Latest F1 news in brief
by Andrew Maitland
 March 12, 2006

Bahrain GP retains title sponsor
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.12) Airline 'Gulf Air' has signed a new contract to remain title sponsor of the Bahrain grand prix.

The 2007-2010 deal was struck between the airline and 66-year-old Paddy McNally's giant 'Allsport' company, which exclusively controls track sponsorship and advertising at F1 races.

Rivals point finger at Ferrari 'flex'
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.12) A cloud has moved above Ferrari's return to form in Bahrain, with reports that F1 rivals - including Renault - are questioning the legality of the new '248 F1' car's rear wing.

It is suggested that the Maranello based team's wing can 'flex' at high speed, and that while it may pass the specific FIA tests, it is designed to flex only in areas that are not tested by the stewards.

FIA inspectors were spotted and photographed inside the scarlet garage on Saturday, and are understood to have given the wing the all-clear.

Bernie says 'knockout' is a hit
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.12) Bernie Ecclestone has led a general consensus in the Bahrain paddock that F1's new 'knockout' qualifying format was a hit on debut.

Although some questioned the spectacle of the final 'fuel-burn' shootout for the top ten, the F1 supremo said other parts - like Kimi Raikkonen's dramatic early exit - was 'precisely' what he had hoped for after the one-lap system was axed.

''It's very good,'' said Bernie, 75. ''It makes it much more exciting. It's producing what we thought about. It looks good and has worked well. I'm very, very happy with this format.''

Certainly, in the garages and on the pitwall, the new format kept the teams busy. ''It tested teams' nerves at every stage,'' said Honda's Nick Fry.

Williams' Mark Webber, however, called the system - which he had earlier forecast to be a 'wild goose chase' - 'a bit of a mess' for the drivers and the strategists.

He added: ''Hopefully it looked okay on TV.''

Toro Rosso technical director Gabriele Tredozi commented that he had not seen a 'show' like it 'for many years', while BMW's Mario Theissen went further to applaud the 'best qualifying format' F1 has ever seen.

''That was really great,'' said the German, ''and exactly what was missing recently.''

However, Pat Symonds of Renault tempered his paddock colleagues' enthusiasm by admitting that viewers at home would have the final vote.

''I need to watch it back (on TV) on Monday to answer the question,'' he said in Bahrain.

Michael Schumacher, too, is a staunch critic of F1's tendency to change the rules too often, so offered a middle-of-the-road opinion about the new system.

''It doesn't matter what I think,'' said the first 'knockout' pole sitter, ''it matters what the fans think and you (journalists) write about it.

''I hope everybody likes it. In a way I think it's pretty good.''

Renault slump in qualifying
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.12) After a winter of dominance, Renault's Fernando Alonso (fourth) and Giancarlo Fisichella (ninth) found themselves beaten after the qualifying hour.

But, although heavier fuels loads might be one explanation, it is true that Alonso made a mistake on his first flyer, meaning that his tires were a bit second-hand for the second.

''But I'm pretty confident we have more fuel on board for the race,'' said the Spaniard.

Fisichella, meanwhile, suffered from an unusual loss of engine power - coinciding with his mid-session pit stop for new tires - which is being investigated by the team.

''To be honest, we don't know,'' said the team's Pat Symonds. ''His telemetry showed something - so it is something with the car - but we're not sure what.''

Schu's pole
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.12) Michael Schumacher's Bahrain pole equaled the all-time record, set by late triple world champion Ayrton Senna.

The Ferrari driver's feat was also the first for Bridgestone since Hungary in 2005, and the first all-red front row since Hungary in 2004.

''Yeah, it's been a long wait,'' Germany's Schumacher, 37, agreed on Saturday. ''Too long.

''I wasn't expecting it. I thought we would be a little bit behind, so it's a very nice surprise, particularly after the year we've had.''

Tires worsen Toyota nightmare
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.12) Toyota's dire performance so far in Bahrain is as much to do with Bridgestone tires, and the Bahrain circuit, as the '06 TF106 car, we can reveal.

Team sources report that while the lower than expected temperature at Sakhir on Saturday was a problem for both Michelin and Bridgestone runners, it was a disaster for Toyota.

Jarno Trulli failed to make it through to the final-ten shootout, with teammate Ralf Schumacher joining the likes of MF1 and Super Aguri in even missing the first 15-minute cut.

