Despite Michael Schumacher’s impressive victory at Imola and the new F2003-GA’s imminent arrival, championship leaders McLaren-Mercedes insist they are not rushing to get their new car into service.
Both teams are fighting at the front of the field despite using cars that were introduced for last year’s championship and the timing of the introduction of their respective new cars could be crucial for the title race. However, McLaren technical director Adrian Newey said: “At the moment, we have the old car going well. The drivers know it, they know how to set it up and it is reliable, so that is why we kept it from the start of the year. I don’t think the new one will be racing until Canada at the very earliest.”
Ferrari look to be a step ahead, with their new car planned for introduction at next weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, three races before the Canadian Grand Prix on June 15.
The Italian giants were due to debut the 2003 machine at Imola last weekend, but last-minute problems in testing forced them to delay it for another race. Sporting director Jean Todt is confident there will be no more problems in the planned three-race distance tests the car has to pass before it is allowed to race: “We chose reliability above performance at Imola. Now we will test at Mugello with the F2003-GA and we’re confident it will be available for the next race in Spain.”
Rubens Barrichello topped off Schumacher’s victorious return to form with a third-placed finish to return the scarlet overalls to the podium at Imola and the Italian giants want to keep their roll going.
McLaren, however, believe their radical new car, which by Newey’s admission has some “high-risk features” built into it, will be good enough to take the fight to Ferrari. It has been designed, unlike last year’s machine, specifically to gel with the Michelin tyres the team are using for the second season, but it has not yet been tested on the track. Newey is confident it will be a step ahead in performance but admitted McLaren’s drivers, Scot David Coulthard and Finn Kimi Raikkonen, must get the best out of the old car if they are to avoid being beaten by Ferrari’s F2003-GA.
“The new car will have to be tested properly and then we will need to de-bug it,” said Newey. “It all takes time. It is not going to be testing for another two or three weeks and then we’ll see after that. It has been designed to suit the Michelin tyres but the rest of it is an evolution of the current car. We need to make the most of it and, of course, we hope it is good straight out of the box.”
By the time McLaren’s machine is introduced, however, the championship will have travelled to Spain, Austria and Monaco, and the three events could see the initiative swing positively in Ferrari’s favour.
Under the new rules and points distribution, in which two points separate first and second rather than the previous four, it will be more difficult for Schumacher to make the most of his reinvigorated team and his new car. Technical director Ross Brawn is confident in his team’s new creation and said: “There’s a long way to go yet, but we are back in the race now.”