Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari team will decide later this week whether to unleash their 2002 challenger at the next race following his crushing victory in the Australian Grand Prix in last year’s car.
The German triumphed in Melbourne after brother Ralf used the rear of Rubens Barrichello’s Ferrari like a high-speed water-ski jump to go flying in his Williams-BMW and spark an eight-car crash at the opening corner.
Schumacher escaped the Albert Park mayhem to clinch the 54th victory of his career and make the perfect start to his bid for that record equalling fifth drivers’ crown.
The win by almost 19 seconds from Juan Pablo Montoya in the other Williams while David Coulthard’s campaign began with a retirement in his McLaren has taken the pressure off Ferrari.
The Italian team would not risk the 2002 car expected to be much faster breaking down in the season opener.
‘‘We honestly did not expect to win the first race though we wanted to be competitive,’’ said sporting director Jean Todt.
‘‘I do not care if our rivals are now concerned, I only worry about my team.
‘‘This does take some pressure off us now. If we had been uncompetitive and behind on pace then we would have been in a difficult situation.
‘‘We will test the new car in Mugello until Saturday and then decide about Malaysia. We would have no problem getting the car there for the race the following week.’’
Schumacher must be confident he can win in either car after managing to avoid the frightening first corner fracas that accounted for two of his chief rivals as they fought for the lead.
The 33-year-old first had to chase Coulthard until the Scot was thrown off course by a gearbox problem then Montoya after the Colombian got the better of him early on.
But once he had retaken the lead with a sweeping overtaking manoeuvre on the Colombiam there was no stopping him.
‘‘This is the ideal start to the season for me,’’ he said. ‘‘I did not think we could win here but things change quickly and from the next race I expect it to be much closer.
‘‘We would like to use the new car as soon as possible but only if it is better than this one and reliable.’’
Coulthard saw team-mate Kimi Raikkonen mark his McLaren debut with a maiden podium - the Finn could have been second but for one error - in a 58-lap race which just eight of the 22 starters finished.
But Raikkonen’s third place was no consolation to the Scot who once again saw hopes of victory, after he found himself leading having started fourth, undermined by a reliability problem in the McLaren-Mercedes.
‘‘At the end of the day Kimi’s a competitor and I can’t say I’m happy for any competitor to score points when I’m not,’’ said Coulthard, runner-up in the championship last year.
‘‘But I recognise the importance of a first podium to him. It is difficult to take any positives out of the race. Michael won at a canter but I hope we will be more competitive at the next race.
‘‘I am very disappointed because I realise the importance of getting points early on. Instead Michael has got the win again.’’