2004 Totally Biased Season Preview

The reviewers this time are:

RGC: Richard G. Clegg

KF: Kriss Fearon

PF: Pete Fenelon

Note that the views of the authors are not necessarily the views of their employers, their friends, the other authors (who are quite frankly, often appalled) and, this year, perhaps not any other sentient life forms in the universe. It should also be noted that the majority of this review is transcribed from the hastily scribbled notes made under the influence of a potent mix of red wine, chinese food and low calorie horlicks. Actually we spent most of our time considering what type of sex-aids the drivers would be if they were sex-aids.

PF: The eighth in a series of unstructured rants in which we express vague disappointment, blatant prejudice and a belief that there must be a better world somewhere. Most F1 previews go into balls-aching detail about Scrotum-Wartburg's new partnership deal with Andrex as their winnit-removal partner, the grommet angles on the bifurcated clart-rods, and the chances of Julio Loadsasponsorshipio at Team Desperate. We prefer character assassination, because it's F1 and thatís really soap opera, not racing. Roll on Le Mans -- four privateer R8s!

RGC: Well no disappointment from me. I'm happier than a drunk Care Bear on Prozac about the prospects for the new season. Last season saw some of the closest racing of the decade and the title going down to the wire (if only just). This year there are likely to be four teams consistently winning races and, by my count, five drivers with a chance at the championship (though Alonzo and Ralf might be somewhat outside bets) and six if Schumi breaks something mid season. There's a couple of new tracks which are actually purpose built for modern F1 cars to drive around rather than chipped from some Italian hillside for mountain goats to crawl around (as long as they don't want to pass each other). Sorry Pete, but if I want to drink all night while wondering if the lead cars are even on the same lap then Sports Cars has it. If on the other hand, I want wheel-to-wheel racing (without weight penalties) and a pinnacle of technical excellence then it's F1 every time.

New Rules

One Engine Per Weekend

PF: For "economy reasons". Er, developing a new engine that can do 800km is cheap how? Means that Ford and Ferrari are supplying identical engines to their works and customer teams (rumours that Ferrari painted the 2003GA blue, stuck an '04 engine in the back of it and called the resultant car a Sauber are officially untrue, so I wonít claim that). Has cut power slightly, though nobody's quoting figures.

RGC: No, I've got to support this one... it's no more expensive to develop an engine to do 800km and explode than it is to develop one which does 300km then explodes. There's a once only cost for the new development and then it's saving all the way. Plus the hard up teams aren't developing the engines anyway. The odd engine blow throughout the weekend is going to lead to some mixed up grids (assuming that they're keeping the "10 steps to the back and turn if it catches fire" rule). It's a sensible and cost-cutting rules change. The bottom line is that you can race with a poorly developed engine if you can't afford to develop it well. You can't race without an engine if you can't afford one at all (as uncle Tom Walkenshaw found out a few years back when he didn't pay his engine bill).

Bigger airboxes

PF: Purely for advertising space. Jesus Christ.

KF: No, really. Think of all those firms with really long names that have been discriminated against by not being able to get enough sponsorship space. Not everyone can be called something as meaningful as O2 or T3.

RGC: Next year they're mandated to print sponsorship information on the track using poster paint and potato slices cunningly affixed to the tyres. Cuts cornering speed AND increases sponsorship. That's a win-win situation.

Incompetent Test Drivers

RGC: Nobody who has actually been any good at F1 is ever allowed to be a test driver ever apparently. In a rare fit of conscientiousness I actually looked this one up. Here's the FIA Sporting Regulations for F1, section 58B

"In addition to the above all teams, other than those who finished in the top four positions of the previous year's World Championship for Constructors, will be permitted to run a third driver during both free practice sessions on the first day of practice provided :

- he is not one of the teamís nominated drivers for the Event in question ;

- he is in possession of a Super Licence ;

- he has not been a nominated driver for a Formula One team in more than six World Championship Events during the two previous World Championships."

RGC:This one just weirds me out. Were Bernie and Max drinking when they came up with this? Or has Jos Verstappen been caught shagging Mrs. Ecclestone? Actually, thinking about it, any rule which keeps Jos a little bit further from race tracks has to majorly improve safety.

PF: These professional test drivers are weird they seem to be simultaneously incredibly young and have been around forever. Look at Alex Wurz. He's only nineteen and he raced against Jim Clark.

KF: They're all so young - never mind middle aged spread, they've still got puppy fat and acne.

RGC: Would you want Jacques Villeneuve as a test driver anyway?

KF: Only for crash tests.

Two-element rear wings

PF: Cutting a bit of downforce...

RGC: Actually, it's all adding up now. They're emphasising long-distance reliability over speed, preparing less aerodynamic cars and starting to crack down on the scourge of driver competence -- this plus a relatively long name space is now allowed on the airbox. They're preparing for the entry of Eddie Stobart Racing. Surely it makes sense and the teams could raise extra cash by hauling goods on their cars.

