Symonds: tough title fight ahead
Even if Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella made it look easy in Australia at the weekend, Formula One is bracing for a real battle ahead.

"You've got to be careful looking at one race and saying, right that's how the season will go," said Renault's head of engineering Pat Symonds after the French team's resounding victory in Melbourne. "But there are signs - not just from this race but the testing we've been doing over the winter as well - that this is going to be one of the closest seasons for a while.

"I think that ourselves and McLaren are very, very close. Ferrari are there. Williams and BAR won't be far behind for long," he added. "Red Bull had a great race and maybe they are joining in."

With champions Ferrari leaving their new car at home, possibly until the fifth round in Spain in May, Renault and McLaren were heavily tipped to set the pace in the season-opener.

In the end, the fickle Melbourne weather proved more decisive than anything.

Fisichella, officially making his debut for a team he knows well since he raced for them under the Benetton name, was favoured by heavy rain falling immediately after his Saturday qualifying lap.

That left rivals, including both McLaren drivers and Ferrari's seven times world champion Michael Schumacher, with an insurmountable task and Formula One fans savouring a deep draught of fresh hope for the future.

Schumacher qualified at the back of the grid and crashed out during the race, while McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen started from the pit lane.

The real measure of who was hot and who was not lay elsewhere.

Brazilian Rubens Barrichello left no doubt that Ferrari, even with their old car, were quick when he went from a midfield position to second place.

"They are going to be a serious challenge right through the year," said Symonds. "At the last Barcelona test, for example, on the Thursday we were doing a race distance with Ferrari and they were right up there. It might be last year's car but it was a pretty good car last year.

"They were quick today and one assumes their new car will be quicker and better so they are going to be really hard to beat. But at the same time we are constantly developing our car.

"We've got a whole new floor in Malaysia. It's only the second race but we've already got quite a big aero update. You just keep pushing."

McLaren showed their pace with Raikkonen storming through to take a point and Juan Pablo Montoya sixth.

"The result may not show this but we have the pace to challenge for victories," said Raikkonen.

"It was circumstances, it wasn't a straightforward race," Symonds agreed. "I'm sure they (McLaren) are as quick as us. I think on some circuits they will be quicker than us, at others we will be a bit quicker than them.

"What I do know is that they are quick and they just had a disastrous weekend. It could just as easily have been the other way round with them first and third.

"It's going to be a good, tough fight right through the year, I'm sure."
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