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Williams gearbox problems frustrate Button's F1 bid

One slot ended in frustration on Friday when mechanical problems prevented him from stating his claim for the second seat at BMW-Williams. The 19-year-old, who is set to become the youngest British F1 driver if he impresses the team this weekend, was scheduled to complete several laps in a morning session, but only managed to finish one lap before the gearbox failed. Returning in the afternoon, the young hopeful was beset with more electronic and gearbox problems. By the end of the day, the team had only succeeded in completing three laps. "The car stopped nearly as soon as he (Button) got out,'' said one onlooker in the pit-lane. ``It was through no fault of his own. The gearbox was just not talking to the engine. Williams changed the gearbox and later Jenson went out again, but the problems continued. He was finding it very frustrating.'' James Robinson, senior operations engineer, said: ``The problems were caused by software which then led to gearbox problems. We eventually got the car back out in the afternoon, but were still experiencing some engine problems. Obviously, this has not been a very good day for us. But we will attempt to resume normal duties on Saturday with Jenson and Bruno Junquiera, following some extensive work on Friday night.'' Brazilian Junquiera, who is also vying for the seat, will get his first run after spending Friday sitting on the pit- wall. Confirmed BMW-Williams driver Ralf Schumacher will attend on Sunday before the team moves to Barcelona for more testing from January 19-21.

Todt lauds Irvine for surviving Schumacher pressure
MADONNA DI CAMPIGLIO, Italy, Jan 14 - Ferrari's sporting director Jean Todt praised Britain's Eddie Irvine on Friday for coping with the pressure of being Michael Schumacher's team mate last season. "Eddie Irvine worked very hard for four years and it wasn't always easy,'' Todt told reporters during Ferrari's traditional winter break in the Italian Dolomite mountains. We all know the good and the bad about being at Ferrari and that includes being the team mate of an enormous talent like Michael Schumacher. "It was to Irvine's credit that he handled the pressure right through to the final race." Irvine and Schumacher often appeared at odds as pressure built at Ferrari towards the dramatic end of last season. The Northern Irishman emerged as a title contender after Schumacher broke his leg at Silverstone in July and when he returned the German found himself in the unusual position of support driver. Irvine left for Jaguar after losing out to Finn Mika Hakkinen in the drivers' championship but helping Ferrari to the constructors' title. Todt said he expected a closer relationship between Schumacher and Ferrari's new Brazilian pilot Rubens Barrichello. "They both love football and their families,'' the Frenchman added.

FIA looking at helmet safety


BIRMINGHAM, England, Jan 14 -Motor racing's world governing body is working to develop safer crash helmets in Formula One and would also like to replace controversial gravel traps. "There is a major research programme going on at the moment,'' International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Max Mosley said after delivering a lecture at an international motorsport show here on Friday. "We intend to evolve a completely different level of crash helmet, a much safer device.'' Mosley said that the FIA was analysing a range of helmets worn by drivers in crashes and was combining that with information from accident data recorders for the first time. 'How the visor works and the whole structure are being looked at very closely,'' he said. Paul Stewart, a former driver and the son of former champion Jackie who now runs the Jaguar team, told Reuters that helmets had long been a concern for him. He said that in many accidents, television showed the visors flying open after the first impact and before the cars had come to a halt. Stewart, whose father was a pioneer campaigner for safety in Formula One and an early user of seat belts in races, said it was a danger that appeared not to have been recognised. OPEN VISORS "You've got all this head protection around you and yet you've got this thing that opens up and your eyes are open to any debris or anything,'' he said. Stewart said Formula One drivers liked to open their visors when coming into the pits and any solution needed to take that into consideration. "We need to have something that's a reasonably practical device that will unlock the visor to open it up which the drivers could do with their gloves on,'' he said. Gravel traps were criticised after Michael Schumacher's Ferrari sped across one and speared the tyre wall during the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in July. The German broke his leg in the accident which had a major impact on the outcome of the season. "We've come to the conclusion that we'd like something better but that's as far as it goes,'' said Mosley. ``It's very difficult to find something that's ideal in all circumstances.'' He also confirmed that he remained opposed to traction control despite the majority of teams being in favour of legalising it in Formula One. TRACTION CONTROL "The teams want to bring it back in but we're increasingly coming to the view that would be a mistake,'' he said. "If we were to allow electronics, cars would virtually drive themselves very, very quickly and we have to ask ourselves is that what we want?'' he added. ``And if it isn't, where do we draw the line? "The logical place to draw the line is traction control and that is where we have drawn it at the moment.'' Mosley also revealed the world body's conclusions about the spectacular flying crash suffered by Mercedes driver Peter Dumbreck at last year's Le Mans 24 Hours race. He said the crash, in which Dumbreck's car lifted off the track and flew into trees during the race after Australian Mark Webber's Mercedes had also flipped twice in practice, was due to a combination of factors. They were the way the cars were set up, the undulation of the track at one key point and the high kerb which the car had struck combined with an updraft from a car in front. "I don't think we'll see that problem again,'' Mosley said. ``But it was very alarming and we were somewhat critical of the Le Mans people for allowing the car to start.''

