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Last Updated:  Monday, 7 April, 2003, 07:53 GMT 08:53 UK
Has Brazil left Ferrari washed up?
Jonathan Legard predicts a Juan Pablo Montoya victory in Brazil
Jonathan Legard
BBC motor racing correspondent

Sao Paulo's rainswept rollercoaster produced the unthinkable twice over - and once again Michael Schumacher and his team have only themselves to blame.

The world champion, Formula One's monsoon magician, crashed off the road and Ferrari's all-conquering F2002 broke down on Rubens Barrichello.

It scarcely seems possible that in the opening three races of 2003 Schumacher has not come close to a podium finish.

Michael Schumacher
Is it time for Schumacher to wave goodbye to the drivers' crown?
And for the man who could not put a wheel wrong all last season, this latest failure at Interlagos brought his marvellous point-scoring run going back almost two years to an embarrassing end.

"The gap to the championship leader is not so big, given there are still 13 races," Schumacher insisted afterwards. "So there is no need to be concerned."

He is right. Mostly. No team or driver could hope to maintain the dizzying run of success that the champions enjoyed in 2002.

In any case, Schumacher had started from pole position in Australia. Barrichello was second in Malaysia and should have won in Brazil following a dazzling run to pole position on Saturday.

But, for all their predictions that the competition would be much stronger in 2003, not even Schumacher or Ferrari team bosses Jean Todt and Ross Brawn could have foreseen such a huge swing in the balance of power.

McLaren, so recently portrayed as Ferrari's poor relation over strategy, tactics and design, have turned the tables spectacularly.

Their 100% record in Australia, Malaysia and now Brazil puts them in an enviably strong position.

How many teams in the past have failed to win the championship after such a rip-roaring start to a season?

Schumacher used to drive round trouble now he's finding it like a rookie
The answer is only one. Michael Schumacher won the opening four races - and the drivers' title - for Benetton in 1994 but Williams, reeling from the death of Ayrton Senna, took the constructors' crown.

Nine years later, Schumacher has to recover from his worst ever start to a season, after his third unforced error in as many races.

The team's bullet-proof reliability with the F2002, which captured 14 race victories last year, has already been compromised.

Their uncharacteristically slow reaction to changing conditions in the first race in Melbourne was a puzzle, too.

Those like David Coulthard who question Schumacher's strength under pressure are having a field day.

Where once the champion was guaranteed to drive round trouble, now he is finding it like a rookie.

Of course, if Barrichello had run untroubled and triumphant to the chequered flag, as the Sao Paulo script-writers had intended, the next race at Imola - the first of the year in Europe - would not loom so large for Ferrari.

McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen
McLaren are showing they have the muscle this season
But the fact remains that Brazil's fastest car did not last the distance. And the pressure on the new F2003-GA to relaunch their season has grown quite unexpectedly.

Its debut was intended to push on from a position of strength.

Now it is catch-up time - with McLaren promising yet more improvements to their resurgent old model as the new MP4-18A goes testing this week.

It is worth remembering, however, the standings at this stage last year.

Ferrari actually trailed Williams in the constructors' championship.

The result in San Marino - a crushing Schumacher-Barrichello one-two finish in qualifying and the race - was the turning point. Ferrari were onto a winner.

Time will tell if history is about to repeat itself.

In turn, F1's new world will benefit even more if the leading players are firing on all cylinders.






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