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Don't write off Ferrari
April 19, 2003 13:10 IST
Michael Schumacher says there is no crisis at Ferrari and there is little reason to doubt him.
Despite rare setbacks and rising anxiety levels in Germany at the Formula One world champion's failure to win so far this year, Schumacher can afford to remain calm as the European season starts this weekend.
"If I think back to the last two races, even considering the bad luck we had, I don't see any reason why we should panic," he said before Sunday's San Marino Grand Prix.
While the headlines have focused on human error and Schumacher's worst ever start to a season, there is evidence to suggest that Ferrari's dominance has not been eroded anything like as much as some would like to believe.
Take the decision to continue with last season's championship-winning F2002 car, rather than introduce the new F2003-GA, for example.
With the best will in the world, it cannot be good news for a car unveiled in February as the best and most beautiful racer yet produced by the Maranello team to be still awaiting its grand prix debut four races into the championship.
The F2003-GA has crashed heavily twice in testing and the reliability, or lack of it, remains suspect.
"I believe they have done several thousand kilometres of testing and if they still don't feel comfortable bringing the car, then clearly there are some issues that are there," commented McLaren's David Coulthard.
Yet Ferrari's refusal to rush it into action, as they did last year with the F2002 when Williams won in Malaysia, can also be interpreted as a sign of confidence.
They may have no choice but it could also be that the F2002 is still sufficiently ahead to provide a comfortable cushion.
The evidence at Imola on Friday, with Schumacher easily fastest in qualifying ahead of Barrichello, suggests that there are plenty of miles in the old machine yet.
"It is certainly not down to a lack of speed that we have won so few points so far," said Schumacher.
The negatives also disguise the positives.
While Schumacher's record run of 24 straight podiums has ended, he has qualified lower down the grid than he has done in years and he has yet to appear on the podium in 2003.
However, Ferrari have started on pole position in two of the three races and led or challenged for the lead in all of them.
They also showed in Friday qualifying, when speed rather than strategy comes to the fore, that they are still ahead of the rest.
Had the weather not been so fickle, had Schumacher not driven into Jarno Trulli's Renault in Malaysia or crashed out in Brazil, had Barrichello not run out of petrol at Interlagos -- there is no shortage of 'what ifs'.
Rivals, rather than writing off the red cars, are bracing for the backlash.
"Whenever the Ferrari went out today, I think it would have been quickest," said Jaguar's Mark Webber.
"We saw in Malaysia that Michael was massively up on Friday. They've just had their toast landing butter side down so far."
"I still maintain that Ferrari have the quicker car over a single lap," said Coulthard. "If you look at their two dry qualifyings on a Friday, they were a second quicker on both of them."
"Let's not joke. He (Schumacher) remains the favourite for the title," said BMW's Gerhard Berger, himself a former Ferrari favourite. "Ferrari remain strong, despite the first three races going badly for them.
"The F2002 is still a cutting-edge machine. But any engine will stop if you don't put petrol in it."