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MARCH 3, 2001

Ferrari wins technical battle at Albert Park

AFTER a long development period during the off-season, Formula One's competition levels for 2001 were finally revealed - and Ferrari came out well on top.

Reliability concerns did not matter in the qualifying session where the single fast lap is what is important, but after claims that his team has sacrificed reliability for pace, McLaren team chief Ron Dennis was left eating his words.

Michael Schumacher's pole time was 0.569 seconds faster than the nearest McLaren, and the Italian team took both places on the front row.

But Dennis defended his team, saying: "The potential in the car and the engine was there, but we didn't have the opportunity to extract it properly."

Dennis now believes they have both pace and reliability, while Ferrari's Jean Todt, although happy with an "all-red" front row is now concerned over whether they will make it to the end of the race.

"At the moment I don't feel I can say this is one of our strong points," said Todt about the F2001's reliability after Schumacher took out the spare car at the end of qualifying to give it its first ever run.

The world champion, meanwhile, was surprised at the pace of the cars on Saturday. Despite new aerodynamic reductions, his pole time was 3.693 seconds quicker than any of the previous year's fastest laps.

He was impressed with the amount of development in the tires. "I am surprised that we are around four seconds faster than last year," said Schumacher. "I had expected it to be two or three seconds."

The extra grip from the tires, says the world champion, has made a major noticeable difference. "This year you can feel there is more G-force when you drive," he explained.