''I lost temperature in the tires and I couldn't warm them up again,'' the German moaned.

Sources add that the sand blown onto the track overnight only compounded Toyota's lack of balance in its first grand prix with a brand new tire supplier.

Schu lauds Massa challenge
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.12) Michael Schumacher says his new young teammate has justified his cockpit in the Ferrari team.

Felipe Massa, just 24, shaded the seven time world champion and pole sitter by less than a tenth of a second on debut for the scarlet team -- his best ever result in F1 qualifying.

''Ferrari doesn't hire people without good reasons,'' the German said.

''We knew about his qualities and today he proved them.''

Ferrari principal Jean Todt said the pace of Massa and departed predecessor, Rubens Barrichello, is 'similar', but the difference is in Felipe's upbeat attitude.

''It has been a positive change for us,'' the Frenchman told Gazzetta dello Sport.

''Barrichello was always determined to prove that he could beat Michael. But when (Schumacher) has the means, no one touches him.''

When asked if Massa would be retained by the scarlet team next year, Todt refused to directly answer, saying: ''His opportunity this year is to compare himself with the winningest pilot in history, and to demonstrate that he is worthy of a great machine.

''If he performs very highly, I am sure he will not lack opportunities in F1.''

Schu struggled for motivation
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.12) Bahrain pole sitter Michael Schumacher has admitted that he often struggled to be motivated at races last year.

''When you just have no chance (to compete),'' said the Ferrari driver, ''you can feel like it's not worth it and you struggle to get the extra little bit out.''

F1 leaps to help Honda 'truckie'
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.12) Mechanics up and down pitlane are uniting to support an injured colleague.

Chris Mays, a truckie for Honda, is in intensive care after a motorbike crash, according to the Telegraph newspaper, and his insurance company is refusing to pay out.

Mechanics from many rival teams are donating a day's pay, with some drivers contributing race suits and helmets to be auctioned.

Confusion supreme in top-ten dash
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.12) F1's new 'knockout' qualifying may have been lauded from the pitwall, but in lounge rooms around the world, confusion reigned supreme as the top ten drove for pole position.

Why on earth - some viewers thought - did the field endlessly run around setting uncompetitive, but reasonably quick, lap times?

The answer is complicated, and related to the fact that the final runners had to attack the session with race-level fuel.

There was no point going flat-out initially, because lap times would be quickest at the very end. A lot of laps were completed, however, because each lap qualified for an FIA 'credit' -- at Bahrain, 2.75 kilos per lap, to be re-added to the car at session's end.

The idea, then, was to do as many laps as possible, but as slowly as possible, so as to actually use less than the 2.75 kilos per lap and get the advantage of a higher fuel load when the five lights go out.

But the FIA had imposed that each lap must be within 110 per cent of that drivers' ultimate best, prohibiting turtle-like slow driving.

FIA president Max Mosley, in Bahrain, denied that the system is too complicated to grasp.

''And regarding the fuel,'' said the Briton, ''I don't think that is the most important thing for the fans. What is important to them is that it is exciting, and that it is clear who is quick and who is not.''

Ferrari's Ross Brawn, however, conceded that Max's final point is not the case in Bahrain.

''Until the race gets going on Sunday,'' the Briton remarked, ''no one knows where they are.''

Rossi put on Ferrari back-burner
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.12) 'Will-he-or-won't-he' MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi is not scheduled to conduct a heavy load of Ferrari testing in the '06 season.

With the newly-penned in-season limit of 36 days, with runs at Fiorano counting as a half-day, Ferrari is expected to prioritize development of the '248' car.

''He's got his racing programme and we've got ours,'' said technical director Ross Brawn in Bahrain, ''so it wasn't going to be easy to spend much time together.

''(But) I think if it was critical we could accommodate it.''

Jani is star of future
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.12) The team's 'Friday' driver Neel Jani is a Toro Rosso star of the future.

The young Swiss was sixth, ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya and Felipe Massa, in Friday's first practice, and about two and a half seconds off the ultimate pace in S2.

''Jani is one of our more intelligent drivers,'' Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko told the 'Blick' newspaper.

STR team principal Franz Tost added: ''He could have a good future.''

