capital' with the task of helping it to expand, The Times newspaper wrote.

Schu is still top F1 earner
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.7) He may not have won the most recent world championship, but Michael Schumacher is still the highest paid race driver in F1's pitlane.

The 'Sport-Informations-Dienst' (sid) agency has published a list of the sport's top earners, claiming that the 37-year-old Ferrari star takes home $62.4m per year.

Up to $17m is personal sponsorship income.

''Michael is worth every cent of our investment in him,'' Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo is quoted as saying.

In sport, only Tiger Woods ($120m) earns more.

Intriguingly, Michael's younger brother Ralf, 30 (Toyota), is listed as F1's second highest earner, with a $20.4m coffer.

McLaren's pair Kimi Raikkonen ($14.4m) and Juan Pablo Montoya ($13.2) come next, followed by Rubens Barrichello ($12m), Jarno Trulli ($9.6m) and the reigning world champion, Fernando Alonso.

Renault's Alonso will earn 'only' $7.2 million in 2006, perhaps explaining his high-pay switch to McLaren at the end of the year.

Behind him is Mark Webber and David Coulthard ($7.2m), with Jenson Button seemingly paying the price for his Williams buy-out by earning the same retainer.

The remainder of the published list is as follows: Giancarlo Fisichella and Nick Heidfeld ($6m), Jacques Villeneuve ($3.6m), Nico Rosberg and Christian Klien ($1.8m).

Cosworth on top in V8 race
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.7) According to pitlane speculation, Williams' new engine supplier - Cosworth - will hit the Bahrain circuit this weekend with the most grunt.

The Northampton based manufacturer's F1 chief, Alex Hitzinger, says the V8 unit - although to compete with the world's most powerful carmakers in 2006 - will top 20,000rpm.

''We set ourselves a target of a top engine speed of 20,000rpm,'' he confirmed, ''and we've managed that.''

On the other end of the scale, meanwhile, is underpowered and unreliable Mercedes-Benz, while Ferrari struggle for engine reliability and cooling.

Honda, too - although powering Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello to impressive test times - might be having one or two 'drivability' issues, although Barrichello admitted that the problem is probably widespread.

''(Compared with the V10s) it's a different engine to drive,'' the Brazilian told Reuters, ''and it will require a different way of driving.''

However, world champion Fernando Alonso hasn't felt a huge change, and the Spaniard is expected to dominate in the opening phase of '06.

He said: ''I haven't changed my style at all to adapt. I am still driving right on the limit.''

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