Latest F1 news in brief
by Andrew Maitland
 March 11, 2006

Bernie hints that F1 war is over
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.11) After meeting with 'GPMA' bigwigs in Bahrain, Bernie Ecclestone revealed that an agreement has 'more or less' been approved to drive formula one into the future.

Following months and years of uncertainty and the carmakers' threat of a 2008 'breakaway' championship, the F1 supremo said the meeting went 'very well' and all outstanding issues were solved.

''On the commercial side, we are more or less at the point of agreement,'' Bernie added.

He suggested that the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle is agreement over Max Mosley's controversial rules for 2008 and beyond.

However, on the commercial side, a 'memorandum of understanding' is presently being drafted, and BMW, Mercedes, Renault, Toyota and Honda are all expected to sign up.

McLaren's Ron Dennis, in addition, suggested that a final agreement is 'more than a day (but) less than a month' from being penned.

Violence in Bahrain
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.11) As engines roared at the nearby formula one circuit, a protest turned violent in Bahrain.

Armed with tear gas and batons, riot police battled with the group of nearly 200 in Manama, where formula one billboards were set on fire and twenty people were hospitalized.

A Shiite opposition group issued a statement explaining that the protest had been staged because of the likely publicity surrounding the F1 race.

V10 storm rains on STR's advantage
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.11) Team co-owner Gerhard Berger's return to the formula one paddock was greeted with controversy in Bahrain, as 'Scuderia Toro Rosso' took criticism for being fast on Friday.

After lunching with Prince Albert of Monaco, the Austrian argued that recent testing in Bahrain helped give the 'STR01' pace, but opponents - led most strongly by Midland's Colin Kolles - aimed fire at the fact that the car is a copy of last year's Red Bull, fitted with the hugely-contentious limited V10.

''I'm 100 per cent sure that we don't have the best engine,'' Berger argued, ''but I'm also sure that we don't have the worst.

''I think it's fair. I think all this discussion is not right.''

Ferrari's Jean Todt, however, revealed that he has told the FIA that he 'could object' to the equivalency formula if it seems unfair.

He said: ''I am sure the FIA will do the right thing.''

The saga could be set to rumble on, with sources in Bahrain confirming that STR has no immediate plans to switch to a V8 engine supply.

Team principal Franz Tost rejected the argument that Toro Rosso is obliged to abandon the V10 option because it is well funded.

''Nowhere in the rules does it say that a team must be poor (to qualify for the loophole,'' he was quoted as saying by 'Auto Motor Und Sport'.

F1 teams pen test agreement
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.11) A voluntary agreement to limit testing in 2006 has been agreed, after Ferrari's Jean Todt put the final signature to paper.

The Frenchman said every other team principal had also agreed to limit testing to 36 days between March and November; a six-day increase on 2005.

Testing at Ferrari's Fiorano circuit, too, is exempt from the deal, with the finer detail explaining that each team is able to complete subsidized running - with a day counted as a half-day - at a nominated 'home' track.

''So we can say that an agreement has been made,'' Jean Todt revealed.

McLaren won't change Montoya's engine
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.11) Ron Dennis has played down an 'embarrassing' start to McLaren's 2006.

After a winter of performance and reliability concern, the silver team hit the Bahrain track on Friday and suffered an electrics failure on Kimi Raikkonen's MP4-21.

Juan Pablo Montoya, too, complained about a lackluster Mercedes-Benz, as the pair shrank to 12th and 13th on the opening timesheets.

But Ron Dennis denied his Colombian driver's moan that the V8 unit might have to be changed.

''The engines are absolutely fine,'' he said. ''When you run at lower revs to protect the engine, that does make the engine a little uncomfortable to drive. But (Kimi and Juan's engines) are exactly the same.

''Our underlying performance is quite good.''

Dennis protested that Kimi's electric box failure was the first such breakage in 'years'.

''I'm not too concerned,'' he added. ''It's not too serious.''

