Schumacher admits cars are near limit

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After three races of crushing domination this season, Michael Schumacher yesterday appeared to agree with his rivals' wishes that his car should be slowed down, albeit together with all the others. Talk of change is in the air, and a cut in horsepower is on the cards.

"It's a matter of when we arrive at the limit and whether we can or can't cope," the world champion said during prepartions here for Sunday's San Marino Grand Prix. "Right now it's pretty obvious that the drivers can cope, but if development keeps going the way it is the relationship between the horsepower, the tyres and the aerodynamics may change and we may have to look a that and perhaps reduce the power.

"Ten years ago we had 3.5-litre [engines] and then we cut down to three litres after the events here at Imola. We went down to 600bhp and everyone thought maybe the maximum would be 750bhp. But now we have more than 900 and in two years I can see us knocking on 1,000. That sort of power is out of proportion with the present size of the tyres and the aerodynamics package that we have now."

Nevertheless, Schumacher has been doing everything to maintain Ferrari's advantage on their home ground, after his runaway successes in the opening three races. But the speed of the BAR-Hondas in Bahrain, and again in testing in Spain and France since, has given Ferrari food for thought. Their technical director, Ross Brawn, believes that BAR is the team most likely to challenge the red cars.

"There are two views," Schumacher admitted. "One is that we were strong when we tested here in the winter. The other is that Takuma Sato and Jenson Button were very fast in Barcelona and Paul Ricard recently. What does it mean? I don't know myself. But I'm keen to find out!"

The mood in the BAR camp is very high after Button's third place and Sato's fifth in Bahrain, and Sato believes that an upgraded Honda engine can help the team further close the gap this weekend.

"The car is working very good," the diminutive Japanese driver said, barely able to hide his enthusiasm. "We are feeling very confident and the whole thing is working good. Jenson completed 300 laps in two days in our recent tests. The biggest grey area after the winter was whether our testing speed then would be good enough, but after the first three races we have scored lots of points and we are feeling much more comfortable as a result."

This will, of course, be an emotional weekend for the drivers, as it marks the 10th anniversary of the tragic 1994 race when Ayrton Senna died in a crash. Schumacher, who won then, admits that he will be carrying baggage.

"I don't like talk of only one driver. I like to remember Roland Ratzenberger too, who also died here that weekend. Everyone was very shocked by his accident, and it was my first experience of death in the sport. The only positive thing that we have seen is the progress in safety."

Max Mosley, the president of the governing body, the FIA, was very much the person to drive the safety campaign forward as much as possible.

"Ayrton and I had some tough fights on the track," Schumacher said, "and some tough personal times, but we also had some good personal times. It was a privilege to be able to race against him. After what happened here everybody pulled in the same line. That doesn't justify what happened here 10 years ago, but we can see something positive come from it."

Today's Imola is very different from the track on which Senna died, with the infamous Tamburello corner long since emasculated and Villeneuve, where Ratzenberger died, also slowed by another chicane.

And change, too, is in the air for Silverstone. While refusing to confirm that he has bought the rights to run the British Grand Prix, the F1 commercial rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone, yesterday made it clear that he has no intention of giving the British Racing Drivers' Club, which owns the track, an easy ride. "They are going to have to make a significant investment to keep the track on the calendar," he said.