FIA to study STR's V10 data
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.12) F1's governing body will study engine data supplied by besieged Toro Rosso and its rivals in the coming weeks, we can reveal.

Amid the raging controversy surrounding the Red Bull-owned team's performance in Bahrain with a rev-limited V10, speculation has fumed that rivals - perhaps Midland - may formerly protest.

But MF1 principal Colin Kolles played down the rumor.

''For me, it's a question of the right people dealing with this problem in the right way,'' he told Reuters.

After qualifying on Saturday, F1's top three drivers - including Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button - admitted that Scott Speed and Vitantonio Liuzzi seem to have more horse power than the V8 brigade.

''If I was a Midland driver, I would be angry,'' said Ferrari's Felipe Massa, ''because they are going to be 100 per cent reliable. Maybe it's not really fair.''

Kimi denies 'teammate' rumor
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.12) Kimi Raikkonen has rejected the notion that, on the one hand, he is baulking at the prospect of partnering Fernando Alonso at McLaren next year, while on the other is not keen to be Michael Schumacher's Ferrari chum.

''It makes no difference to me,'' said the Finn. ''It doesn't matter who my teammate is.''

Asked by reporters if he was now thinking about his future, 26-year-old Raikkonen replied: ''No, not at all.''

Kimi will struggle to score a point
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.12) Mercedes' Norbert Haug has admitted that scoring even one point in Bahrain will be a mighty task for Kimi Raikkonen.

He answered 'yes' when asked by reporters if he will be surprised to see the beleaguered Finn in Sunday's top-eight.

In an eerie re-run of Raikkonen's string of reliability problems last year, he nearly rolled his McLaren after a right rear suspension failure knocked him out of qualifying and condemned him to the rear of the grand prix grid.

Kimi left the Sakhir circuit quickly, telling the media: ''Now we're up against it right from the start again.''

''After many thousands of kilometres of testing,'' added team boss Ron Dennis, ''(the failure) is difficult to come to terms with.''

Teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, too, is not expected to enjoy a great Bahrain opener, after trailing Kimi's pace all weekend and grappling with understeer.

BMW enjoying Sauber union
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.12) BMW's relationship with Sauber is already more amiable than the six-year Williams collaboration, according to Mario Theissen.

The motor sport director said workers at Hinwil (Switzerland) 'eat at the same table' as newcomer German engineers, who originate from BMW in Munich.

''That didn't happen with Williams,'' Theissen told the 'Hamburger Abendblatt' 'paper.

Bahrain testers on top
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.12) With Ferrari on top and Honda's Jenson Button completing the qualifying top-three in Bahrain, whispers whizzed around the paddock that the teams' recent test here helped them more than first thought.

''Of course they have a better understanding of the conditions,'' said Williams' Mark Webber, more than 1.5 seconds slower than the red pole.

All F1 teams share tire data these days, but Honda, Ferrari (and Toro Rosso) must also have a better understanding of how the Bahrain specifications are working.

''(Ferrari's Michael) Schumacher and (Felipe) Massa were here for nine days,'' said Honda's Button, ''but the weather was very different when we were here.''

Mercedes' Norbert Haug joked that Ferrari spent 'half the winter' doing test laps in Bahrain.

''If they had learned nothing from that,'' the German smiled, ''something would be wrong.''

Out and about in Bahrain
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.12) With the very-Western grand prix circus in town, a group has set up a stall at the Sakhir F1 circuit to raise awareness about Islam.

''We want to teach the visitors about our culture and religion,'' said the group's spokesman.

Standing inside the circuit's gates, however, was a less than inspiring sight. On Friday, only 17,000 spectators congregated for practice, and about 20,000 returned on Saturday for qualifying.

30,000 are expected on Sunday.

''The empty stands created the impression of a ghost track,'' wrote a reporter for the Telegraph newspaper.

EJ turns to TV
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.12) Former team owner Eddie Jordan, 57, is to become a television presenter, with a documentary about criminal youth presently being filmed in the UK.

Alonso nearly penned Ferrari deal
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.12) In 2001, world champion Fernando Alonso nearly became a Ferrari tester.

Scarlet principal Jean Todt revealed to 'Gazzetta dello Sport' that lawyers were already 'writing the contract' when someone else - Renault's Flavio Briatore - scooped up the future Spanish star.

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