'248 F1 can challenge for title' - Schumi

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Michael Schumacher has conducted a series of test sessions and will leave for Bahrain safe in the knowledge that he has done everything possible to prepare for the new season. The weather has not always been helpful over the past few weeks at Mugello but the results have been encouraging nonetheless.

The seven-time world champion believes that Ferrari has closed the gap from last year: "the consistency that we have shown during the winter demonstrates once again the reason why Ferrari is so surprising", declared Michael Schumacher before leaving for Bahrain. "I am certain that our 248 F1 has the potential to challenge for the title. Though we have not managed to run as many laps as we would have wanted to, owing to the weather, we will go into the season with high hopes. Even if we do not win in the opening few races, we have, because of the work we have carried out, concrete ideas of the technical levels our car has to reach this season. This is very important. The ideal scenario would be to score some early points. In any case, we will be very motivated for Bahrain and Malaysia."

Since the team has tested extensively at Bahrain, the Prancing Horse will have a solid base to start from. "They were the first warm weather tests after Imola and were held on the same track layout as the Grand Prix circuit. This can only be an advantage for us. Another plus is that it helps in selecting the right tyres and set up."

What no-one has tested thus far is the new qualifying system. Do you like it, Michael? "I would like to wait and see before giving an opinion. It is always easy to criticise before the event but I don't normally do this. I prefer to analyse things calmly and then form an opinion. I think it will be a spectacle explaining it to the fans. We will see, however until now we have adapted well to rule changes".

2006 will be Michael's fifteenth season in Formula 1. Since 1994 he has had an uninterrupted run in challenging for the world crown. Owing to his vast experience, he is able to give an overview of his rivals' chances. "Renault appears to be in the best form, followed by the other teams: Honda, Mercedes and Ferrari. I think it will be a tough season. The teams seem to be very close to each other in performance terms and so it will be a tight battle. For the sport and the supporters this is fantastic. We are all looking forward to the season. Finally, it has come around again."

Source Ferrari