Latest F1 news in brief
by Andrew Maitland
 March 24, 2006

Schu in Oz
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.24) Ahead of the Australian grand prix, Michael Schumacher has been spotted hanging out with a fellow world champion.

The 37-year-old German was in the famous Gold Coast region in Australian state Queensland this week, with former five time motorcycle title winner - and friend - Mick Doohan.

Riding around in Doohan's helicopter, the pair - also including Michael's wife Corinna - shopped and tasted wine at a winery, before jetting off for a more remote venue.

Ferrari's Schumacher will arrive in Melbourne next Wednesday.

Problem solving back in Europe
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.24) The first test of a new season is also F1 teams' first chance to solve problems that cropped up at the opening grands prix of 2006.

One of Honda's biggest concerns is new driver signing Rubens Barrichello and his lack of pace, so the Brazilian was recalled to Europe to run at the Vallelunga (Italy) venue.

Despite heavy rain on Thursday, the 33-year-old said: ''I found the new ideas we have useful, and I will certainly use them in Australia.''

At Paul Ricard in sunnier France, race drivers Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher were similarly brought back from the southern hemisphere, following Toyota's lack of speed at Sepang but particularly in Bahrain.

Although slower than runners for Renault, BMW Sauber and McLaren, the pair have trialed special softer Bridgestone tires, with Trulli commenting: ''So far we have found out that we have to go softer to make our car work.''

Ferrari action centered on Fiorano (Italy), while - like BMW's Nick Heidfeld at Ricard - David Coulthard was another race driver to make the trip back to Europe to run at the Valencia circuit in Spain.

Klien's 'moment of truth' in F1
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.24) 2006 is Christian Klien's 'moment of truth' in formula one, according to Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz.

The Austrian billionaire is refusing to give away clues about the team's 2007 lineup, but he admitted that a close eye is being kept on his young countryman.

''We all know that he is fast,'' Mateschitz, referring to the 23-year-old driver, told the 'Vorarlberger Nachrichten' newspaper.

''But, really, this year is his moment of truth, because he's not going to get any faster, but he still has much experience to gather.''

Klien, who debuted with Jaguar in 2004, is often viewed as a talented and quick driver, but not necessarily a future champion.

Mateschitz admits: ''Christian still has some weaknesses; like in the second half of races where he can often drop off the pace.''

JV is back on song, says Sauber
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.24) Jacques Villeneuve is beginning to rebuild his reputation in formula one, according to the man who granted the French-Canadian his full time return to racing.

Peter Sauber, no longer the Hinwil based team's owner and boss, signed a two-year contract with 34-year-old JV last year -- but the 1997 world champion conspicuously failed to shine.

However, after watching from the sidelines as a guest of the 'BMW Sauber' squad in Malaysia, 62-year-old Sauber suggested that Jacques has now vindicated his faith in the former Williams and BAR ace.

''I was very pleased to see him score some points,'' Sauber told the sports magazine 'Kicker'.

''Even last year, I was of the opinion that someone who can win a world championship does not forget how to drive.''

Swiss-German Sauber reckons Villeneuve simply took a lot of time to readjust to formula one after sitting out most of 2004.

He said: ''Now, he reminds me of when he entered F1; he is nearly the old Jacques again.''

'06 is F1's 'best ever' season - Lauda
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.24) Fans are witnessing the best ever season of formula one racing, according to triple world champion Niki Lauda.

The 57-year-old Austrian says he - a veteran of 25 grand prix wins and even a team principal at one stage - cannot predict the outcome of the next race.

''No one can,'' Lauda told 'Kicker', ''so if you like sport then you cannot ask for more. I think this is the best season we have ever had.''

Although Renault's racers won the opening two grands prix of 2006, most observers agree that three or four other teams - McLaren, Ferrari, Honda and perhaps Williams - are potential race winners.

Even a five-way fight, however, fails to leave every pundit content, with 1996 world champion Damon Hill comparing the excitement of recent races to making a 'cup of tea'.

The Briton also told Reuters that he does not believe Michael Schumacher is enjoying 2006 -- particularly getting beaten by Fernando Alonso in Bahrain.

''If that drags on then the appeal of just driving a F1 car will go away and he'll start to think; 'not a bad record'.''

F1's US rival on road to revival
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.24) The future of open-wheel racing in the United States is looking brighter, with rival Champ Car and Indy bosses admitting that they are in talks about a possible merger.

Since the series' split in 1995, American single-seater racing has taken a definite back seat to Europe's equivalent (formula one).

But, with the scene also now lagging behind NASCAR, Tony George (IRL) and Kevin Kalkhoven (Champ Car) told the 'LA Times' that a reunion is on the cards.

Kalkhoven revealed that the pair are 'trying to develop a plan', while George added that he believed a single category would be better.

''We are both trying to find the right solution,'' Kalkhoven said, but George warned that 'nothing is imminent'.

Rubens denies Ferrari fall-out
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.24) Rubens Barrichello has denied that he joined Ferrari after a falling-out with Ferrari.

Despite reports last season that suggested the Brazilian had tired of playing second fiddle to Michael Schumacher, 33-year-old Barrichello says he gets on fine with the seven time world champion.

He told 'TV Movie': ''If people think that's why I joined Ferrari, I tell them they're not right.

''I went to Honda because I feel and believe that with this team I can win the title.''

And, although his career at the Brackley based team has got off to a languorous start, Rubens also suggests that - unlike at Ferrari - he faces the prospect of winning the full support of the team.

Barrichello explained: ''If either me or (teammate) Jenson (Button) has the best chance to be world champion, then the (Honda) team will surely turn more to them.

''I still think I can win a race this year.''

Mateschitz baulks at title prophecy
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.24) Dietrich Mateschitz has refused to predict when - or indeed if - his Red Bull team will capture F1's world title.

''It is not something you can foresee,'' the Austrian billionaire and owner of two grand prix teams told the 'Vorarlberger Nachrichten' newspaper, explaining that even F1's huge-budgeted Toyota team 'does not know'.

But, vaguely referring to the acquisition of Adrian Newey and perhaps talks with Juan Pablo Montoya, he added: ''Of course, we are ambitious and have goals.

''All we can do is create the conditions in which to breed success.''

Lauda tells Fisi to 'go for it'
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.24) 2006 is Giancarlo Fisichella's big chance to make the grade in F1.

That is the opinion of a three-time title winner and victor of 25 grands prix -- Niki Lauda.

The veteran Austrian told 'Kicker' that the current driver situation at Renault is perfect for the Roman journeyman to come out of champion teammate Fernando Alonso's shadow.

While Fisichella has already denied that Alonso's McLaren-bound future is playing a role in the Enstone based team's setup, including his win at Sepang, Lauda sees it another way.

''You have one driver who is leaving the team, and one who is hoping to stay,'' he noted.

''This is the right moment for him to go for it.''

Toyota confirm Fuji's Suzuka steal
(GMMf1NET -- Mar.24) F1's Japanese GP will move from Suzuka to Fuji next October, circuit owner Toyota says.

The carmaker giant, also owner of the Cologne based team, confirmed speculation that - with the agreement of Bernie Ecclestone - the renovated track at the foot of Mt. Fuji would steal the race away from arch-rival Honda's Suzuka.

Fuji last hosted F1 in 1977, before Suzuka - the now much-loved grand prix venue - took over.

''We have a good expectation that the F1 event (at Fuji Speedway in 2007) will be the opening of a new era of history,' Ecclestone said.

The statement made no mention of Suzuka, but F1's 75-year-old 'supremo' reportedly told a Japanese newspaper last week that the Fuji deal will likely see the existing venue drop off the calendar.

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