The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Michael feeling the heat at last

Magny-Cours: World champion Michael Schumacher could reflect on the difference a year makes after being eclipsed by brother Ralf in Sunday’s French Formula One Grand Prix.

Last season, the Ferrari driver left Magny-Cours after winning his fifth world title with six races to spare.

Ferrari were utterly dominant, leading both championships by massive margins and setting record after record.

On Sunday at the same circuit, the German never came close to setting the pace and had to settle for third behind a Williams one-two, led for the second race in succession by Ralf.

His post-race comments reflected the change while putting a brave face on the situation. “It is not like we are completely lost,” he said. “I gained another point in the championship lead to Kimi. So all in all we know we are a bit behind the Williams, but we feel confident that we can change it around.”

Schumacher is still top of the standings but he and Ferrari have won just four of 10 races. He leads McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen by eight points while Ralf is only 11 behind.

While the drivers’ fight is close, with 17 points separating the top four, the constructors’ battle is on a knife edge with Ferrari three ahead of Williams.

Tyres and reliability, two things that Ferrari could count on last year, will be crucial now and the Italian team cannot be as sure of either.

“The championship is going to swing totally on reliability because I do not think you are going to see uncompetitive cars fielded by ourselves, Williams or Ferrari,” said McLaren head Ron Dennis.

“It is going to make reliability even more critical for the balance of the season, I think we’ve got a great world championship.

“It’s inevitable that everyone’s going to say its the resurgence of BMW Williams. They’ve done a great job and are obviously serious contenders, but we’re fighters. One race win and one DNF (did not finish) for Michael and the situation’s reversed. That is the way it is in Formula One. Our target is still the same.”

Schumacher’s assessment was similar.

“Obviously you need to be concerned about it,” he said of Williams’ resurgence after a difficult start to the championship. “We see what they do, we know what we do and we obviously work very hard at home to get our acts together to improve the situation.”

Schumacher cast his mind back to the past, to championships he lost but could have won.

“In Formula One we have seen, in particular in the years ’97, ’98 and ’99 that we had phases where we were behind and suddenly minor things make the thing turn,” he said.

Schumacher could find the next race at Silverstone in Britain more to his liking, with both Williams and McLaren expecting a harder time. “I think we will struggle a little bit at Silverstone and Hockenheim but I do think we’ll be very strong in the balance of the season,” said Dennis.

“I think it will be pretty hard but you never know,” said Montoya. “It looks like they (Ferrari) have a little bit more consistency than us. But we’ve got newer tyres now so it might be better.”

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