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Malaysia will be the true test, says Schumacher

March 08, 2004 12:09 IST

Formula One champion Michael Schumacher fears Ferrari will have a fight on their hands in Malaysia next week despite dominating Sunday's Australian season-opener.

The German opened his bid for a record seventh title by leading team mate Rubens Barrichello in a crushing one-two win that revived memories of Ferrari's 2002 season, when they won 15 of the 17 races.

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Sunday was the first real test of teams' race pace and Ferrari's main rivals were found wanting.

McLaren picked up just one point, with Kimi Raikkonen's engine failing after less than a fifth of the race, while the Williams duo of Ralf Schumacher and Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya trailed home fourth and fifth.

Only Renault and Honda-powered BAR, strong in testing over the winter, fulfilled their promise to take on the top three.

As his stunned rivals licked their wounds, Schumacher warned that Ferrari would not have it that easy at the next race in Malaysia on March 21.

Even in 2002, Ferrari did not prevail at Sepang and last year Schumacher could only manage sixth place as Renault's Fernando Alonso -- a distant third on Sunday -- took pole position and Raikkonen won.

"I'm always mentioning Malaysia because I think that race shows the true picture a little bit more," the German said.

"As it is not the optimum it shows us where we are going to be.

"If we can compete there then we are going to be looking very strong. If we are sort of hanging behind then maybe it's going to be a little bit more tough."

FIGHT BACK

Sunday's cool temperatures were perfect for Ferrari and their Bridgestone tyres but rivals hope to hit back in the searing heat of Malaysia and in Bahrain on April 4.

Otherwise Ferrari could have the championship in a stranglehold.

"The car has been good, the last couple of months of testing have been good, but obviously it's not quick enough," said Williams chief operations engineer Sam Michael.

"But things can turn around quickly and the worst thing you can do is give up.

"There's no doubt that in hotter conditions we perform better and hopefully Malaysia will bring that. The only thing that Malaysia also brings is lots of heavy thunderstorms."

Ralf Schumacher won for Williams in 2002 in Malaysia, with Montoya second but they were blown away by the Ferrari's advantage in Melbourne.

"After my first run on Friday I thought this is going to be a nightmare of a weekend," said Montoya. "But we came around and made the car good.

"The temperature didn't help us at all. Being a longer season this year does give us a bigger window to come back. Last year after about five races I had, like, 10 points and I got four already. We're getting there."

In his attempt to look on the bright side, Montoya omitted to mention that eight of those 10 were scored in Australia before he drew a blank in Malaysia.

Sam Michael agreed that there was nothing anyone could have done to catch Schumacher on Sunday, even if Montoya had not lost third place on the grid with a slow start.

"No, no chance. Not the Ferrari. We could have run against Renault no problem but against Ferrari no way. They are in a class of their own," he said.

"There's no point kidding yourself about that."


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