Fri, Mar 04, 2005 - Page 22 News List

Schumacher's new Ferrari delayed until fourth race

AP , MELBOURNE

Michael Schumacher rides a Harley Davidson motorbike at St. Kilda Beach yesterday in Melbourne, Australia. The first Grand Prix of the 2005 season will start on Sunday.

PHOTO: EPA

Michael Schumacher is doing something to help make his rivals more competitive against his Ferrari in this weekend's Australian Grand Prix. Don't expect it to last.

The seven-time world champion won't get his new car until the fourth race of the series.

So in the meantime, he needs to fend off challenges from McLaren, Renault, Williams and BAR-Honda with a modified version of the 2004 Ferrari that helped him dominate last season.

He won 13 GPs last year as he collected his fifth consecutive drivers' title and Ferrari captured a sixth straight constructors' championship.

Schumacher said he was nowhere near as confident in winning the season-opening GP this year as he was 12 months ago.

"Certainly not. Last year at the same time I had my new car, and obviously it was a very fast toy," said Schumacher. "Now we're running the older car -- I'm sure a lot of people would like to have an old car as we have -- but I obviously look forward to the new one. I'm pretty sure it's going to be faster than we have now."

Schumacher said Ferrari decided to refine the 2005 car rather than risk it in competition before it is completely race-ready.

"Having more time to develop the new car will mean it will arrive at a higher level than if we had it here. You don't win a championship by just winning the first race," he said.

Having said that, he doesn't expect to be too far from the leaders.

"We're going to be reasonably competitive. Probably not completely up front. We will be running closely to the front, whether it's exactly at the front, or second or third, we'll find out," Schumacher said.

F1 organizers, who are becoming increasingly concerned with Schumacher's domination, introduced new regulations designed to spice up the competition.

Ironically, some of the new regulations for the cars, which will reduce the downforce on the machines by 20 to 25 percent by altering the position of front and rear wings, have hurt the smallest team with the smallest budget.

New rules limiting the drivers to one set of tires per race and one engine for two races, and changes in refueling regulations, are accepted by all teams.

But Minardi, run by Australian millionaire Paul Stoddart, didn't sign its Cosworth engine deal early enough to have time to make the modifications to the bodywork and gearbox required to make the car conform.

He needs agreement from all nine teams to be allowed to race his 2004 cars in Australia, Malaysia and Bahrain. Ferrari is the only team that hasn't agreed to the relaxation.

Stoddart said his cars passed yesterday's scrutiny and he needed Ferrari general director Jean Todt to give his approval for the relaxations for Minardi. He refused before leaving Italy for Australia and isn't expected in Melbourne until late last night.

Meanwhile, Schumacher's teammate Rubens Barrichello, the perennial second-place finisher, said he is fed up with being left in the 36-year-old German's wake.

"I'm sick of losing and I try to keep getting better and better," he said. "The status I have earned at Ferrari is as big as Michael, the respect I have. The day that I feel Michael is unbeatable is the day I go home and stay with my family. I'm sorry if I lack a little bit of modesty, but I don't think the gap is big."

The new rules -- limiting drivers to one set of tires for the race weekend and allowing only one engine for two races -- means teams will be seeking preservation as much as performance.

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