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

Toyota not ready for title - Ralf
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) German driver Ralf Schumacher says Toyota is not ready to win the 2006 world championship.

''That target is still a long way off,'' said the 30-year-old. ''For the moment, we concentrate on winning a race -- which is hard enough.''

Kimi didn't hint at Ferrari switch
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) Kimi Raikkonen has rubbished reports that, when speaking recently to a Finnish newspaper, he hinted at a Ferrari switch.

The McLaren driver had reportedly said: ''I am not a Ferrari driver -- not yet.''

In Bahrain for the first race of 2006, however, Kimi explained that the journalist in question had taken a liberty.

''I never said 'not yet',' the 26-year-old Finn protested. ''What I said was that I drive for McLaren and I do not have a Ferrari contract.

''I didn't say 'not yet'.''

Kimi also hinted that he would not join Ferrari if number one driver Michael Schumacher is still around.

He insisted: ''Wherever I want to go, I want to be fairly treated. I would not go somewhere that wouldn't give me the same package as my teammate.''

But Ferrari chief Jean Todt indicated that he was still keen on the ice-cool, blonde haired Finn.

Asked whether he would want to sign Raikkonen up, the Frenchman told Gazzetta dello Sport: ''If Ferrari needed him and found him available, the answer is yes.''

Formula Chocolate
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) To mark the airline's sponsorship of the Bahrain grand prix, passengers on 'Gulf Air' flights this week received a Belgian chocolate in the shape of a formula one race car.

''Our sky chefs wanted to create a unique treat for our grand prix visitors,'' head of in-flight services, Michael Kent, explained.

Red Bull unwraps striking paint-job
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) Red Bull has stunned the F1 fraternity with a dramatic paint-job for its new 'Scuderia Toro Rosso' junior squad.

A more conventional blue livery, however, was unwrapped for the senior team, at a huge joint 'Arabian Nights' party on a private island in Bahrain, attended by an impressive guest list including Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone.

The STR paint-job is predominantly dark blue with a gold nose, but featuring a striking three-dimensional red bull.

''The livery looks fantastic,'' said David Coulthard, flanked by the group's five other drivers.

But, admitting that the team endured an unreliable winter and failed to clock up a race simulation, the Scot is not full of confidence in his new 'RB2'.

''It's like getting on a flight across the Atlantic,'' he told Reuters in Bahrain. ''You like to know that it has been done before.''

DC not musing retirement
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) David Coulthard, the second oldest racer in formula one, insists he is not yet contemplating retirement.

''If you start putting that stuff in place you are using valuable energy,'' the 34-year-old Red Bull driver told the tabloid Daily Express.

F1 war is nearly over - Dennis
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) McLaren boss Ron Dennis has reinforced speculation that F1's war with menacing carmakers is nearly over.

Although his team's partner, Mercedes-Benz, has been viewed as a 'GPMA' hard-liner, the Briton suggested in Bahrain that the remaining five F1 outfits will sign up for 2008.

''If formula one exists we want to be in formula one,'' Ron told the BBC.

He said: ''In any process there has to be compromise at the appropriate time. That (time) we recognize as now.''

Mercedes' own Norbert Haug, meanwhile, suggested that it is Toyota and Honda who are firmly holding out against Max Mosley's proposed technical rules.

''The Japanese (teams) want technical liberty,'' said the German, ''but it is true that things are moving in the right direction.''

Williams to race 'seamless' 'box
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) Williams' FW28 race cars are fitted with the new 'seamless shift' gearboxes in Bahrain.

The debut of the technology, that could be worth up to four tenths of a second per lap, was in doubt after the Grove based team struck reliability problems late in the winter.

Schu denies movie deal sealed
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) Michael Schumacher says he will not definitely appear in the new comic-book movie 'Asterix and the Olympic Games'.

''I read the (media) stories,'' the Ferrari driver admitted in Bahrain. ''There are discussions, but nothing is finalized yet.''

New McLaren is down on power - Montoya
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) McLaren will kick off the 2006 season with an under-powered car, according to Juan Pablo Montoya.

The team's Colombian driver said in Bahrain that Mercedes-Benz had solved a reliability problem with the new V8 unit.

