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New rules will blunt Schumacher's edge
February 28, 2003 14:06 IST
Jaguar's Mark Webber believes rule changes for Formula One's 2003 season will lessen Michael Schumacher's dominance, but will not be enough to prevent the German from winning a record sixth world championship.
"I think Michael will win the championship this year, yes I do. But he won't win it nowhere near as early (with six races remaining) as he did last year," Webber told reporters in Melbourne on Friday.
The season starts at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 9 with points awarded for the top eight drivers instead of last year's leading six format.
A new qualifying system also gives drivers just one flying lap each on Saturday to secure pole position.
Schumacher triumphed in 11 of the 17 races last year and the Ferrari driver won a record-equalling fifth world title after claiming victory in eight of the first 11 races of the season.
Australia's Webber, who was fifth in his Formula One debut with Minardi in Melbourne last year, forecast a strong rivalry with his Jaguar team mate, 22-year-old Brazilian debutant Antonio Pizzonia.
"Whoever has got the same material, you want to be that tenth of a second quicker than him," the 26-year-old said.
"Michael would be disappointed if (his Ferrari team mate) Rubens (Barrichello) was ahead of him and I'd be disappointed if Antonio was ahead of me."
Webber said he hoped Jaguar could be competitive in the middle ranks of Formula One this year after the team finished seventh last year with Eddie Irvine and Pedro de la Rosa.
German Ralf Schumacher and Barrichello collided in a first corner crash that put almost half the field out of the 2002 season opener in Melbourne.
Webber was mobbed by Australia-born Minardi team owner Paul Stoddart and worshipped by the local crowd for his fifth placing. The Australian believes any sort of finish this year will put him near the points again.
"I think there's no question that if we see the chequered flag we'll score some points here," Webber said.
"Traditionally in Melbourne (in) the first grand prix it's tough to get to the chequered flag.
"There's no pressure on me because of what happened last year. It's a new season and a totally new environment."
Webber said Jaguar had been working hard to eliminate some reliability problems with the Ford-Cosworth engines.
"You have to make the thing so it's basically a burning wreck after the second flag, that's how they've got to perform, these cars.
"Sometimes that happens earlier, that's just how it is.
"Reliability is absolutely crucial to performance and hopefully we can see as many chequered flags as we can this year."