Williams' longest sponsor stays put
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.11) Williams' longest standing sponsor, 'Accenture', will stay with the formula one team until at least 2008.

The global brand joined Grove based Williams in 1995.

Doornbos cops whopping fine
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.11) Red Bull's 'Friday' driver, Robert Doornbos, has suffered the ignominious honor of whopping the first FIA-imposed fine of 2006.

After forgetting to press his speed limiter button in pit lane, the Dutchman will have to pay a huge $6250 penalty.

Renault on top, say rivals
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.11) Renault have the best chance of winning Sunday's Bahrain opener of 2006, according to ex-champ Michael Schumacher.

Despite clocking the very best race-driver lap of Friday practice, the German singled out the blue and yellow team, whose 'R26' is resided by reigning title winner Fernando Alonso.

''Renault seem to be very quick straight out of the box which gives them an edge,'' said Schumacher, the Ferrari ace.

It is also true that Michael's impressive practice time - more than half a second quicker than Alonso - was achieved with new tires.

Schumacher admitted: ''I don't think everyone did what we did.

''But I still reckon there are four teams capable of winning.''

Charged with being Bahrain's hot favorite, however, 24-year-old Alonso pointed the finger in the direction of Jenson Button's garage, as rumors did the rounds that Honda hid their potential on practice day.

''It's nice of him to say that,'' Button responded, ''but I'm sure he's just taking pressure off of himself.

''You have to say that Renault are the favorites, but I know that we are going to be challenging them a lot.''

While Button's theory that Alonso is relieving pressure is interesting, the Spaniard expressed surprise at Schumacher's rapid pace at the end of session two.

''Maybe he was running with lighter fuel,'' Alonso wondered, ''or with new tires. It is not exactly clear how they shape up with the rest.''

Pat Symonds concluded that he thought the gap between his Renault team and Honda is 'tiny'.

The engineering director told the Guardian: ''And I think McLaren are a whisker behind.''

V8s make Bahrain 'easier' - Kubica
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.11) F1's new V8 engines have made Bahrain 'easier to drive', according to BMW Sauber Friday driver Robert Kubica.

After catching the headlines by going quickest in the morning session, the Pole said: ''The two quickest corners are flat out now.''

Fisi marks decade on F1 grid
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.11) On 10 March 1996, Giancarlo Fisichella - at the wheel of a Minardi in Melbourne - retired from his first ever formula one grand prix.

Exactly ten years on, the Roman - now 33 - is at top team Renault, where on 10 March 2006 he went eighth quickest in Friday practice at Sakhir.

''(In 1996) I was happy to be there, and now I am aiming for the title,'' Fisichella said.

He added: ''I have come a long way but I don't think I have changed -- well, I am older of course, but stronger too.''

Fisichella has also raced for Jordan (1997 and 2002-3), Benetton (1998-2001) and Sauber (2004).

Webber predicts 'wild' qualifying
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.11) Mark Webber reckons 'knockout' qualifying - to debut in formula one today - will be a crazy dash with plenty of 'excuses'.

The Australian, a renowned expert of the former one-lap format, also described the FIA's latest system, designed to spice things up, as a potential 'wild goose chase'.

''There are going to be lots of excuses as to why it didn't happen for some guys,'' said Webber, whose Williams will be one of up to 22 cars on track at the same time.

The 29-year-old admitted: ''I think there will be more chance of someone accidentally screwing someone else up.''

Bahrain heads for Sunday sellout
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.11) A crowd of 17,000 watched Friday's first formula one practice sessions of the year at the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain.

Circuit manager Martin Whitaker had not seen the figure, but - by estimation - he reckoned it was the biggest Friday crowd at the desert venue since it joined the calendar in '04.

He added that Sunday could be a total sell-out.

''(And) the media presence is bigger than any other race I have seen, which is encouraging,'' Whitaker said.

