Latest F1 news in brief
by Andrew Maitland
 March 20, 2006

Renault is F1's 'best' - Briatore
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.20) Flavio Briatore wrinkled his brow at a reporter in Malaysia: ''Opponents?'' he grinned.

''Where are they?''

With all the hype of a genuine four-way battle for victory in 2006, Renault dominated at Sepang with a one-two -- the first for the team in twenty four years.

''We have the best drivers,'' boss Briatore said. ''We have the best car. We have the best engine. We have the best engineers.

''I wouldn't want to have to beat us!''

World champion Fernando Alonso, although beaten by his teammate Giancarlo Fisichella following a team fuel-load error, also sounded unbeatably optimistic. ''From now on,' he was quoted as saying by 'Bild' newspaper, ''I want to win all the races.''

But Briatore, who will lose Alonso to McLaren in 2007, was also backing his Roman pilot on Sunday. ''I have always said that we have two winning drivers,'' the Italian insisted.

He continued to 'Premiere': ''Last year, he was new to the team -- it takes time, like we see now with (Rubens) Barrichello and Honda.

''This is the best we could do. Everyone says Renault is going to leave formula one, but winning races is the best answer to that.''

Klien denies blame for Kimi crash
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.20) Angry duo Kimi Raikkonen and Ron Dennis see it another way, but Red Bull's Christian Klien said his shunt with the Finn in Malaysia was a 'normal racing accident'.

The Austrian was condemned by the McLaren duo after Raikkonen's race ended in a Sepang barrier with broken rear suspension.

But Klien, 23, insists that he had a legitimate right to go for position at turn-four.

''I was alongside him, with half of my car over the curbs,'' he explained.

''I couldn't move further to the right. I haven't seen a TV replay yet, but from my angle it was a normal racing accident.

''These things can happen.''

Heidfeld's 100th
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.20) Sepang was Nick Heidfeld's hundredth GP.

To mark the occasion, BMW-Sauber's German driver was presented with a birthday cake, and a special outfit for his baby daughter, Juni.

Sewed into the front of the outfit were the words: 'Papa's 100. GP'.

F1 'flex' storm rages on
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.20) Controversy about alleged 'illegal' wings lingered on even after the checkered flag at Sepang.

Although compromise and concessions were reportedly on the table, it is not certain that Ferrari will agree to change its supposedly 'flexible' front and rear wings, with Ross Brawn even denying that there is anything wrong with the current FIA tests.

''If you want to win you've got to maximize the set of regulations you have,'' said the technical director. ''You don't play it safe.''

Team boss Jean Todt elected not to comment, but he did deny that any backroom 'deals' had been brokered, adding: ''Ask me in Melbourne.''

The fact is, post-race scrutineers affirmed the legality of the '248' car by officialising the outcome of the Malaysian grand prix. Moreover, at least two other teams are apparently also running similarly dubious designs.

'Best' turnout at Sepang
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.20) Organizers of Sunday's Malaysian GP were happy with the size of the crowd.

Sepang circuit chairman Datuk Mokhzani Tun Mahathir could not give accurate figures, but he reported that the hills and the grandstands looked 'full'.

''I feel it is the best turnout we have seen,'' he added, referring to the venue that has hosted F1 races since 1999.

Local media estimates claimed that more than 106,000 - last year's official attendance - cheered the cars on in '06.

Toyota stir after nightmare slumber
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.20) Toyota is beginning to wake from its nightmare start to the 2006 season.

Although Jarno Trulli struggled with damage to his TF106 car, teammate Ralf Schumacher was actually on the pace in Malaysia.

Technical director Mike Gascoyne, admitting that the cars' problem is to do with the way it handles Bridgestone's tires, thinks the German was capable of more than eighth.

''With a different strategy, I think we could have been fourth on the grid and he would have been chasing a podium (in the race),'' the Briton said.

Ralf agreed that things looked better in Malaysia, but reckons the searing heat helped to generate some pace from his Bridgestone tires.

''We haven't solved everything yet,'' the German - now on his way back to Europe to test this week in France - cautioned to 'RTL' TV. ''(Like Bahrain,) Melbourne will be another cool race, so we still have work to do.''

No 'team orders' for Massa
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.20) Ross Brawn said Ferrari did not contemplate imposing team orders at Sepang.

With Michael Schumacher the clear number one at the Maranello based team, and in light of Ferrari's history, some wondered whether youngster Felipe Massa would be moved over in the closing stages on Sunday.

But Brawn, probably also mindful of fans' violent backlash following Austria 2002, told reporters that team orders would have 'made no sense' in Malaysia.

But he warned: ''We are only early in the season -- today, Felipe beat Michael fair and square.''

However, the Englishman also suggested that the pair had not even been told to 'hold position', meaning that Schumacher would have been free to attack Massa.

''We made no instructions (to the drivers),'' he confirmed.

Brazil's Massa, 24, also admitted that he was genuinely fighting his illustrious teammate.

Schu says Oz should be better
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.20) Admitting utter defeat in Malaysia, Michael Schumacher has advised Ferrari's 'Tifosi' to look forward to the next grand prix, in Australia.

''Melbourne is a completely different place,'' said the German.

''I'm sure we'll go better there.

''I have to say we just didn't get the car working perfectly here.''

Schumacher, 37, admitted that the tire war between Bridgestone and Michelin is a 'possible' explanation for the defeat to Michelin-clad Renault, Honda and McLaren at Sepang.

''Hopefully we'll do better in Australia.''

Asked what he'll do between now and Melbourne, Michael answered: ''I'll stay in this area for an annual honeymoon with my wife!''

Theissen proposes FIA tweak
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.20) The FIA should publish a provisional starting grid shortly after qualifying, according to BMW's Mario Theissen.

