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Culture

German Rivals Heat Up Competition as Formula One Season Begins

The Schumacher brothers are not the only German rivals in Formula 1. BMW and Mercedes are also in competition for the world title and as the season begins, it seems anything goes in the pursuit of glory.

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The BMW and Mercedes teams are desperate to overtake Ferrari.

The new cars have been well and truly put through their paces, the tires have been warmed up and everyone associated with Formula 1 is raring to speed off the starting grid when the new season gets the green light this weekend in Melbourne, Australia.

Every indication suggests that the competition and the rivalries will be as fierce as ever but as the teams and drivers count the days to the opening Grand Prix of the 2004 season, complex relationships away from the track are causing even more friction.

Members of the BMW Williams and Mercedes McLaren teams will grudgingly accept that in the past few seasons, they have led the chasing pack but have never gotten close enough to stop Ferrari from taking both the drivers' and constructors' world titles.

"The year that counts"

Although BMW has tasted world championship success three times in F1, team chief Mario Theissen sees 2004 as a new beginning: "This is the year that counts." In the other camp, Mercedes chief Norbert Haug took a stronger line, saying the talking was over and it was time for the McLaren to take action: "We don't want to be the PR winner, but the racing winner."

Ralf Schumacher Formel 1

Ralf Schumacher.

Both of the South German rivals face rising costs in their attempts to keep up with Ferrari and as a result have to make loud and vocal assurances to secure that level of finance. The pressure to deliver is palpable.

"The time of excuses is over," said Williams driver Ralf Schumacher (photo), who himself has been at odds with his employers of late over contract wrangles. Team boss Frank Williams has said that the team would be disappointed "if we do not get both titles."

BMW have, however, remained consistent in their title challenges, which should go some way to offering assurances to the investors that a title cannot be too far away. McLaren Mercedes started strongly last season but eventually succumbed to a myriad of problems.

The German manufacturers have already developed a new grudge before the start of the season. Juan-Pablo Montoya revealed in the close-season that he will quit BMW to drive the Mercedes of McLaren in 2005.

Williams staff desert for McLaren

Williams Formel 1 Fahrer Juan Pablo Montoya

Juan Pablo Montoya.

Montoya, who is one of the main contenders for Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher's crown, has complained of a lack of motivation and ambition, something Mario Theissen refutes: "Juan wants to become a world champion. We want to become world champions. We want the same thing."

Such words won't heal the rift which has been made even larger by the news that top BMW engineers have also already moved to Mercedes.

In a bid to find the right mix to break Ferrari's grip on Formula 1, BMW and Mercedes are, it seems, undermining each other's campaigns.

With Ferrari's two nearest rivals desperately trying to find the right recipe for success, Michael Schumacher, the Italians' number one driver, seemed happy to concentrate purely on those in rival cockpits who will attempt to stop him notching a further record breaking championship this year, his seventh overall.

Schumacher looking forward to challenge

Schumacher Saison 2003 Michael Schumacher gewinnt in Barcelona

Michael Schumacher.

Oozing confidence just days before the first race in Melbourne, Schumacher looked far from the supposedly-fallible driver some are saying is considering hanging his helmet up for good when he appeared for the world's press this week.

At a press conference in the Australian city on Thursday, "Schumi" described the prospect of taking to the track once more as a feeling of "pure pleasure." The 35-year-old German star told reporters he felt no apprehension towards the coming season and paid tribute to his engineers at Ferrari for creating the 2004 version of the car that has brought him such success. "I'm absolutely thrilled to get behind the wheel of the new car," he said.

Champion has nothing more to prove

Schumacher has every right to feel at ease in the Melbourne sunshine. The six-time world champion has won three of his last four Grand Prix crowns on Australian asphalt and has a host of other records behind him, including those for most race wins, fastest laps and points scored.

With the competing teams seemingly blind to possible self-destruction in the pursuit of both Schumacher's and Ferrari's crowns, the world champion can take to the track in Melbourne this weekend knowing he has nothing left to prove. His rivals, however, have everything to race for.

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