Ferrari (Bridgestone tyres. Badoer, Burti TDs)

PF: Team Orange Schumacher continues its assault on the senses and continues to exercise my ability to stay awake during races and/or battles over the legality of the car. Very difficult to see anything other than complacency denting their ability to continue winning and boring me to sleep. Oh and you have to admire a team that lends its test driver to the team running a knock-off copy of its previous year's car as their third/reserve driver, don't you? Everyone's contract expires at the end of '06, wake me for the '07 season.

RGC: I'm not so sure... I think they're in more difficulty this year than last year. I've drunk three double Jack Daniels in an attempt to think of something interesting to say about Ferrari the best I can come up with is that the more Ross Brawn earns the more he looks like someone who sleeps in a skip behind Tescos.

KF: Now I'm beginning to realise why Ferrari have changed their red to orange over the last few years. A couple more seasons and they'll have Verstappen in the car.

PF: They've knocked time off the testing at Mugello with the new car. Mind you, they'll always do that, even if they have to shorten the track ten yards and move it three foot to the left to do so.

RGC: I wonder if Ferrari were bullied when they were little. I mean they don't like to come out and play with the other children. When all the big kids go play in Barcelona, Ferrari sulks around their private playground and we can't see how fast they really are. Is Luca Montezemelo worried that Patrick Head and Ron Dennis will shake him down for lunch money?

M Schumacher

PF: Yawn, yawn, yawn. Yes, an excellent driver. But I canít find anything interesting to say about him these days, and to be honest any driver who admits that he likes the idea of traction control, launch control, and all the gadgetry on the cars gets no sympathy from me. Yeah, probably title favourite again, but so what? Who cares?

KF: Schumi is the human form of horlicks.

RGC: Well, on the one hand, it's a terrific display of driving skills and we should consider ourselves lucky to watch motorsport history being made. On the other hand, even I'm getting tired of Schumi victories. You know he always does that podium leap at around about 3pm local time. He's done enough of them now that the earth is orbitting a little wider. He needs a new gimmick. A podium leap whistle and fart in the style of a medieval court jester. Why is he paid 25 squillion lira a second? Because, as he says on those terrible shampoo adverts, "I'm vurth it." Past all the bitching and the moaning about him winning everything, he's still clearly the best driver out there. If Schumi were a sex aid... actually he wouldn't be a sex aid as such, he'd be the type of extra thick condom they hand out at the family planning clinic. Not necessarily the most exciting tool for the task at hand but certainly a guaranteed effective solution.

KF: Yes but people use condoms for contraception not for sexual pleasure, unless they have a very specific kind of problem -- you aren't comparing like for like :-) If Schumi were a sex aid he'd go on and on and on relentlessly until he intimidated you into having an orgasm. The batteries would never dare wear down. Then on maybe the 14th or 15th usage he'd run rampant on your sex aids shelf knocking all the the others out of the way.

R Barrichello

PF: Standing in the last-chance saloon at Ferrari, and probably approaching a career crossroads. Racing driver or best-paid whore in town? Can he go hell-for-leather for himself and beat Schumacher, establishing himself as a credible team leader and title contender? Aerial bacon, ladies and gentlemen, aerial bacon. When he's on form Rubens is a wonderful driver to watch, he does it with delicacy and grace and incredible speed. And when heís not on form he grumbles around about half a second off Michael's pace and catches the pieces. Remember that song Lennon wrote about McCartney called "How Do You Sleep?" - well I'm thinking that applies to Rubens, where's his pride?

RGC: You're just trying to bait me. "How do you sleep?" Well, I just put on a video of the 2002 season or the last 6 hours of any given Audi cruise to victory at Le Mans. Apparently late last year he finally learned to use both feet while driving. Now, call me super critical (since I'm a man whose motor racing achievements total a third place karting with my mates from the pub) but what the fuck was he doing with his time these last ten years? Doh!

KF: God bless Rubens. He's a very nice man. He's looking a bit podgy though: clearly less aerodynamic than Schumi. Perhaps the Ferrari is designed for someone with a pointy aero enhanced chin and that's why it doesn't really suit Rubens so much. He also has a really lopsided grin that reminds me of Mika.

PF: That grin looks like someone who's had ECT. He should go through puberty and then he'd look less like Ian Hislop.

KF: If Rubens were a sex aid, he'd be a vibrator that could also make a nice cup of tea. Comforting but not really particularly arousing.

RGC: For the sake of form, I feel obliged to point out that he is by far the most successful team mate Schumi has had in F1. He regularly outqualifies Schumi which no other team-mate has ever done. Also he is a nice guy and loves his mother.

