Ferrari tyre supremacy gives false impression

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The Independent Online

While it was impressive, Michael Schumacher's domination of Sunday's Australian Grand Prix here was a classic confirmation that in Formula One all is not what it might appear to be on the surface.

On the face of it, Ferrari's 2001 car was more than a match for the latest offerings from principal rivals, BMW-Williams and McLaren-Mercedes. The world champion was comfortably able to control the race once things had settled down in the aftermath of the spectacular first corner accident, and he had disposed of Juan Pablo Montoya's Williams on the 17th lap. On its Bridgestone tyres, the Ferrari F2001 looked fast and nimble all round the Albert Park track, but especially so in the final sector where Schumacher had been able to reclaim a massive 0.8sec on his first run in qualifying. "Bridgestone produced an excellent tyre which was spot-on for the job," Schumacher said.

But the uncharacteristically low temperatures that were a feature of an overcast weekend certainly did no favours to the Michelin runners. The track temperature in the race was never higher than 22C, and the French tyres prefer temperatures above 30. Williams and McLaren are Michelin's flagship teams, but Renault may also have suffered, given the manner in which Jarno Trulli suddenly lost control and crashed while trying to stay ahead of Schumacher on the ninth lap.

McLaren's Ron Dennis does not believe that too much should be read into the result. "If you had brought your 2001 car, the first thing you'd be happy to get would be changeable weather in practice and qualifying which gave everyone little running time on a dry track so that the people with new cars were at a disadvantage," he observed. "I think that we have built a very good car this year, but the conditions didn't help us.

"It was another race of mixed emotions for us. Though David [Coulthard's] gearbox problem ultimately took him out of the race, which is very frustrating as we had completed 7,500km of on-track testing, we must take some comfort from Kimi's [Raikkonen] excellent drive, fastest lap and third place."

Seven of the eight cars that finished were on Michelin tyres, and the company will have new compounds and constructions to try this week at Silverstone. Like the men at Williams, McLaren do not expect a repeat of their Australian problems in the high ambient and track temperatures that are likely at the Malaysian Grand Prix in two weeks' time. If Ferrari, Schumacher and Bridgestone are as crushingly powerful there, that will be the time to start panicking.

While Williams and McLaren are looking forward to the Malaysian race, neither team are as sanguine about the meeting of the World Motor Sport Council two days later. That is likely to see the suggested regulations of Fia president Max Mosley adopted for 2003, so that each car may only use one engine per Grand Prix weekend.