With Melbourne set to host the Commonwealth Games, 2006 is the first time Bahrain has staged the season opener.

Rip-off at Sakhir
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.11) A cup of coffee and a bottle of juice cost a combined (US) $10.60 inside the Sakhir formula one circuit on Friday.

It's double what you would pay anywhere outside the gates of the desert venue in Bahrain.

BMW not a Bahrain contender - Heidfeld
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.11) Nick Heidfeld has played down expectations that, in Bahrain, BMW-Sauber can repeat tester Robert Kubica's chart-topping feats of Friday practice.

''Unfortunately, I don't think so,'' the German race driver told a throng of journalists.

He repeated the old story of how a 'Friday' driver can run high revs and more tires, while the real competitors save mileage.

Actually, in the afternoon session, Polish rookie Kubica had dropped to tenth best, with Heidfeld fourteenth and Jacques Villeneuve a lowly 25th.

Heidfeld, 28, said his personal goal for the BMW-owned team is to finish about sixth of the eleven constructors.

''We will know on Sunday where we really are.''

Ferrari is 'private' team, Todt insists
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.11) Jean Todt has stepped up his argument that Ferrari should not be classed as a carmaker-team.

FIA president Max Mosley proposed recently that only private teams should receive an income from the sport -- and Todt is clearly pedaling the line that Ferrari falls into that category.

In La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper (Italy), the red team's French principal claimed that Ferrari derive '80 per cent' of its budget from sponsorship, not manufacturer-parent Fiat.

''(And) six or eight per cent of the sales from Ferrari Auto is contributed to our formula one effort,'' he added.

Boris Becker in Bahrain
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.11) A familiar face has bobbed up in the Sakhir pitlane -- Boris Becker.

The German tennis legend was spotted in conversation with British 'Jamiroquai' front-man Jay Kay, another interesting celebrity counterpart at the first GP of 2006.

Notably, also in Bahrain is Emma Parker-Bowles (Camilla's niece).

BMW defends modest goals for 2006
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.11) BMW board member Burkhard Goeschel has defended his team's modest targets for 2006.

While driver Nick Heidfeld makes it clear that his goal of sixth in the constructors' chase is 'personal', reporters have been hard pressed to get any BMW-Sauber official to repeat the moderate target.

''You can't set a date for success,'' German Goeschel - also a bigwig in the 'GPMA' negotiations with Bernie Ecclestone - said.

He added: ''We will do the best job we can, and the rest will happen on the track. It would be arrogant if we said we're going to do better than everyone else.''

Even Heidfeld, 28, can understand why the bigwigs in Hinwil and Munich are keeping expectations low. ''High goals create unnecessary pressure,'' he said.

''This team will succeed as soon as the whole package permits it. When? I can not say.''

Ralf wants to end career at Toyota
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.11) Ralf Schumacher says he would be happy to race out his formula one career with the Toyota team.

The 30-year-old German, on a multi-year contract with the Cologne based marque, told the 'Welt' newspaper that he was not looking around the paddock for a new challenge.

''I do not know exactly when my career will end,'' Schumacher said, ''but if everything goes to plan, Toyota will be my last stop in F1.''

Toyota launched its new TF106 car amid expectations of a maiden win this year, but Ralf has told the media that he does not yet expect to land the title.

The team endured a nightmare start to its 2006 campaign in Bahrain, Ralf flopping around some four seconds off the pace on Friday.

He also said in the interview: ''We want to become the best Bridgestone runner, so we want to beat Ferrari.

''Our goal for this season is to win races.''

Zanardi in Turin
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.11) While F1 '06 kicked off in Bahrain on Friday, Turin launched the winter 'Paralympics' in Italy.

A special guest at the opening ceremony, attended by 30,000, was Alex Zanardi -- the former formula one driver who in 2001 lost both his legs in a crash.

''I never lost my enthusiasm,'' Zanardi - who returned to racing with hand-controls - told the Toronto Star 'paper.

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