McLaren-Mercedes (Michelin tyres. Wurz and de la Rosa TDs)

PF: Oh dear. Dropped the ball a little by not bringing MP4/18 out to play last year, arguably costing Kimi the championship. MP4/19 is disappointing in testing, and Ronzo already talks of a radically altered "B" version mid-season -- there are those of us who wonder if MP4/19 is just MP4/18B anyway. There just doesn't seem to be a sense of urgency to McLaren these days, probably spending more effort developing that new Mercedes supercar and moving to Ronzo's secret missile base at Lydden. Wins will probably be on the cards. Championships? I don't think so. Maybe when Juan Pablo Montoya joins next year he'll fire them up by forcing Kimi to raise his game even higher.

RGC:Talking of balls dropping, I hope Kimi's spots have cleared up this year. It's like you're growing up with the drivers these days.

KF: I'm keeping a dignified silence on the subject of McLaren.

RGC: Gah... McLaren... every year it annoys me that someone as cool as Bruce McLaren has given his name to a team so relentlessly monotonous. Ron Dennis exudes anti-charisma. It's like he was cut off from human contact and raised by middle management. He's the John Major of Formula one. The only man ever to register as "please reboot and try again" in the McLaren Human Performance Laboratory. Apparently he was born in Woking. He decided to be a major player in one of the most dynamic and exciting of international sports. And where does he site his base? Woking... To me, that says all you need to know about McLaren. They're a journey from one part of Woking to another part of Woking. They're a particularly uninteresting shade of grey. They're the opposite of exciting. Stop them before they bore again. And what's with that car? The shrunken nose makes me think it's been to the same plastic surgeon as Michael Jackson.

Kimi Raikkonnen

PF: Well what can you say? He looks like Mika, talks like Mika and drives like Mika. As such heís slotted perfectly into the McLaren setup and Wavy Davy probably goes home every night sticking pins into an effigy of his team-mate (the secret, David, is to drive faster). Let down by an old car, unreliability and some dubious strategy choices last year, Kimi "on it" was one of the most scintillating drivers on the grid, real Champion material once McLaren dig themselves out of their rut. I await 05 with interest, JPM vs Kimi at McLaren sounds absolutely legendary.

RGC: So, he's Finnish, do you fancy him Kriss?

KF: No. There's no really fanciable drivers these days. They all seem to be developing wierd, sprouty facial hair like you used to get when you shaved in the shower without a mirror. And those constant comparisons with Mika Hakkinen must be irritating. Not exactly a comfort for Kimi that his own boss can't remember his name - they're not interchangeable dammit.

RGC: He's already complaining that he needs more horsepower and the season hasn't started yet. McLaren may be a year late with their cars but they're getting their excuses out early. If I were Mercedes I'd be asking not to have my name printed on that engine. "No, no no, it's the McLaren Mercator, was built by the atlas people. We honestly had nothing to do with it." I find it hard to picture this spotty little herbert as a potential world champion though. I mean he's not in long trousers yet and his overalls are always too big. I reckon Ronzo's got him wearing old Mika's hand-me-downs.

PF: Ah, Mika Hakkinen. He was the Jack Dee of Formula One.

David Coulthard

PF: Close the door on the way out. DCís epic stint with McLaren finishes at the end of this season, and I donít see anywhere else for him to go that will match his salary and performance expectations. Has become a de-facto No. 2, whatever Ronzo says. Future career moves awaited with interest - may involve Jaguar or something equally farcical. "Why 2004 will be DCís year" has yet to appear in Autosport; first cuckoo of spring not yet heard.

RGC: "2004 not DC's year" "Two headed goat born to woman in Hartlepool" I'm worried... "This could be DC's year." is one of the constants of the universe. I feel unsettled not to hear it. I'm sure SOMEBODY said it could be DC's year. *Frantic flip through back issues of F1 Racing Comic* Ah, here... Apparently Mika Hakkinen says that DC is a "potential champion" - though he tactfully doesn't add the word "pillock". It'll be "man overboard" at the good ship McLaren next year. Someone has to make way for the incoming Bruiser from Bogota. I think the race for a seat in a McLaren will be another second place for DC's cabinet of mediocrity. If he starts stealing office supplies now and sneaks parts home in his trousers he'll be a very attractive employee for Toyota or Jaguar. "Free bargeboards with every driver."

PF: He's a whinging old tugger. I hope he likes Eddie Jordan because that's where I see him next year.

RGC: If he were a sex toy he'd be an enormous grinning blow up doll. Possibly one which said pre-programmed phrases when you pulled a cord in his back. "Oh yes, Mr. Dennis, you're so good." (Oooh, I feel quite queasy having thought of that).


Williams-BMW (Michelin tyres. Pizzonia and Gene TDs)

PF: Radical, ugly, groundbreaking - just some of the things people have said about Patrick Head. Oh and this yearís car looks like an old Kitchiner F5000 at the front. Seems to be performing OK in testing, although Iíd say itís lagging Ferrari slightly. Certainly looks like nothing else on the grid. Williams has more test drivers than you can shake a stick at - Gene (yay!), Pizzonia (yay!), Rosberg jr (yay!) and Piquet jr (boo hiss) all due to do miles for them. Can we just have six Williamses with all their drivers in (well, maybe four with T-cars for Piquet and Schumacher)?

