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Ferrari feel the pressure
March 21, 2005 13:14 IST
Last Updated: March 21, 2005 13:19 IST
After one of the most dominant seasons in Formula One history, Ferrari are feeling the pressure.
Seven times world champion Michael Schumacher left steamy Malaysia on Sunday knowing the heat will still be on when he reports for his first test of Ferrari's new F2005 car in Italy this week.
Ferrari, winners of 15 of last year's 18 races, have now gone three Grands Prix without a win and Sunday's race at Sepang was the first since Hungary in August 2003 without one of their drivers on the podium.
Renault have run away with the first two races of 2005 while Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya ended 2004 with a victory for Williams in Brazil.
Schumacher, after failing to finish in Australia, was seventh at Sepang while team mate Rubens Barrichello retired.
"There can be no excuses after a race like this," said team boss Jean Todt. "We were beaten by opponents who proved to be stronger than us."
Spaniard Fernando Alonso's win on Sunday makes it more likely that Ferrari will press their new car into service for next month's third round in Bahrain rather than waiting as planned for Spain in May.
Even then, it may not be the immediate world beater the F2004 -- modified for use in the first few races of this season -- proved to be last year.
Renault are improving their car all the time while big-spending Toyota showed clearly with their first Formula One podium they too are rapidly becoming contenders.
Ferrari, winners of the last six constructors' titles while Schumacher has been champion since 2000, are used to having it their own way. Even if the season is young, with 17 races still to go, they are on the back foot.
"The question is how good the new Ferrari will be," said Germany's Nick Heidfeld after finishing third for Williams on Sunday.
"At the moment they are struggling and it is obvious they are not the quickest team any more like the last couple of years when they were dominating.
"I think it is a very different situation for them, they are not used to it and it will be interesting to see how they handle it."
Ferrari have few friends in the paddock at the moment, with eight rival teams writing to FIAT and Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo at the weekend to complain about the team's "highly disrespectful" attitude towards testing and cost-cutting.
The last time the champions were so far off the pace was that race in Hungary and the Italian media was merciless in its criticism.
Ferrari will fight back, and it would be a brave soul who bet against them winning races again before long, but they cannot afford to waste much more time.
"There is no question at the moment the gap with Renault is very big," said Schumacher on Sunday. "If after five or six races we are still struggling then we won't have to bother talking about the championship.
"I can see how it's hard to understand how we won 15 races last season and coming here we are fighting for seventh," added the German, who has two points to Alonso's 16. "But things can turn around very, very fast.
"It's obvious the other teams are doing a better job in several areas and I don't expect a giant leap in Bahrain. It's clear we must improve."
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