Ferrari fear shows as new car is fast-tracked for Bahrain

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The Independent Online

Michael Schumacher hopes to kick-start his 2005 world championship campaign in Bahrain next week, following Ferrari's decision to bring forward the debut of their new car after this week's testing.

The F2005 - the first Ferrari in years not to be designed by the South African Rory Byrne - was not scheduled to race until Spain in May, but after a catastrophic start to the season they have decided to change models now. Schumacher has only two points while the championship leader, Fernando Alonso, has 16.

Both Schumacher and his team-mate Rubens Barrichello tested the new car, which has been designed by the Italian Aldo Costa, at Mugello this week and reported favourably on its performance. Schumacher, who drove it on Wednesday, said: "I can already say that it's a step forward and I am, without a doubt, satisfied."

Barrichello reported: "It is an improvement in every area over the old car." However, much will depend on the performance of Ferrari's Bridgestone tyres, in comparison with their rivals' Michelin rubber.

"We had to make a quick decision because the car has to leave for Bahrain this weekend," the team's technical director, Ross Brawn, said. "We needed to see what the drivers thought of the new car, but after our problems in Malaysia it was the logical thing to do."

After their uncompetitive showings, Ferrari are concerned about rivals such as Renault building too big a margin. After two victories and a third place, Renault have 26 points to Ferrari's 10, with Toyota and Red Bull separating them.

The head of the Renault team, Flavio Briatore, said he was not concerned by the threat the new Ferrari could pose, welcoming its hurried introduction. "It means we are putting them under some pressure," he said. "I will be very happy if they have the car all ready for Bahrain."

The Ferrari team chief, Jean Todt, added: "The Mugello test, where both race drivers were able to drive the F2005 for the first time, confirmed its potential. The poor results of the first two races have given us a positive stimulus."