But Montoya, 30, added: ''We should be ok in the race. We have done a race distance (in testing).

''But (the problem) means we are a bit behind.

''The power is not exactly what we want. I think it's obvious that we're not right in front.''

Indeed, independent sources claim that the Mercedes is up to thirty five horse power off the leading engine in Bahrain -- which, incidentally, is the Cosworth.

''The car is good but it's not perfect,'' Montoya continued. ''But it should be good and we will be up there.''

Asked if the MP4-21 is good enough to win races, however, Juan Pablo was non-committal. ''We will soon find out,'' he smiled.

''I'm not sure. I don't think so.

''Each year it seems like we are not right where we want to be right from the very start.''

No 'number 1' driver at BMW
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) There is no 'number one' driver at BMW Sauber, Mario Theissen says.

The newly BMW-owned outfit's principal played down suggestions that Nick Heidfeld, on a longer and more lucrative contract, will be treated differently to Jacques Villeneuve.

''Both will be treated the same,'' Germany's Theissen said in Bahrain, ''and (both will be) furnished with exactly the same equipment.''

Webber eyed BMW move
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) Mark Webber says he could have wound up in a BMW Sauber cockpit in 2006.

Williams' Australian driver, who often clashed with the team's management last year, admitted that he staged talks with Mario Theissen.

''Yeah, he asked me about my contract,'' the 29-year-old said, referring to the BMW boss.

Webber joined a disappointing BMW-powered Williams in 2005, but the Munich based engine partner was soon engaged in successful talks to buy Sauber and leave Sir Frank's Grove based squad.

''I could have gone (to BMW Sauber) but I decided to stay here,'' Mark told the Independent.

He is often criticized for his 2005 form, where BMW-departed teammate Nick Heidfeld regularly showed him the way in the grands prix, although Webber was usually the qualifying leader.

''I know I can race,'' Webber said. ''If it's with this team, great.''

Rivals 'showboated' - Dennis
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) Ron Dennis says some teams may have 'showboated' in winter testing.

''And we did not,'' said the team principal, attempting to play down McLaren's clear defeat in the 'winter world championship'.

Showboating involves enhancing the true performance of a team's car, usually by running in qualifying-spec trim.

Alonso's new yellow lid
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) World champion Fernando Alonso has spiced up his helmet livery for 2006.

At the official FIA portrait photographs on Thursday, Renault's 24-year-old Spaniard clutched at a mostly yellow design, after five years in formula one with his familiar red-yellow-blue paint-job.

The Spanish flag, and the light blue of his home region, is still represented, but the new design is more modern.

''I thought the other one seemed a bit old. I am really happy with the result,'' said Alonso, who reported that he is not superstitious about changing a successful design.

His main rivals in 2006 are likely to be Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) and Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren), but the pair sported a familiar look at the official FIA photo session.

However, in Bahrain, Schumacher is still getting used to deposed champion Ferrari's new position in the pitlane.

''Now I have to walk a little bit further,'' the German smiled.

Raikkonen, too, is remarkably unchanged, managing in one answer at the Thursday press conference to be brusque, aloof and cool.

Asked what advice he had for F1 rookies Yuji Ide, Scott Speed and Nico Rosberg, the Finn replied: ''Let us past if we're behind (you).''

'STR' facing Bahrain podium - Haug
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) 'Scuderia Toro Rosso', formerly the Minardi team, could wind up on the podium at the end of Sunday's Bahrain opener.

That is the concern of Mercedes' competition boss Norbert Haug, who encapsulated the fear of much of the V8-powered formula one grid.

'STR' will attack the 2006 season with a performance-limited V10 engine; a loophole devised by Paul Stoddart but now only questionably applied at a very well-resourced team owner like Red Bull.

The fear is that, coupled with a adaptation of last year's Red Bull car, the Cosworth V10 will give Toro Rosso drivers Vitantonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed an unfair horse power and torque advantage.

''They could have up to 10 per cent more (horse power than the V8s). They also have more torque,'' said Germany's Haug.

''They were strong (recently) in testing here. They were not even far from Honda. They can go for a podium, I am convinced.''

Haug's McLaren complement, Ron Dennis, admitted that if Liuzzi and Speed start to clock up very good results, opponents will surely get 'very vocal'.