RGC: They appear to have designed the world's first saber-toothed F1 car. If I could do computational fluid dynamics in my head, I'd probably be working for an F1 team rather than just writing about it so I have no idea if it's a better design but it's good to see something so obviously different. It's got fangs! Actually, this car would really suit that snake livery Jordan ran in 97.

KF: Williams would never do anything so tacky. Think of the unnecessary expense of a complicated paint job. It's not like they're notoriously generous.

RGC: Seriously, for a minute, I think this is going to be a bloody good car. We know the engine is sound. We know the constructor is good. The testing form has been excellent. Williams have to be my tip for champion constructor. They're desparate to win. They have two good drivers and all the motivation. They're one of the few teams who are there because they care for the sport not the money or the marketting opportunity. This must be the first time since the Gravel Brothers and Alan Jones were competing in the upper paleolithic that there's no Williams world champ driver lining up to race. That has to hurt them.

KF: If Williams produced a vibrator it wouldn't actually excite you, it would just shout at you to get a real man.

Juan-Pablo Montoya

PF: The hard-man of F1, still making too many mistakes but still one of the fastest and most exciting drivers to watch. He has to settle down and make a serious championship bid, but will he be shut out at Williams this year because he might take knowledge to McLaren? They say not, but... Sadly, I don't see JPM as a title contender this year, I think it's between Kimi and Michael with outside shots for Ralf and Fernando.

RGC: At the risk of appearing politically incorrect, he's also the 'tard man of F1. How many race wins is he going to piss away this year when enthusiasm overcomes adhesion? Actually, Juan is a bit moody -- some races he's "balls to the wall", some races he's "balls further than the wall and actually into the gravel trap" and others it's "his bat and ball and he won't play unless he can win so he'll drive around at a moderate pace thank you". I think he has hormone issues --- it would explain the puppy fat too. This move to McLaren is weird. Apparently after Frank asked him to hold station there was what Ronzo would call a "toys pram misconfiguration problem scenario" and suddenly it's "Williams it was really nothing" and he's off to team tedium at a vastly increased salary. It's a sideways move at best. He is not a McLaren driver. As for team orders, at McLaren the rule is "To finish first you must first be Finnish" so I don't think he's improved things on that front either." A questionable move, but then again, he gets more money and who can tell whether they'll be faster or slower than Williams in '05?

KF: Yes, but on those criteria Senna wasn't a McLaren driver either.

PF: He's a born psychopath and therefore naturally a Williams driver.

RGC: I love the way he's been taught english by mechanics. "Now conjugate the verb fuck" "I fuck you fuck he fucks we fuck you fuck they fuck." "Now decline the noun fuck." I want to see this guy win. An 18 rated driver - may contain violence and sexual swear words. If JPM were a sex aid he'd be an oversized rubber dildo: a bit thicker and chubbier than you'd really want but there's no nonsense.

Ralf Schumacher

PF: Alas rumours linking him to Jordan were not about a move back to a team that befits his over-hyped and rather mediocre talents, but instead were allegations that the driver, rumoured to be a tad light on his loafers, has been putting it to some bird with big plastic knockers. Oh, and he will probably win a GP or two this year when the cards fall right, but to be honest I couldn't give a toss, he likes Tilke circuits, he's beneath contempt. Apparently thinks he's worth $24.5m this year. I wonder what Frank thinks.

RGC: He's already paid a damn fortune by Williams' standards. I find that a little hard to understand.

KF: He's got his brother's consistently. Unfortunately, he's consistently mediocre.

RGC: I don't understand all this fuss about him being gay. Apart from a splash of pink on his helmet where does this rumour come from? Is he gay?

KF: Supposedly he had a fling with Jordan the model years ago when he was little and they were both working for Jordan the team. She told all the papers about it and frightened him away. Whatever happened between them, he certainly managed to piss her off. There's a fantastic shot of her in F1 Racing of the period with a face like thunder, giving him the finger. Which at least put paid to any rumours she'd had botox.

RGC: Still, he's got to be an outside chance for champion this year.

PF: I hope he enjoys DTM because that's where I see his career going. If he's champion I'll start watching... some sport which is really boring.

KF: Golf.

PF: Golf.

Renault (Michelin tyres. Franck Montagny TD.)

PF: Abandoned the wide-angle engine, gone right back to basics with a 72-degree unit allegedly based on the old Playtime/Supertech/Mecachrome/Renault/"Flav sells 'em, we just put new cam covers on 'em" from 1906 when Renault won the first GP - oops, sorry, from about 2000. Chassis looks very good and is perfoming superbly, Alonso has been improving race by race over the last season and I think, if the new engine holds up, he's going to be a major factor in the championship. Mike Gasgoyne has flown the roost for megabucks (about 6.5 of them) at Toyota, so we'll have to see how his loss hurts them... Renault will be supplying another team from next year, so that's Minardi's engines sorted I reckon.

