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Rivals fear Ferrari fight-back 28 May 2004

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault in the FIA Press Conference.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, 27 May 2004 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault is interiewed by the media.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, 27 May 2004 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, 27 May 2004 Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) Williams.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, 27 May 2004 Second placed Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Ferrari in the FIA Press Conference.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Race Day, Monte Carlo, 23 May 2004

Will it be business as usual again for the champions?

Renault’s Fernando Alonso believes that Michael Schumacher and Ferrari will get back to their domination of the 2004 season here at the Nurburgring, after the blip of Monaco, and so do Williams drivers Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya.

“Monaco was a fantastic weekend for Renault and probably we would have been 1-2 in the race, no problems,” Alonso said. “It was a very strong weekend. Here is different, things will probably come back to normal, but we improved the car a lot for Monaco and I hope we can confirm that here. We have much more confidence after the last two races - 3-4 Spain, should have been 1-2 in Monaco. So we are looking quite competitive.

“At the moment we see the Ferraris in front after the first five races, they have to prove they are still quick and that maybe Monaco was an exception. They will be team to beat, for sure.”

Ralf, the winner last year after Kimi Raikkonen dominated for McLaren before suffering an engine failure, said: “You can never tell, but it’s obvious that this year it’s a bit more difficult, but we will keep trying and do our best, and see what the outcome is.”

Montoya was as down to earth as ever. “Our situation is different to last year, when we had a really strong car. But we were lucky to win even then as Kimi was leading the race. Now we are gonna try as hard as we can and be quickest Michelin runner. Monaco is always a different race. I think here it’s going to be the same old story, but we will try to do our best to stop it.”

Michael Schumacher himself seemed relaxed and confident and was even able to joke a little about Monaco, especially when asked if he had had a problem with the left-hand front suspension prior to his accident with Montoya. “That’s not true. Certainly,” he said, “But I had a big problem afterwards with the left suspension, that’s true.

“Our chances here at good! The Nurburgring should be good for our car. I was not surprised to see Renault and BAR were strong in Monaco, but we were not far away from fighting for victory and the nature of this circuit comes to our favour a bit compared to Monaco.”

Meanwhile, Rubens Barrichello is determined to make his mark this weekend and get his world championship campaign firmly on track. “The F2004 has a smaller window of opportunity in its set-up than the F2003-GA,” the Brazilian said. “Michael had more track time with it than me at the beginning of the season and has been able to get to that window a little sooner than me, but I am only a win away from getting things the way I want them to be this year and I think I have a good chance of doing that here.”

Over at BAR there are hopes that Jenson Button and Takuma Sato will remain Ferrari’s leading challenger, while McLaren is looking back to 2003 and hopes that the ‘Ring will similarly suit the MP4-19.

Interestingly, the two Williams drivers had differing views yesterday on the likely benefit of the management changes at Williams, where Sam Michael has been promoted to technical director and Patrick Head has taken the role of director of engineering. “It will take some while,” Schumacher said. “Sam will do great things but all of the existing structure has to be changed. It won’t turn round overnight but will take three or four races. The biggest change won’t come until next year. But the car will improve almost certainly, but we have to wait.”

He also said that his future has yet to be decided, though he hinted he might even stay with Williams. “We are still talking and waiting, and seeing what is happening in our team. We must see what the outcome is. I can see the end in sight and consider it quite sure that I will be in F1, so it’s not a problem. But where? Sam taking over is definitely a helpful step for the team, but whether it has anything to do with my situation might take a while. I’m simply waiting to decide what to do.”

Montoya was less convinced. “I don’t know, it’s very hard to know how’s it gonna change. Patrick completely out? I don’t think Sam can do too much in the short-term; as far as I know we’re not gonna have a new car. I’d like to have a quicker one but it’s a matter of time to see what happens. I’d be very surprised because Patrick was doing a very competitive job, working very hard, not sitting with his hands crossed praying for a competitive car. But it’s not my decision, I just drive the car.”

Meanwhile, as the ‘silly season’ goes into overdrive, rumours continue that both Mika Hakkinen and Jacques Villeneuve could return at Williams in 2005, both drivers received favourable reactions from their former rivals. “I think it will be difficult being two years out,” Michael said of Hakkinen. “He gained some, didn’t he [meaning weight]. He has natural talent and will always have it, but coming back after a long pause doing nothing would be difficult. But a lot of people would be happy and I would be one of them to see him back. But we are in the silly season.

“As for Jacques, his is a great name and F1 is always happy to have those names. There are 20 drivers in F1; some can be friends, others less so. That’s normal. I have no feeling at all in a bad way not to see him back. We saw each other at the party after Monaco and had a chat. It’s pretty relaxed, the relationship between us.”

Montoya said: “Jacques and Mika next year at Williams? Mika could be competitive if he does plenty of testing. He’d be okay, same as Jacques.”

And Alonso: “Mika’d have to do a lot of tests but he would still be quick, for sure.”