Tue, 08 Mar 2005

From: Reuters

F-1 looks forward to tough title fight

Alan Baldwin, Reuters/Melbourne

Even if Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella made it look easy in Australia at the weekend, Formula One is bracing for a real battle ahead.

"You've got to be careful looking at one race and saying, right that's how the season will go," said Renault's head of engineering Pat Symonds after the French team's resounding victory in Melbourne.

"But there are signs, not just this from race but the testing we've been doing over the winter as well, that this is going to be one of the closest seasons for a while.

"I think that ourselves and McLaren are very, very close. Ferrari are there. Williams and BAR won't be far behind for long. Red Bull had a great race and maybe they are joining in."

With champions Ferrari leaving their new car at home, possibly until the fifth round in Spain in May, Renault and McLaren were heavily tipped to set the pace in the season-opener.

In the end, the Melbourne weather proved more decisive.

Fisichella, officially making his debut for a team he knows well since he raced for them under the Benetton name, was favored by heavy rain falling after his Saturday qualifying lap.

That left rivals, including both McLaren drivers and Ferrari's seven times world champion Michael Schumacher, with an insurmountable task and Formula One fans savoring a deep draught of fresh hope for the future.

Brazilian Rubens Barrichello left no doubt that Ferrari, even with their old car, were quick when he went from a midfield position to second place.

"They are going to be a serious challenge right through the year," said Symonds.

McLaren showed their pace with Raikkonen storming through to take a point and Juan Pablo Montoya sixth.

"The result may not show this but we have the pace to challenge for victories," said Raikkonen.

Malaysia, the next round on March 20, will throw more light on where the championship is heading with strategy likely to play a bigger part than on Sunday.

That race is the hottest of the year, a big test for reliability now that engines must last for two successive races.