KF: Apparently he's been cheating on his pregnant girlfriend, Heidi Klum.

RGC: I wonder if she got pregnant because he put her cap on backwards?

PF: See, the man is morally reprehensible. He should be given a stop-go penalty. He's had more models than Airfix.

RGC: I've a horrible image of him having sex with his baseball cap on backwards while smoking...

KF: Smoking... now that's not something you'd want to do during sex.

PF: With his nasty fake tan running... [Debate ensues about whether or not it really is a fake tan, snipped for the sake of the feelings of the audience.]

PF: Shudder... he's the David Dickinson of formula one.

RGC: Cheap as chips.

Fernando Alonso

PF: THE man to watch in '04, I reckon. He's got the speed, the style, and it looks like now he's got the car. Fernando's skill and confidence grew race by race last season and he looks like a Champion in the making now he's broken his duck.

RGC: But that horrible tufty beard... [A discussion of the origins of the phrase 'Dirty Sanchez' snipped for the sake of everyone involved.]

KF: Oh yes, we approve of him. [General agreement.] Fast, entertaining and a nutter. He fears nothing.

RGC: Including high speed collisions with other cars in the rain. This is not always a good thing.

KF: He's really trying though. An outside chance to be champion.

Jarno Trulli

PF: Another year where Jarno will work like a dog on fitness, put in loads of miles of testing, get the car set up beautifully, put in scintillating qualifying laps, and get passed by about six cars in the first three laps of the race and then pootle around to a quiet sixth or seventh if the car holds up without doing that dangerous Max-disapproved "overtaking" thing. Really not delivering on his early promise, although I can see why Renault want to hang on to him rather than letting another team have one of the most methodical and dedicated workers in F1. But he does feel like the kid who worked his nuts off for four mediocre O-levels at school and won the prize for effort.

RGC: If it was horse trials he'd win. He's the best turned out driver.

KF: I don't know, Fisi has nicer sweaters. He works harder than the other drivers. If they had a race with no engines at all then he'd win.

RGC: He led a race once, in a Prost back in about 97. His career has been on a bit of a slide since.

PF: I wonder if Autosport Italia runs "This could be Jarno's year" every year?

KF: He's a great qualifier but not so good in the race.

RC: He should be sponsored by TrafficMaster - it's best if you completely avoid traffic with Jarno Trulli.

KF: If there were a Jarno Trulli vibrator it would only do foreplay.

B*A*R-Honda (Michelin Tyres. No TD signed as yet.)

PF: Finally free of the lingering stench of death and despair that Villeneuve brought to the team, so let's see what they can do without the paddock's most accomplished whinger - and remember Jacques, you brought it upon yourself. Chassis is testing well. Engine is... not. In fact the Honda engine seems to be a bit of a disaster. Is Dave Richards more interested in rally TV coverage than his F1 team? Who knows... and BAR need to start looking for a major replacement sponsor soon...

RGC: That "barf one" corporate identity seems appropriate to me.

PF: I like Dave Richards, he sacked Villeneuve. He reminds me of Swiss Tony.

KF: Yeah, they both made most of their money in sales.

RGC: "Sacking Jacques Villeneuve is a lot like fucking over a not-that-beautiful man." I don't understand all this talk about a "concept car." with their testing. What is the "concept"?

PF: I think the concept is to scrounge together a bunch of old bits and use them for testing because the real car isn't ready.

RGC: Sort of "Scrapheap Challenge" of F1? Still, the testing times look good I think they're majorly on the up this year.

KF: Either that or they're sitll looking for sponsorship.

Jenson Button

PF: In between his career cutting ads for those BBC channels nobody watches and denying that he's going to Williams to replace JPM, Jensonís been putting in some good times when the BAR holds together. Heís been around a few years now, had some good races last season (particularly at Indy) and is starting to look like he takes his racing seriously. I wouldn't be surprised if he returned to Williams, certainly. This season will be a test of his character -- his first season as team leader. Let's hope that the politics at BAR have died down a little now that the chief troublemaker's out on his arse. Fer sure.

KF: I think he'll finally get on the podium this year. He will if the car holds together anyway.

RGC: His BBC TV advert campaign fails the plank test. He's completely wooden and I'm ground down beyond tolerance by it. It occurs to me that there's only two British drivers in F1 this year. Where have they all gone?

PF: Well there's four of them in the Injury Racing League.

RGC: Much as I dislike Jenson, I think he's the perfect each way bet for champion this year. I don't give him a prayer of winning but there's a great chance he'll be in the top three. That car looks significantly different and is giving very impressive testing times which *I* believe.

