Berger buys share in F1 team

Austrian re-enters grand prix arena after taking new role in Scuderia Toro Rosso. But controversy awaits over its use of V10 engines against the V8 opposition

Multiple grand prix winner Gerhard Berger has returned to a Formula One role two years earlier than planned — as the new co-owner of Scuderia Toro Rosso.

The Austrian, who retired from F1 driving at the end of 1997, had already declared that he was thinking of setting up a team for 2008. But Berger has now bought into Toro Rosso, the squad known as Minardi until the end of last season. This was the second team acquired by Red Bull magnate and fellow Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz, who in return has taken half ownership of Berger’s road haulage business.

But the team is at the centre of F1’s biggest pre-season controversy over its use of old-spec 3-litre Cosworth V10 engines. The FIA has allowed teams to continue with V10 motors, limited to 16,700rpm, so that small squads such as Minardi would be allowed a year’s grace before switching to the new 2.4-litre V8 powerplants.

The testing times of Toro Rosso drivers Vitantonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed have worried Midland, its most likely direct rival, which is using 2.4-litre Toyota V8 engines. This team may lobby the FIA for further restrictions on V10s.

And, in the build-up to the opening grand prix of the season, in Bahrain on March 12, speculation was mounting that one of the big hitters — most likely McLaren — could use V10 engines.

Rossi quick in Ferrari

Motorcycle racing superstar Valentino Rossi is still being linked with a move to Formula One with Ferrari in 2007 after a strong test with the team at Valencia.

Rossi tested one of Ferrari’s 2004 cars, fitted with an old-spec V10 engine, at the Spanish circuit. Although he was 2.1sec slower than Michael Schumacher’s best time last year with a similar car, it is estimated that the restrictions to the V10 engines have cost 1.5sec in lap times. That would effectively leave Rossi just 0.6sec slower than Schumacher.

The Italian is now set to concentrate on defending his Moto GP crown, possibly for the last time, for the works Yamaha team. But Rossi has indicated that it would not be a problem for him to fit F1 testing in around his bike commitments.

“You could even run on the same day in the car and on the bike because they are so different,” he said. “In fact, when I tested the F1 at Valencia, the next day I went to Qatar to test the bike and after five laps I went quicker than my fastest lap of last year’s race.”

Yamaha is already on alert in case Rossi leaves for Ferrari. Team director Davide Brivio said: “We talk about him leaving. But we’re scared to think about it — we don’t want to find ourselves in that situation.”

Ickx takes on Lauda in the DTM

The son of Niki Lauda and the daughter of Jacky lckx are to compete in the German DTM touring car series.

Mathias Lauda is switching from single-seaters to drive for Mercedes, while Vanina lckx will line up for Audi in a squad run by Midland F1 principal Colin Kolles.

lckx is not the only female competing in this season’s DTM: Scottish single-seater convert Susie Stoddart has been signed up by Mercedes.

McNish on board for diesel Audi

Scotsman Allan McNish has been confirmed as one of Audi’s six drivers for its Le Mans 24 Hours challenge with the new diesel-fuelled R10 sports-racer.

McNish, who won the event for Porsche in 1998, will team up with seven-time winner Tom Kristensen and other Audi favourites Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro, Rinaldo Capello and Marco Werner. The R10 will also contest the American Le Mans Series races after the 24 Hours,

Rahal goes Lebanese

Former Indycar champion Bobby Rahal’s son Graham has made his debut in international single-seaters as a Lebanese!

Rahal contested the A1 Grand Prix double-header at Monterrey, the Mexican track which features on the Champ Car calendar, in the car run for Lebanon, as he has Lebanese ancestry on his father’s side.

He finished in 13th place in the first race and 14th in the second ironically in the latter race he was hard on the heels of the USA entry, driven by former Team Rahal lndycar race winner Bryan Herta! Rahal will now concentrate on his campaign in the Atlantic series in the States.

The Monterrey races were won by Alexandre Premat for France, which is on the verge of wrapping up the inaugural title.

BRDC delays its vote

The British Racing Drivers’ Club has voted to postpone the possible handing over the running of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone to a horse racing promoter.

Property company St Modwen is the ‘preferred bidder’ for a 125-year lease of Silverstone, under which it would be able to redevelop the land around the circuit. St Modwen intends to construct retail, hotel and leisure facilities. Horse racing promoter Northern Racing is part-owned by St Modwen, and under the plan it would run the Grand Prix for 25 years.

BRDC chairman Stuart Rolt was pushing for the move, and said that finding a partner to share the financial risk of basing a business around one event — the British GP — was the only viable way of allowing the race to stay on at Silverstone.

But, after an Extraordinary General Meeting which took place on February 22, Rolt and BRDC president Sir Jackie Stewart said: “Members need more information and a longer period of consultation before we put the resolutions to the vote. Members need an additional period for briefing and consultation and we are happy to accept the strong view of the meeting. St Modwen and Northern Racing are in support of today’s decision.”

Spa falls of the ’06 F1 calendar

The Belgian Grand Prix looks certain not to be held in 2006 but it will be back on the Formula One calendar in ’07

The Spa circuit has fallen victim to financial difficulties after being asked for a £10 million upgrade, while political problems in local government have also hampered efforts to save the race.

Now Bernie Ecclestone is said to have agreed to promote the race from 2007 FIA president Max Mosley said: “Spa is fundamental to the championship. If we are interested in racing we have to have it.’