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Spectre of renewed Ferrari domination haunts F1
March 07, 2004 16:19 IST
The spectre of another year of Ferrari domination haunted Formula One on Sunday after Michael Schumacher led the team to a one-two victory in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
The world champion's 71st win pricked the bubble of optimism rivals had nurtured after a raft of rule changes made 2003 one of the closest and most exciting seasons in years.
As Schumacher took the chequered flag at Albert Park, followed by Brazilian team mate Rubens Barrichello, fears returned that Ferrari had turned the clock back to 2002.
That was the year of 'Formula Yawn', when the pair screamed to 15 wins in 17 races causing the world's television audiences to switch off in droves, and they were in a race of their own again on Sunday.
McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen, runner-up last season after fighting all the way to prevent Schumacher collecting a record sixth title, lasted 10 laps before his engine failed.
The Williams duo of Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher were never in contention.
"I was shocked how quick they (Ferrari) were here," said Briton Jenson Button, who steered his BAR to sixth place after starting fourth. "I didn't expect it really."
Norbert Haug, motorsport boss of McLaren's engine partners Mercedes, also voiced his concerns.
"They were dominant and in my view much better than anybody else," he said. "I think Ferrari could probably have lapped everybody if they had wanted to. That is my assumption. I hope 2002 is not coming back.
"We will push very hard in the right direction but at the moment you have to assume that Ferrari are strong everywhere. It would be wrong to put it on the tyres alone."
"If the headlines are 'Ferrari Again' it is not going to be good," said Montoya after finishing fifth.
"But that's the way it is and we're going to have to deal with it. They normally blow us away here by miles, so I wasn't too surprised about that."
Schumacher, showing no sign of wanting to hang up his helmet, was dominant from day one in Melbourne to the dismay of Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
The ringmaster decried a 'disaster' on Friday as new regulations did nothing to slow Ferrari or suggest that Formula One could have a new champion this year.
Fastest in Friday practice, the German secured pole position with ease on Saturday and was as untroubled as he has ever been during the actual race.
He led a parade in the park, with no change in the running order for the top eight over the last 20 laps and none of the spectacular crashes of recent years.
But Ferrari, chasing their sixth successive constructors' title as Schumacher aims for a fifth in a row, were jubilant nonetheless.
"It was a grandiose performance from Ferrari, crowned with an equally grandiose result," crowed sporting director Jean Todt. "The championship has got underway with a dream event."
Technical director Ross Brawn added: "It is a fantastic result, which is down to the work everyone has done. The team is getting stronger, with everyone working even harder than ever.
"Before the first race, one never knows just how competitive one will be," said Brawn.
"Despite all our success over the past few years, there is always a little bit of doubt. This win will certainly give us a further incentive to do even better in the forthcoming races."
Schumacher clocked the fastest lap of the race, his record time of one minute 24.125 seconds faster than he had been in qualifying, and he finished 34.6 seconds clear of Renault's third placed Spaniard Fernando Alonso.
"The result does not really match our expectations, especially not the size of the gap to Ferrari. Ferrari proved that they remain the leading team," said Mario Theissen, motorsport head of Williams engine partners BMW.