Ferrari focused on staying in different league

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The Independent Online

To the rest of the Formula One teams, groping for signs of hope and encouragement, the communiqué from the Ferrari camp must have sounded like a sentence to another year's hard labour.

Jean Todt, who as Ferrari's sporting director has steered the Italian team from the ridiculous to the sublime, quietly revealed: "The design of our 2003 car is now well under way.''

The delayed 2002 car has proved itself a significant improvement on last year's championship-winning car and the Formula One fraternity is resigned to crowning Michael Schumacher for a fifth time, a feat achieved by only one other driver, Juan Manuel Fangio, in the 1950s.

Williams-BMW contend the constructors' title is not beyond them but the evidence of the past two races suggests that, once Rubens Barrichello's luck changes for the better, Ferrari will have two untouchable drivers.

Schumacher won Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix here by 35 seconds from Williams' Juan Pablo Montoya, even though he backed off in the last 15 laps. Schumacher has won four of the five races this season and leads the championship from the Colombian by 21 points.

This circuit was expected to play to the strengths of the Ferrari package and Williams may well be more competitive at other tracks. But Ferrari have the capability to succeed in almost any conditions and circumstances, a position of strength reached after many years of careful planning and organisation.

The Williams-BMW alliance is still relatively new. McLaren and Mercedes have had a period of pre-eminence and now need fresh momentum. The feeling in the paddock is that McLaren had been distracted by the building of a new factory and Mercedes by the creation of a new sports car.

Renault may eventually become a force in Formula One, but they are in an early stage of their development. No other team can even fantasise about reaching the top.

Sauber, customers of Ferrari, perform wonderfully for a small concern, but accept their limitations. Jaguar, Toyota and Minardi are thankful for the points they have on the board, while Arrows are celebrating their breakthrough here.

The only teams yet to score are the pair partnered by Honda: Jordan and BAR. Jordan had another wretched grand prix here. Their cars have failed to finish seven times from 10 starts.

Ferrari are in a different league. Such is their dominance that alarmists are talking of a crisis in the sport. The fear is that the lack of competition will drive away interest and business.

The fact is, though, that this scenario is nothing new to Formula One or other sports. Williams and McLaren, too, have been all-powerful in the past. There were years when they had both of their drivers contesting the championship, others when one man was as comfortably ahead as Schumacher is now.

Nigel Mansell won the first five grands prix and had the championship wrapped up after 11 races in the 1992 season. Another Williams driver, Damon Hill, won four of the first five races on his way to the title in 1996.

Williams were eventually overtaken. One day it will happen to Ferrari. They know that better than anyone, which is why they are pressing ahead with their next car and plotting their next campaign. The challenge for the other teams is to match them and go on to set new standards.