MARANELLO (Italy): Five-time world champion Michael Schumacher said on Friday he was expecting the 2003 Formula One season to be a far closer affair than last year's walkover.
Last season the German driver won 11 races, took seven pole positions, finished on the podium in every race and scored 144 points.
But speaking after the unveiling of Ferrari's new car, which the Italians claim is even better than last year's record-breaking model, Schumacher said he may not have things all his own way this time around.
“I don't think I'll dominate like I did last year,” he said at the launch of the F2003 G-A, named after the late Gianni Agnelli, whose company FIAT own Ferrari.
“McLaren concern me and Williams have been impressive in testing.”
The world champion however said that his main threat would once again come from Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barichello, who finished with four race wins last season and pushed the German harder than anybody else.
Schumacher said he was determined to secure a sixth drivers' world title that would see him surpass the late Argentine legend Juan-Manuel Fangio's record of five successes.
“I'm still very ambitious and looking to achieve another championship this year,” he said.
“Getting to number one is hard, but staying at the top is even harder.
“Fortunately I have a very strong team behind me so anything is possible.”
Asked how he motivated himself after what has been a career of gorging on victory Schumacher said: “Its easy for me because I love the sport, the competition and having four wheels around me.”
The normally phlegmatic Schumacher was quite overcome at the launch which comes a fortnight after Agnelli passed away at the age of 81.
“The car's beatiful, and so is its name,” he said. “I've attended many presentations in my time but this one is special for me, very emotional.”
Ferrari, seeking its fifth straight constructors' title this season, said although the adjustments had been minimal, the new car is lighter and sleeker, making it more aerodynamic and therefore faster.
The 2003 Formula One season starts with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 9, but the new Ferrari is not expected to appear on track until San Marino in April.
Schumacher was not concerned by the late introduction of the F2003 G-A, saying last-year's car would still serve them well.
“Its a good old car so we need not worry,” he said. – AFP