MARCH 19, 2003
MALAYSIAN GP - PREVIEW
The Formula 1 circus goes to Sepang this weekend in the hope that the weather will not intervene and we can finally see the relative levels of competitiveness of the various teams after the picture was blurred somewhat in Australia. The likelihood is, however, that rain will strike again at some point during the Malaysian GP weekend and all the calculations will be thrown into confusion again.
The signs are that Ferrari still has the legs on the rest of the field but that still needs to be confirmed as the Italian cars appeared to be running with smaller fuel loads in Australia than their major rivals. But the damp conditions at the start of the race in Melbourne gave the impression that Ferrari was totally dominant and yet within a few laps the huge lead built up had disappeared as the track dried and the opposition caught up.
What seems to be clear is that the major opposition to Ferrari will once again come from Williams and McLaren but although Williams threw away victory in Australia when Juan Pablo Montoya spun and the race was won by McLaren's David Coulthard it is still not certain that these two teams are really clear of the opposition. Renault, Jaguar, BAR, Toyota and Sauber all looked good on occasion in Melbourne and the only thing that can really be deduced from this is that battle to be fourth in the Constructors' Championship this year is going to be fraught indeed. There is little doubt that the Renault is a very good chassis but it is also clear that the engine is nothing to get excited about; Jaguar seems to have a good package but a couple of rear driveshaft failures in Melbourne destroyed any chance the team had of success. In addition it has to be said that Antonio Pizzonia did not really impress at any point during the Melbourne weekend.
Toyota did look good but the team failed to get a car to the finish. If reliability improves the team is going to be scoring big results later in the year. BAR too seems to have a good chassis but there are question marks over the Honda engines, which were rather unreliable in Melbourne. As a result the team went into qualifying with old engines rather than the latest developments.
A second non-Michael Schumacher victory would certainly throw the cat among the pigeons, which would be a very good thing for the sport. If that happens however it is likely that Ferrari will accelerate the development of the new F2003 GA chassis in order to hold to an advantage.