Ralf Schumacher: 'A change is coming soon'


Ralf Schumacher: 'A change is coming soon'

5th, 24 points 3rd, Melbourne, Spa and Monza
4th, Hungaroring
The third place in Melbourne and a great showing in the early laps at Indianapolis.
Crashing and hurting his leg at Monaco.
Williams and BMW are clearly on the up, and Michelin is the key to the performance of the 2001 package. Meanwhile Ralf has to contend with an ambitious new team mate.

At the end of another strong season Ralf Schumacher was paid a compliment in a press conference at Malaysia when the McLaren and Ferrari drivers were asked who was likely to provide the strongest challenge in 2001. The consensus was that the Williams driver would be the key opposition. On paper Ralf is the logical choice, since he won the 'best of the rest' competition by finishing fifth in the championship. A fortunate third place in the season opener in Australia was followed by a string of points finishes, including more thirds at Spa and Monza, where again attrition played a part. Five times he was the quickest non-McLaren or Ferrari qualifying, actually pipping Rubens Barrichello to fourth in Hungary. Having seen off Alex Zanardi the previous year Ralf came under increasing pressure from Jenson Button as the season went on, and in the last few races it seemed that the young Brit occasionally had the edge. Next year he will have his work cut out as Juan Pablo Montoya tries to establish himself as the main man - we can expect some fireworks. Adam Cooper caught up with the younger Schumacher.

"It's nice to hear that they fear me, and I hope they're right! I think if we do a good job, it is possible to be there from time to time. But consistently we're still far away from them. I wouldn't say it was impossible, but we have to be realistic. From an engine point of view I'm sure we're going to be a lot better next year. And the car, from what I've seen on the drawing board so far, looks good as well."

"I think we could be very pleased with the season. It was far above our expectations. Except maybe for a race win with a bit of luck there wasn't more to achieve."

"To be honest, the whole season I haven't really cared for my driver's ranking because at the end of the day who cares whether you are second or sixth or third. The only thing that counts is if you are champion. Second is the first loser at the end of the day. It's nice for us as a team to be third, and we are proving again that we are the third ranking more or less by being fifth in the drivers, but it doesn't really give you anything."

"It still doesn't tell you that you couldn't have done better in some races. I'm sure there were some, especially in the last few races, where I didn't find the edge of my car really. It is nice in a way to be fifth, but in another way I would prefer to be top three. That's obvious!"

"On the one hand it's a strange situation, but those two teams have the best drivers, and had the best engines this year - they simply have the best package. If you go down the pitlane it is difficult to find these packages really, and if you aren't up there it's again difficult from one season to the other to gain a second and improve your car. We are a second away from the top teams, all of us. I think it's quite realistic to say that they are going to be dominating the next season again. I personally believe that a change is coming soon. BAR is getting up there, they are consistently quicker, we are close, and I'm sure with Renault, Benetton will be coming again. To come to a top level is difficult, but to stay there for a long period, as F1 has proved, is difficult as well. So I'm quite sure it will change, but not next year."

"I think the tyres could work in our favour next year on some occasions, but it will be the other way around as well. I hope that will be the right occasions and we will catch up. We'll see."

"I think it could be good from the start. Basically I've never driven the tyre yet - just give me some winter testing and I will see."

"I think they got it more than right in the first year, especially in the last half of the season. From what I've seen of what's coming next year, they've made another big step, which I'm quite sure will put us amongst the top teams."

"It's a strong German engine, don't forget!"

"I think for me as a German driver it's actually great. There is definitely a difference. You feel that there's the same understanding and same language. It is true, it is easier for me to go there and ask for something, and I will get it, I'm sure."

"He's a very good addition, because he understands both sides. He understood the racing side, and by now he understands everything else as well, which is perfect for me. He is someone who knows what it's like sitting in the car, and if you have several problems it's easy for him to understand."

"He never took me around the circuit!"

"No, I didn't ask him for that. I run my life on my own and I'm quite happy with that. Concerning my driving, if I have a question, he's there. Mainly we discuss problems, which is quite good."

"It has been a happy season, apart from a few races where we weren't so happy with our results, which is obvious. I think for Williams in a way we are happy about the results, but on the other hand they used to win championships and races, all the people that are there. So it's a bit understandable that they want to achieve more."

"You have to be realistic. I certainly think that we will be closer and maybe beat them on some circuits, I hope so at least - that's our target. But already that is quite a big target."

"First, it is a change, obviously. Williams was running Renault for a very long time. There was a bit of a question mark in the team, how are they going to perform this year, but that has all changed. It's turned into motivation and trust now, because they have really seen what an engine manufacturer can do."

"Indianapolis was very nice. Although I didn't finish I think I personally showed up quite good in the race. There were a couple of occasions this year... there were quite a few where I was together with Michael on the podium."

"I just said that it's a shame to split a team which was good, but then I said Frank must have his reasons and it could be better again. So I don't want to criticise that decision, I just wanted to make the point that Jenson was doing a great job and is a good driver. About Juan I can't say anything. Basically I think he's very quick, but F1 is something different than Indycar, but it's going to be a new experience for him."

"Do I need to? I don't think so."

"Exactly. Four years in a row actually - this was fourth season with a new team mate, and he's going to be number five. We're going to survive I hope. We'll see. I can't change it anyway!"

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