Takuma Sato

PF: Honda's favoured driver and therefore probably key to the continuation of the engine deal. Looks just like the guy who ran the baguette stall on the platforms of Waterloo International station, so anyone wanting a sarnie there this year is probably out of luck. Taku-san will be blindingly quick on several occasions, blindingly stupid on a few others, and generally entertaining to watch. I know it's a clichť, but every Japanese driver is deemed to be "the best their nation has yet produced". Sato might well be, and I think if he calms down a bit he could become a regular points-scorer.

RGC: Oh no it's Takuma Sato.

PF: [Long discussion of 70s comedy "Oh no it's Selwyn Froggit" snipped for the sake of everyone's patience.]

RGC: "Don't open that engine cover our Taku. Things fall out." So why is he back?

PF: Honda! Plus he's continuing a tradition of mediocre Japanese drivers.

RGC: And continuing a tradition, I feel obliged to add the name 'Taki Inuoe' - we just don't get competitors of his calibre these days. I blame raised standards.

Sauber-Petronas (Bridgestone tyres. Neel Jani TD.)

PF: Running a car that is really really really not just an F2003-GA painted blue with a 2004 engine and gearbox --- it's totally different! I mean, it's got a slightly different airbox and it's got the wheelbase extension Ferrari were going to fit to the F2003-GA anyway. The FIA have told us it is not a copy and who are we to distrust them? Do they not have fragrance? "Officially", Sauber are working more closely with Ferrari. B team. Neel Jani was signed as test driver, but Ferrari would prefer Sauber to use Luca Badoer. So theyíll be using Luca Badoer. Doesnít this shit ever annoy you? Bend over, grease up, Maranelloís behind you.

RC: They've just built F1's biggest windtunnel.

KF: Powered by Eddie Irvine? He's not doing much these days.

RC: I presume they're using it for something other than wafting letters of thanks towards Maranello. Nah... sorry, I don't buy this conspiracy theory stuff. Sauber has consciously taken the decision to design a car which looks like the Ferrari since they are using their engines and the Ferrari looks quite rapid. Also, they are on the same tyres so it makes sense. But this conspiracy that it is last year's ferrari is ill conceived nonsense. What benefit are Ferrari supposed to get from running extensive tests on last year's car? It'd be an inefficient way to get some extra tyre testing done. Or are we to believe that Sauber nicked their design or that Ferrari handed it over in the spirit of open-source? It doesn't make sense on any level to build a huge wind tunnel and then copy a car from someone with no motive to let you look at their design.

KF: If Eddie Irvine were a vibrator the audio unit telling you how fantastic it was would use up all the batteries before you'd finished.

Giancarlo Fisichella

PF: Well, he's had his one and only GP win, and now he gets to drive a Ferrari. OK, it's last year's and it's painted blue, but that's as near as Fissi will ever get to a drive for the Scuderia. Lovely bloke and all that but...

RGC: Why why why is he at Sauber? What is going on with this man's career? He's driven for every crap grand prix team going. He's some kind of mad Tour de Construire de Grands Epreuves Crapeux.

KF: What a shame Arrows folded before he got a chance. His career is one step forward three steps back.

RGC: Yes, a career like a naff 80s goth dance.

Felipe Massa

PF: A future Ferrari No. 2, I reckon. Still wild, still young, and very, very hungry for success. The man who'll blow Rubens' doors off and send him into retirement when they're partnered at the Scuderia for 2007, I reckon.

RGC: You're just trying to bait me again. Certainly the phrase "number two" sprang to mind when describing his driving last time he was allowed to play with the big boys. Faster to be slower and calmer to be not stuck into the bloody wall all the damn time.

Toyota (Michelin Tyres. No TD specified as yet.)

PF: Cheats never prosper, but Toyota seem to. This lot were chucked out of the World Rally Championship for dodgy turbos, remember. And last year - well, half of the 2002 Ferrari design data turned up on the Toyota LAN (but at least they stole it rather than being given it as a charitable donation by a suspicious short Frenchman in a red polo shirt - no, we wonít mention Sauber copying Ferrari again, not until the Sauber entry). Coincidence? Yeah yeah. Ove Andersson was in charge of TTE when they were cheating in rallies; he was in charge of their GP effort... Anyway, this year's car is not a Ferrari ripoff, and it looks the business, so let's hope they reapply for admission to the non-cheating part of the human race and have a decent season, 'cos I like both of their drivers.

RGC: Sorry, but this is evidence that even David Blunkett wouldn't go to court with. No Ferrari data was found on those computers. By Sauber standards it doesn't even look that much like a Ferrari.

KF: I don't like them because they sacked McNish.

PF: I hope the arrival of Mike Gasgoyne is the enema that they need to get them moving again. And did I mention that they cheat?

Cristiano Da Matta

PF: Had a pretty good rookie season. Didnít make many mistakes and generally on a par with Panis as far as race pace was concerned. The two drivers work well together and Da Matta seems to go about racing pretty sensibly.

RGC: Not a bad rookie season. He scored more points than Panis but was a worse qualifier. Which is pretty much like being shorter and less easy going than "Grumpy". Brilliant on his day though.

