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Schumacher expects tougher competition
Simon Evans | January 16, 2003 20:52 IST
Five-times world champion Michael Schumacher is expecting the 2003 Formula One season to produce a much tighter battle than last year's Ferrari walkover.
The German won 11 Grands Prix in 2002 and his Ferrari team mate Rubens Barrichello claimed four victories as the Italian team romped to the drivers' and constructors' world titles.
But now Schumacher believes Ferrari may have reached their peak.
"One thing I'm pretty sure of, and I said this last year already, is that the competition will become tighter for the simple fact that we have pretty much maximised our possibilities and other teams obviously have not, so for them it's easier to make bigger steps than it is for us," Schumacher told a news conference at the Dolomite ski resort.
"Who is going to be the first one? I hope it's us and I think we still can be but who is going to be the second one? That's a little bit open," he added.
"I can only say that in my view, it's going to be McLaren and Williams who are going to be strong opponents but everyone knows that. I'm starting testing on February 21 and then I shall probably have some contact with the other teams and I will be able to judge a little bit better what has changed over the winter," the German said.
Asked whether he expected Barrichello to be his nearest challenger again, Schumacher said that depended on how hard McLaren and Williams could push Ferrari.
"If we still have the advantage we had last year, yes it will be (Rubens)," Schumacher said. "If we can have any advantage, even if it's little, then Rubens should be the one who is going to be the most dangerous because he has improved his game quite a lot.
"I rate him very highly and he's going to be a big threat to me. But that's what we're doing it for."
Despite his almost total dominance, Schumacher said there was no danger of him losing his appetite.
"Concerning my motivation, that's pretty easy. I always say that I simply love the sport. The success I have had so far has not changed anything. I simply love wheel-to-wheel racing."
The world champion said that having brought Ferrari back to the top spot in Formula One the new challenge was to maintain that dominance.
"We know how difficult it is to get to the position that we are in and it is perhaps to some degree even more difficult to stay where we are," he said. "For me that is a very big challenge to do so.
"It doesn't matter how many victories or the number of titles I may have on my account, I simply look forward to the next challenge and there is always a new one."