Schumacher: 'It's pure pleasure now'

Updated: March 5, 2004, 2:59 PM ET
Associated Press

Michael Schumacher
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Six-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher expects his Ferrari team to stay atop the sport despite rules changes designed to make it more wide open.

As the season opens with this weekend's Australian Grand Prix, Schumacher knows that rivals from Williams, McLaren and Renault are back in title contention.

But he said the new Ferrari is superior to the 2003 model, which was good enough to win.

"We had a good test session all winter,'' said Schumacher, who will be bidding for his fifth straight title.

"We were running very competitive in our view and reliable. That's the impressive thing, the reliability,'' he said.

The 2003 championship hinged on the last race in Japan, where Schumacher relied on teammate Rubens Barrichello to take the checkered flag and hold out Kimi Raikkonen. Schumacher finished eighth, enough to retain the title by two points.

Raikkonen finished second in the standings, and Juan Pablo Montoya was third.

I love the sport and part of the sport and the main part of the sport is the competition, the overtaking, the thrill of whether you make it or whether you don't make it. That's what I'm looking for, that's what I'm living for.
Michael Schumacher

Asked if he had any apprehension about another title defense, Schumacher's response was as precise as his driving: "No!''

"I have won everything there is to win, and it's pure pleasure now,'' he said. "I love the competition, the overtaking, the thrill of whether you make it or don't make it -- that's what I'm living for.''

Montoya, who will drive for McClaren in 2005, thinks this season's Williams team has a car capable of winning the championship.

"I want to win,'' he said. "If I have the chance, I'm going to give it everything.''

Montoya lost a chance to win this race last season when he led before spinning out with 10 laps left. He had to settle for second place behind McLaren's David Coulthard.

The new rules have altered the qualifying format and restricted teams to one engine for qualifying and racing. The Friday qualifying session was scrapped and replaced by free practice.

There will be back-to-back qualifying sessions held on Saturdays this season, and any car that needs an engine replacement will drop 10 places on the grid for Sunday's race.

Schumacher is the only driver in the competition who has won a world championship. Jacques Villeneuve was dropped by BAR at the end of last season.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press