Button not ready for F1 - ex-champion Scheckter

BIRMINGHAM, England, Jan 13 - British teenager Jenson Button is not ready for Formula One and could damage his prospects by entering the fray too early, former world champion Jody Scheckter said on Thursday. Button, 19, is being considered as a possible replacement for Italian Alex Zinardi at Williams and is due to test for the team in Spain at the weekend along with 23-year-old Brazilian Bruno Junqueira. The one who impresses the most could find himself as German Ralf Schumacher's team mate when the new season starts in Australia on March 12. South African Scheckter, champion in 1979, whose own 19-year-old son Tomas is a bright prospect, said Button was the only driver he saw in Formula Three last season with the potential to shine in the top category. But he was still not polished enough. ``It's an experience thing more than an age thing,'' said the South African, still the last driver to win the championship for Ferrari. ``Although Jenson has got Formula One potential...I think he made too many mistakes this year to really be ready for Formula One. ``He could get in and not do well enough this year and find himself gone forever. That's the gamble they need to take.'' FUTURE IN YOUTH
Scheckter entered Formula One aged 22 and he conceded that, in Button's position, he would have taken the chance because Formula One is so hard to break into. But he would not want Tomas, the younger of his two sons, to enter Formula One in 2000. ``In reality it does not make any difference if he gets there at 19 or 22. It's really how successsful he is going to be when he gets there,'' he said. Scheckter said the opportunity presented to Button could also be seen as a new trend in Formula One. ``There's a change in the mood of Forumula One where they say we need some fresh blood now. We need the next superstar and we are taking chances,'' he said. Frank Williams told AutoSport magazine this week: ``One reason I want this test to happen is that a lot of us felt like idiots when Eddie Jordan turned up with Michael (Schumacher) at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1991. ``We had all been sleeping and he was wide awake. I don't intend to allow that to happen again for the sake of a test. It could be a waste of time, but he might be a great driver.'' Scheckter said his son had the potential to be better than he was. ``I'd be very surprised if Tomas is not in Formula One in the next three years,'' he predicted. "He's very technical and very good at sorting the car out. The great drivers fit into that category.'' FERRARI GET IT RIGHT
Scheckter also predicted that Schulamcher would be stronger than ever this season, particularly with the new policy of granting his Brazilian team mate Rubens Barrichello equal status at the start of the season. "I've always said that Eddie Irvine was not strong enough at Ferrari,'' he said of the Brazilian's predecessor. ``I think Barrichello will be faster and push Michael more. "Michael is not going to crumble. If anything, he will make fewer mistakes and do a better job. ``I think the way they are going about it is the correct way, it looks more that (Ferrari's Luca di) Montezemolo is running the team and Schumacher's not now.''
Minardi to use Fondmetal engines in 2000

FAENZA, Italy, Jan 13 - Italian Formula One team Minardi said on Thursday its engines would be developed by Fondmetal next season following Ford's decision to supply the Stewart team only. Minardi confirmed Spaniard Marc Gene as its lead driver but said it had yet to decide who would partner him. ``A few candidates are still in the frame for the second drive and a decision is expected to be taken by the end of the month,'' the team said in a statement. Brazilian Max Wilson or Argentine Norberto Fontana is expected to be named. Minardi said it had signed a sponsorship deal with Spain's Telefonica (TEF.MC)(TEF.PA) and would present its MO2 car during the first half of February. The team will be called Telefonica Minardi Fondmetal. Minardi used Cosworth-prepared Ford engines last season when they scored their first F1 points for almost four years. But in May Ford announced they would supply the Stewart team exclusively this season. Since then the U.S. carmaker has taken over Stewart and changed the team's name to Jaguar. ``Fondmetal purchased from Cosworth not only the rights to develop the project but also the support of key personnel and the equipment to produce and rebuild the 10-cylinder engine already fitted to the car last season,'' Minardi said. The Faenza-based stable said it would test drive with last season's car at Italy's Fiorano track this month before moving to Barcelona to try out the new car between February 16 and March 1.

FIA to have 'observer' at Le Mans
MONACO, Jan 15 - The International Automobile Federation (FIA) is to send an observer to the Le Mans 24 Hours race on June 17-18 because of ``doubts'' over incidents in last year's event. FIA said in a statement on Saturday: ``In view of doubts over the circumstances surrounding various incidents during the 1999 event, the World Motor Sport Council decided a FIA observer will be appointed to this event.'' Last year's race was marred by a spectacular crash suffered by Mercedes driver Peter Dumbreck. Another Mercedes had similar problems in practice. FIA criticised the measures taken by organisers after the first incident and said the intervention of rescue teams on the site of Dumbreck's crash appeared ``to have been seriously delayed by faults in communication.'' FIA president Max Mosley said at a car show in Birmingham, England, on Friday that the race crash in which Dumbreck's car lifted off the track and flew into trees, after Australian Mark Webber's Mercedes had also flipped twice in practice, was due to a combination of factors. These were the way the cars were set up, the undulation of the track at one key point and the high kerb which the car had struck combined with an updraft from a car in front