Olivier Panis

PF: I have an immense soft spot for Panis, who I think is the most under-rated of the elder statesmen in F1. In my alternate universe, Panis won the 1997 World Championship and successfully defended it in a Prost-Mercedes a couple of times. That didn't happen though, and one of the best testers and racers (and worst qualifiers, sadly) in the business is anchoring the Toyota team, helping them to achieve a measure of respectability. Still can't qualify for toffee - the team should send him out and tell him to do a couple of steady race laps, in which case he'd probably knock 0.5s off his best time and put it on pole In this year's car I reckon he's good for a podium or two.

KF: You always say the same about him. I can't imagine anything good happening to him at this stage of his career.

RGC: He's a pensioner in F1 driver terms.

Jaguar (Michelin tyres. TD Bjorn Wirdheim.)

PF: This week's Jaguar management have kept a decent driver on, which is a start. Unfortunately they've hired someone with no track record or indeed discernible talent (but about $6.5m of sponsorship from Dieter Mateschitz) to drive the second car. Ford are cutting the Jag budget. This year's car apparently has significant problems. It doesnít look good.

KF: Well, they may be cats but I've nothing to say about them.

RGC: Who is in charge of Jaguar today then? [PF reminds him.] Oh yes, David Pitchford and Tony Purnell. They've been there over a year.

KF: Yes, but that's seven years in cat years.

PF: And like cats, they take money and turn it into shit.

RGC: And it usually ends up in the kitty litter. Still, at least it's made their merchandising cheap nowadays.

Mark Webber

PF: A great find, Webber's much faster than his car, doesnít grumble and gets on with the job in a decidedly old-fashioned manner - no temper tantrums, no prima-donna behaviour and as long as it's got four wheels on it heíll have a damn good go with it. He's the kind of stoic driver that Jaguar need (allied to the fact that he's probably fairly cheap). I'd love to see him in a Williams ASAP. Jaguar is a waste of his talents.

RGC: An ideal Williams driver though he's a lot more softly spoken than Alan Jones.

PF: That's like saying "a lot less aggressive than Hitler." He's a born Williams driver.

KF: Which is handy since they're looking for one next year. Although he has the aerodynamic chin to be a Ferrari driver too.

Christian Klien

PF: The most flattering thing the team could say about him was that after his first test session he knew what the buttons on the steering wheel did. I feel no urge to discuss Mr Klien further as his modest European F3 performances were nothing to write home about and he's only there because Mateschitz wanted a German-speaking driver. Bjorn Wirdheim will be in the car by the middle of the European season and Klien will be back playing with the buttons on his Fisher-Price activity centre. Unlikely to trouble the scorer.

KF: If other drivers practice for F1 by playing racing games then he probably practices using "Simon Says".

RGC: Unlikely to Klien up. Not going to be showing anyone a Klien pair of heels. Could be Kliening out his locker before the end of the season. (Repeat to fade).

Minardi (Bridgestone Tyres. No TD specified as yet.)

PF: Remember when you were a kid and you'd crashed up a load of Airfix kits and had wings left over from one, caterpillar tracks from another, and rocket boosters from yet another one, and you put them together to make some bizarre and unlikely sort of transportation? Well, Paul Stoddart bought Tom Walkinshaw's crap Arrows chassis, tested them for a bit last year, and seems to have merged some features from them (like being slow?) into his 2004 Minardi. Rumours that there's a Frankenstein's Monster-like bolt through the the car holding the top half on are entirely... rumours. Minardi actually have someone to beat this year, now Jaguar have also gone down the no-hope-pay-driver route. Itíll be nice for Baumgartner to have someone to battle with!

RGC: So anyone think they'll get a point this year?

KF: Yes. But I said that last year and I was wrong.

PF: Yes.

KF: If Minardi were a sex-aid they'd be a badly photocopied leaflet telling you you might enjoy sitting on a washing machine or riding a bike over cobbles.

Zsolt Baumgartner

PF: Z is for Zsolt. I can find nothing more positive to say about Baumgartner apart from the fact that the man has never won any kind of motor race in his life. And heís now reached the pinnacle of the sport. Fucking scandalous. Next.

Gianmaria Bruni

PF: Gimmi Bruni has exactly what Minardi are looking for: money. I have seen him several times in F3 and... well, Iíve seen more impressive drivers who canít even get a top-class F3 drive this year. Will probably outperform Baumgartner, might get ahead of Klien, but really, heís not ready to be an F1 driver yet.

RGC: Name sounds like it's Italian for John Brown... his career lies mouldering in the grave.

Jordan (Bridgestone Tyres. TD T. Glock.)

