BAR to launch new car in mid-season

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The Independent Online

British American Racing will follow the example of McLaren and Ferrari next year by introducing their 2004 car midway through the season. The team's technical director, Geoff Willis, revealed the team will contest the first four races of next season with a modified version of their 2003 machine, which he believes will give Jenson Button the best chance to make an impression.

Button is likely to be the No 1 driver at BAR next season, with his current team-mate Jacques Villeneuve's future still uncertain, and Willis believes mimicking the strategy of Formula One's front-runners will reap rewards for the Englishman.

McLaren and Ferrari used modified versions of their 2002 car at the start of this season to great effect, winning six of the eight races so far between them.

Willis said: "We are going to be testing what I describe as a hybrid car at the end of this year. That will have this year's chassis with next year's engine, gearbox and rear suspension.

"In order to give us most time to make the next big step forward that we want for the 2004 race car - and also start the year off very reliably - we want to run this hybrid car in the opening long-haul grands prix of 2004. Then, after the fly-away races, we will introduce the complete new car."

Meanwhile, McLaren confirmed yesterday that they will not introduce their new car until after the next two grands prix at the Nürburgring and in France.

Ron Dennis' team are now likely to target a British debut for the car at Silverstone on 20 July. McLaren said they would not use the new McLaren-Mercedes MP4-18 before they were convinced by its reliability.

Elsewhere, Ralph Firman will swap his Formula One car for a World Rally Championship machine this week.

The Norwich-born driver will join his Jordan team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella in testing a Ford Focus rally car on closed tarmac roads around Germany in the build-up to the European Grand Prix.