Schumacher relaxes as focus falls on Barrichello

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The Independent Online

Michael Schumacher accused Ron Dennis of being a poor loser yesterday, and could not resist tweaking the McLaren chief's tail following his outspoken views on the strategy that Ferrari employed while winning the Australian Grand Prix a fortnight ago.

"Ron doesn't listen to me but he has all the answers," Schumacher mused. "Perhaps he should look after his own problems and his own team, and we'll look after ours and do it way we think is best."

Schumacher was relaxed, and appeared grateful that his Ferrari team-mate, Rubens Barrichello, will bear the brunt of media attention on his home ground. "Rubens does the [promotional] work and is the people's focus," he smiled, "so I can just concentrate on my race."

At one stage, in confirmation of the easy relationship the two have formed thus far, Schumacher laughingly exhorted Barrichello to stop a complimentary commentary: "It's getting too expensive, stop now!" But he admitted guardedly that Barrichello is already more of a challenge than his former partner, Eddie Irvine. "Rubens is good enough to win for himself, he doesn't need my help for that," he said. "So far he's closer than Eddie, but I hope he doesn't get too close! We haven't yet had the situation to find out what is really going on because all race in Melbourne he was stuck behind Heinz-Harald Frentzen, but we will see. But he makes it easier in a way because he pushes the team and he pushes me, and that's good."

Barrichello basked in the excitement of his countrymen, and promised to do his best to give them victory. "I have improved as a man and as a driver coming into my home race," he admitted. "I love all the support, and I think the pressure on me is actually smaller, not greater. It works my way now, because in the past I didn't have the car. Now that I have a competitive car, I can do the job."

Barrichello described Schumacher as the toughest opponent he has ever come across. "Hopefully I will be the same for him. I'm proud to work with him, as I am working with the best."

Talk is the cheapest commodity in Formula One, but the Ferrari drivers are optimistic that they can take the fight to McLaren. "People suggest that because of my record here I should win easily on Sunday," Schumacher said, "but I could take another view. My record in Melbourne wasn't good, but I won there, so maybe things won't go so well here. But to be serious, I don't really care about statistics. What you need is a reliable car that is able to finish races. This is a demanding circuit, very difficult, but the bumps should be better now that they have resurfaced it. Our new car is good over bumps, but it's one thing to be good over bumps and another thing to have a car that is better overall. And I know that our car is better and faster, and that it will be good anywhere.

"We are competitive. Our target was to be there right from the beginning and we have fulfilled that. In years past we haven't done that. This is the first year we have been able to do it from the first race."

Barrichello says he is looking forward to giving his countrymen reason for a huge party after the race. Schumacher is quietly confident of extending his lead in the World Championship. "Ron Dennis has always had difficulty losing races," he said. "And I think after Melbourne he has to be worried, so you will probably see further statements coming from him!"