Limping on into 2004, the least likely GP winners of last year (no way was Brazil on merit) have a car that's... slow and looks just like last year's, except with less sponsorship on it. Jos Verstappen's manager, the legendary Huub Rothengatter, was too greedy and meant that they couldn't take the gravelmeister - which is at least a small blessing. Jordan look skint. I think a change of ownership is imminent, and expect the team to be sold to Chinese or Middle-Eastern interests during this season.

RGC: What the fuck happened to Jordan? '99 they were challenging for champion. They're the downhill career champions of F1.

PF: God, it gets worse. Every year his drivers are someone on the verge of an early retirement and the youth with the most money in their pocket from the juvenile offenders unit. They should be sponsored by Capital One -- the crap credit card for people who are too irresponsible to be trusted with money.

RGC: I have a Capital One card. *scowl*. Yes, it's Jordan "Courtcase Pending" with "Contractual Obligation" sponsorship. Honestly, "never sue a sponsor" should be written with "never kill a customer" as one of those golden rules. If Jordan were a sex aid... actually, Jordan aren't a sex aid, but Eddie has a mate who will hire you an electric toothbrush for only a few shekels.

KF: It wouldn't surprise me if they did have a line of sex toys, they've merchandised most things.

Nick Heidfeld

PF: McLaren once set up a Formula 3000 team just to get their hands on Nick Heidfeld. Now he's mediocrity personified. Failed to deliver in F1, really - never demonstrated enough of a mix of speed, aggression and racecraft to excel. Probably sticks pins in effigies of Kimi on a regular basis. Very hard to think of Jordan as a promotion for Nick, I think it's his last-chance saloon as far as F1 goes and in fact that's where I think he's bound - saloon car racing in the DTM once Eddie goes bust.

RGC:Destined to end his days as one of McLaren's fourteen test drivers I reckon.

PF: His career was more of a flush in the pan than a flash in the pan.

Giorgio Pantano

PF: A good F3000 driver who will probably push the EJ14 as hard as he can, but... it's Jordan and their cars fall apart and are slow. Could be a seriously bad career move. These days I reckon you're better off testing for a big team rather than taking a race seat with a bunch of chancers like Jordan.

RGC: F1 Magazine devoted a two page article to how he should be in F1. Mind you, they were contractually obliged to say that about someone for two pages every issue.

PF: Shame he hasn't made it to F1 yet then.

Goodbye and Adieu and Farewell

Jacques Villeneuve

PF:Still whingeing. Still on the edge. Fer sure. Yes, BAR were crap, but you could've walked. Made a rod for his own back.

RGC: Vanished from F1, like his hair. Over the hill for sure.

KF: At least magazine editors won't have to crop the top of his head from photos now to hide the bald spot. If JV was a vibrator he would loosen your clothing and make a lot of noise but not do much else.

Justin Wilson

PF: Very tall, and Jonathan Palmer made lots of money out of him. Presumably now relegated to doing corporate days round Bedford Autodrome in the little Palmer-Jag sports car, polishing JP's road cars, licking his boots, etc.

Jos Verstappen

PF: I had a recurrent nightmare for several weeks, every time a team came close to announcing that they'd finalised their driver lineup for 2004 I was afraid itíd be Jos. His sponsors (who make tacky, crappy computer products) thought that even Minardi was too tacky and crappy for him, which really is saying something, and they were having none of Eddie Jordan either. Gone, forgotten, do not trouble us again.

RGC: We say that ever year. Even the comeback jokes have worn thin. His career is like a James Bond film. Just when you think he's tied down with a laser aimed at his goolies suddenly he's off and tugging round at the back with a bunch of fifth-rate no hopers. Let's hope this time his racing career is down the Huub tube for good.

Antonio Pizzonia

PF: Oh boy I was wrong there. He'll be back. Too gutted to say much, but Jaguar was a shambles last year and the boy was too complacent.

RGC: Pizzonia delivery fails to show up. Um... I'm left with the desire to phone Dominos and complain.

Ralph Firman

PF: Back to doing fibreglass lay-up for his dad at Van Diemen, probably. A driver who added nothing to F1 apart from moderate microphone skills and the pocket money his dad gave to EJ to keep his drive. Not even mediocre, I'm afraid.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen

PF: Well, Agent Mulder wanders off into the sunset after too many seasons, the last few of which no bugger watched. And no Gillian Anderson. Poor soul. Off to that big damage repair shop in the sky, the DTM, where heíll be clanking into the likes of Alesi and half the Joest sports car team. Go for it!

Nick Kiesa

RGC: Gone and, apparently, forgotten.

KF: Who?

The all Important Bet

This year, we have the following "Richard and Pete go for a meal" bet:

For the meal: RC bets that Rubens will outqualify Michael in at least five races (including races where Schumi fails to qualify for whatever reasons).

For the drinks: PF bets that Toyota will score more points than Jaguar.

For the tip: PF bets that Jordan will miss at least one race due to financial or political reasons (not just the drivers' stuffing cars into the wall or failing to qualify).

For the record, RC won 2/3 last year but lost the all important meal part of the bet AGAIN!

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