Referring to the immense paddock confusion in Malaysia on Saturday and early Sunday, the German chief proposed that the governing body revise its policy to reveal the order just before the race.

With 10-place engine penalties galore at searing Sepang, no-one really knew what the definitive lineup would be.

Ferrari's press officer wrote his review of Saturday claiming that Michael Schumacher would start from the sixth row. An hour later, he had issued another one to the media now with the words 'seventh row' featuring.

Theissen is a public supporter of F1's new 'knockout' qualifying, but he has also criticized the FIA - led by Max Mosley - for its late decision to go ahead with V8 engines for 2006.

''There were an awful lot of engine failures here,'' the German noted to the 'sid' agency.

''I think this demonstrates that the time for development for the engine manufacturers was too short.''

Renault 'clearly' in front, says BMW boss
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.20) Renault is a step ahead of its rivals in 2006, according to Mario Theissen.

The German, at the helm of BMW-Sauber, said at the conclusion of the Malaysian grand prix - the first Renault one-two for more than two decades - that the French carmaker is the 'reference point' for every other rival squad.

''They are the quickest; they are the most consistent; they were fast even on different strategies,'' said Theissen, referring to the performances of Giancarlo Fisichella and teammate Fernando Alonso.

He continued: ''They are clearly in front, but the good news is that the cars behind them are closely bunched.''

Only Merc's V8 is intact
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.20) Mere weeks ago, who would have bet their bank that every single engine maker in formula one would have experienced a failure by the end of round two -- except Mercedes-Benz?

Either in Bahrain or last weekend at Sepang, Renault, Ferrari, Toyota, Cosworth (Williams), BMW and Honda failed to make it to the Malaysian checker without losing an engine. But amazingly, following McLaren's dire winter of unreliability, the V8s in the silver cars emerged from Sepang intact.

''Six weeks ago, we were not where we wanted to be with our engine,'' Mercedes' Norbert Haug told 'RTL' TV, ''so I have to thank everyone in England and in Stuttgart.''

The silver combination should be patted on the back, but it is also true that - in order to cool the V8 in Malaysia - a large number of cooling holes had to be opened in the bodywork of the MP4-21. Demonstrated by Juan Pablo Montoya, it was a significant handicap on pace.

Haug said: ''We were not the only ones, but (yes,) our car was not in the ideal specification.''

Back in Europe, McLaren will test car and engine upgrades this week.

Loss 'like a win' - Alonso
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.20) Even on a lower rung of the podium, Malaysia felt like a win for F1's reigning world champion Fernando Alonso.

The Spaniard finished second at Sepang after his qualifying troubles, but he argued that finishing behind Giancarlo Fisichella felt even more important than beating Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) a week ago in Bahrain.

''These eight points are like a victory to me,'' 24-year-old Alonso said.

Why? ''Because I have pulled away from my main rivals in the championship, Schumacher and Raikkonen.''

Indeed, the gap to Schumacher is now 7 points - the same as the gap to Jenson Button (Honda) - while Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren) is 12 points off.

Also in the mix, however, is Alonso's teammate, Malaysian GP pole sitter and race winner, Fisichella, who is eight points in arrears.

But Fernando insisted: ''I don't see Fisi as a rival, I see him as someone to work together with. Maybe later in the championship we will fight.''

Brawn hits back at Rossi jibe
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.20) On behalf of Valentino Rossi, the MotoGP sensation's potential F1 boss of the future - Ross Brawn - has returned fire at Fernando Alonso.

Spaniard Alonso, the four-wheeled world champion, said recently that 26-year-old Rossi would 'never' become one of F1's top-5 pilots.

''I don't know how he knows that,'' Ferrari technical director Brawn said at Sepang, ''because even I cannot precisely judge Valentino yet.

''But what you can say about him is that, with so little experience of formula one cars, it is clear that he possesses an enormous amount of talent.''

Ross Brawn also reiterated that no decision has yet been taken about whether Rossi will some day soon race a red car in F1.

He explained: ''Some time in the middle of the year, he will decide what he wants to do.

''After that, we (Ferrari) need to make our decision.''

Bothered Button confronts Speed
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.20) Scott Speed has struck back at suggestions that he ruined Jenson Button's victory attack in the Malaysian grand prix.

Honda driver JB stridently dropped the rookie American's name when asked what impediments he faced during the Sepang sizzler.

''That's ridiculous,'' said Toro Rosso's Speed, the first American in formula one since Michael Andretti in 1993.

The Californian told the Mirror: ''I got a call on the radio and two corners later I let him by.

''Button lost second place by something like five or seven seconds. Come on -- I've done nothing wrong.

''Once he calms down he'll realize it wasn't a big problem.''

But Honda principal Nick Fry confirmed that his man was very annoyed, and even confronted Speed later on.

Nico 'slapped' for Webber squeeze
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.20) He was the toast of the paddock in Bahrain, but feisty rookie Nico Rosberg got 'a slap on the wrist' by Williams in Malaysia's searing heat, media reports say.

The British 'Mirror' newspaper suggests that Frank Williams and Patrick Head were none too happy about the 20-year-old German's squeeze on teammate Mark Webber on the run to the first corner on Sunday.

It cost the pair, shoved onto the dirty side of the track, track position to the fast-starting Fernando Alonso.

Webber, who touched down in Tasmania on Monday, complained: ''Another few feet and he would've had me in the wall.''

Following his Cosworth engine failure, though, Rosberg - the son of Williams' 1982 world champion Keke - admitted that he still has something to learn about taking on a F1 rival.

He said: ''I tried to block Mark but I realized he wasn't going to lift. I think in GP2 most people would have backed off.''

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