23-year-old rookie Speed, however, doubts Haug's podium claim, also downplaying the seriousness of the saga.

''If we get a podium,'' the Californian said, ''then immediately we will have a (further) restriction on our hands, which would be the right thing to do.''

Race on, Ralf tells brother
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) Ralf Schumacher has advised his older brother Michael to sign a new formula one contract, 'as long as he is still enjoying it.'

''I don't think he has anything to prove to anyone,'' said the German.

F1 fans brace for muted Friday
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) F1 will roar back into life on Friday, but Williams' Mark Webber has warned spectators in Bahrain to expect a fairly scant experience.

The Australian driver revealed to 'ITV' that he will be on a practice programme of about 'ten minutes' only.

''I've come all this way and I'm going to drive for ten minutes,'' the disappointed racer, 29, said in the Bahrain paddock.

A similar theme will be adopted up and down pitlane, as formula one teams respond to a combination of factors that make it more prudent to conserve laps.

While reliability is always a factor at the first race of the year, most cars in Bahrain are fitted with virginal V8 engines that - also according to the rules - must be used not only in Bahrain but in Malaysia.

Moreover, new 'knockout'-style qualifying will require more miles than before, meaning that teams will be less inclined to 'waste' laps in practice.

'Friday' runners for Williams (Alex Wurz), BMW Sauber (Robert Kubica), Red Bull (Robert Doornbos), Honda (Anthony Davidson), Midland (Markus Winkelhock) and Toro Rosso (Neel Jani) will, however, feature strongly, as their spare cars are not subject to the rules - including limiting tires - of their teammates.

Klien told to beat Coulthard
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) Red Bull driver Christian Klien is under pressure to perform for Red Bull in 2006.

The team's 'advisor' to energy drink magnate Dietrich Mateschitz admitted that the Austrian has been told what to do in order to retain his seat next year.

''(Mateschitz) has clearly stated that (Christian) must be faster than David Coulthard,'' Helmut Marko - himself a former grand prix driver - told APA agency.

McLaren won't win - tester
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) McLaren will probably not win in Bahrain, team reserve driver Pedro de la Rosa admits.

The Spaniard told newspaper 'Marca' that the silver team's MP4-21 racer - to get yet another Mercedes-Benz V8 upgrade after the third race in Australia - is now better than it was in the winter period.

''But I do not believe that we are going to win,'' de la Rosa, 35, said.

''If Renault are reliable, then I think the victory is theirs.'' Asked where Ferrari ranked, Pedro answered that the red team looks like finishing behind McLaren.

Dennis rejects Alonso-saga criticism
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) Ron Dennis has fired back at criticism that he should not have announced the hiring of Fernando Alonso more than a full year before the Spanish racer was due to leave rival Renault.

In the Bahrain paddock, the McLaren principal rebuked Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone for questioning the 'class' of going so early.

''Let's get real,'' Ron told the Guardian newspaper.

''If a girl likes the look of you and asks you to dance you don't say 'Let me think about it and I'll get back to you'.''

Dennis also rejected suggestions that he should, at least, have told his Renault counterpart that he had targeted the world champion.

''In a situation like this,'' the Briton continued, ''you're not going to phone up and present (Briatore) with an opportunity to convince Alonso not to do it.''

FIA adds another 'knockout' rule
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) Going slow is only one way to knock yourself out of formula one qualifying, according to a new tweak in the rules.

In Bahrain for the season opener, the governing FIA has ruled that any car either spinning off or breaking down in any stage of the new 'knockout' format will not be able to later rejoin.

Without the stipulation, qualifying could have turned into a nightmare of complication and luck, with some errant drivers able to have their cars towed back to the pits, but less fortunate others - for example - stuck in obscure parts of the venue.

Todt scoffs at Red Bull-Schu link
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.10) Jean Todt has denied suggestions that Michael Schumacher asked for Felipe Massa to be his new Ferrari teammate because the Brazilian is clearly slower.

''Michael has never asked for a slower teammate,'' the French chief told Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport 'paper.

Todt also rejected reports that Schumacher, 37, might seriously consider switching to Red Bull at the end of the season.

He insisted: ''(That is) fantasy. Michael is the kind of driver who wants to win races.''

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