It was business as usual for the two Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro drivers here in Melbourne, as both Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello faced the media, the German in the official FIA press conference and the Brazilian at the back of the team...
It was business as usual for the two Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro drivers here in Melbourne, as both Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello faced the media, the German in the official FIA press conference and the Brazilian at the back of the team garage in the Albert Park paddock. Both men had spent the morning taking part in a very different sport when they tried their hand at beach volleyball, playing with members of the Australian women's Olympic squad in an event organised by team sponsor, Vodafone.
Schumacher was reminded that as Melbourne celebrates its tenth grand prix this year and that first race also marked Michael's debut for Ferrari. "I remember it well," he said. "And things have certainly got better and better since then. I really do like this race, because after a winter testing in the cold in Europe, it is always good to leave that behind and come here."
Onto more technical matters and Schumacher admitted that it might be a disadvantage starting the season with the modified version of last year's car. "We are not on the same level as we were here last year, when we had the new car, which was a very fast toy. But I am sure that many people would be happy to be racing our old car. But we have had an intensive test programme this winter and I am quite happy with what we have achieved."
So how competitive did he think the Scuderia would be in Melbourne? "Reasonably competitive," he suggested. "But it is difficult to predict as all our testing has been done in much colder conditions than here, although Melbourne has usually been good for us."
As for the effect of the new technical regulations, Schumacher feels that the engineers have produced a car that has overcome much of the effects of the loss of downforce created by the new rules. "When I first drove the car in 2005 configuration, I felt it was going to be very exciting to drive, with a lot more sliding. But, by the end of testing, I now feel we are pretty much back where we were. The car's handling is not so extreme and we have found a lot of performance."
The fact that Bridgestone now only supply two other teams alongside Ferrari was the subject of another question -- had this situation created more work for the Italian-Japanese partnership. "We have definitely had to do a lot more work," agreed Schumacher. "But perhaps having one big company behind one big team is enough to make up for that disadvantage. It certainly seems to have worked well up until now!"
It seems some of the F1 media are not yet in full work mode as the first question for Barrichello was not about the sport but about the famous Carnival in Rio. "I have not been since 1995, because I am always testing," answered the surprised Brazilian. "But I have very strong memories of it as a child, when it always involved a long journey with my family at Easter." And what does F1 have in common with Carnival? "Just the colours," laughed Rubens.
As for this weekend, Rubens is delighted to be racing again. "I could not wait to get here," he said. "I came to Australia immediately after the presentation of the new car (in Maranello on 25 February.) I like this race very much, as there is a nice relaxed atmosphere, rather like Canada. And, because it's the first race, there is a special excitement in the air."
Barrichello does not feel that racing here with the F2004 M will be a disadvantage. "When we came here with the new car last year, we had not done much running in testing, but this time I feel we are well prepared. Then, after the Malaysian race, I will try the new car for the first time, but it is too early to say when we will race it."
Barrichello is looking forward to tackling the new sporting regulations this weekend. "I like a new challenge," he commented. "With no tyre changes allowed, qualifying will actually be less important than in the past, except at circuits like Monaco and Budapest where overtaking is very difficult. It will be strange adapting to racing on one set of tyres," he continued. "We are used to going flat out for 20 laps before putting on new tyres."
"The first few races will be interesting as there will always be a point in the race where we have to decide whether to push hard or to save the tyres. Personally, I have always been the best when you look at the data concerning driver tyre wear, so the new rule should be good for me. But it will seem strange coming into the pits to refuel and then see the lap times get slower, as you have a heavy fuel load on old tyres."