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Culture

Who's Afraid of Michael Schumacher?

The race for the Formula 1 crown starts on Sunday with the Australian Grand Prix, and Michael Schumacher is expecting a difficult start. That should offer fans a change of pace, but can anyone dethrone the German champ?

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No ill will, but fans might like to see Schumacher be toppled

Firstly, we all know that Michael Schumacher has won the last five Formula 1 titles. For the past two or three seasons, the question everyone asked was if the German could be stopped, and it's no different this year. But a short quiz. When was the last time that Ferrari failed to win the Constructor Championship?

Ferrari is clearly the top team on the Grand Prix circuit and it's getting to be a downright boring affair watching Michael Schumacher lead from start to finish. Last season he won 13 of 18 races, including 12 of the first 13. Ferrari won 15 races in total. It doesn't get much duller than that.

On Saturday however, Schumacher was dealt a tough hand when rain lashed the Albert Park street circuit just as he was about to do his hot lap to claim a qualifying place at the front of the starting grid. Instead all he could do was safely steer his Ferrari around the hazardous track, trying to avoid mishap to finish almost 25 seconds down on surprise provisional pole-sitter Giancarlo Fisichella.

Schumi however tried to put a brave face on the event. "Obviously, this result will impact greatly on the race. All the
same we will try and bring home some points or even something better. "I don't think a podium is out of the question, but it will be very difficult. "Who knows what the weather will bring tomorrow. The race is long and all we can do is try our best to remedy this situation."

Old Ferrari in first few races

To win in Formula 1, you have to have a new car each year. It's a sign of progress if nothing else. Ferrari has already unveiled their new F2005 but testing on it is not due to be completed until the Spanish Grand Prix in May. That means Schumacher and teammate Rubens Barrichello (two victories last season) will drive last year's car.

Formel 1 Michael Schumacher in Schanghai

The old car will be used for the first few races. But will it really make a difference -- it's a Ferrari

"Running the old car will move us a little bit backwards compared if we had been able to run the new car," Schumacher told a press conference in Melbourne.

But let's be honest. Schumacher is the best Formula 1 driver in history and he could win with a beat up old 1972 Opel Manta. And at the ripe old age of 36, he is a master tactician. When asked if he had less chance of winning with the 2004 model, he replied with an emphatic 'yes.' But he left the door open for a possible victory.

"I might still win," he added. "That's what we are here for but our chances are less than if we had a new car because the competition has increased their game."

Should the competition have improved so much that Ferrari fell far behind though, technical director Ross Brown hinted that the F2005 could be ready as soon as the third race in Bahrain.

Merry-go-round in Formula 1

While the nine other teams more or less watched the Ferrari red rear wings speed away almost every race, the powers that be have decided to institute some rule changes, e.g. motor changes are penalized, tires must be used in qualifying and during the race. That should raise the excitement level a bit. But will it suffice to prevent Schumacher from winning his sixth, yes sixth, consecutive title?

Juan Pablo Montoya gewinnt den Monaco Grand Prix

Colombia's Juan Pablo Montoya is now driving McLaren-Mercedes, the team many see as being a potential threat to Ferrari

The most important question to ask though is: Who, if not the rule changes, can beat Michael Schumacher? There has been a whirlwind of driver changes this year. Only eight of last year's drivers are going to be with the same team this season. That means new set-ups, new cars, new challenges.

The challengers

Some of the best drivers belong to those who switched constructors: Juan Pablo Montoya moved from BMW-Williams to McLaren-Mercedes. Michael's brother, Ralf, is now with Toyota and the expectations are not high.

Last year's surprise team, BAR-Honda, still have Jenson Button and Takuma Sato at the helm, but the new 007 model leaves something to be desired according to experts on the circuit. Another disadvantage -- Button would have preferred to be with BMW-Williams but was forced to stay with BAR after a contract dispute was settled against him.

Ralf Schumacher mit Bruder Michael

Ralf Schumacher (right) may be giving the thumbs-up here, but it may happen less often with his new team, Toyota

Which leaves Kimi Raikonnen. Just two years ago, the Finn chased Michael to the last race only to lose the championship by two points. The first half last year was a disaster for McLaren but now hopefully things are back on track. Ralf Schumacher thinks McLaren has the best chances on Sunday.

"Raikonnen and Montoya have the edge and will be the first two over the finishing line," the Toyota driver said. It certainly might make the season more exciting if Michael Schumacher doesn't win in Melbourne because he has won the opening race four out of the last five years.

Oh, yes. The quiz. In 1998, McLaren-Mercedes with Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard beat Ferrari with Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine.

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