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