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8 'n' Pole

2003 Malaysian Grand Prix 
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Is the F2002 competitive enough ?

There is a lot of speculation about the competitiveness of the Ferrari in Melbourne and how much of the gap did McLaren and Williams manage to reduce. There are some who believe that both McLaren and Williams have actually closed the gap while others believe that Ferrari is still significantly ahead but made the wrong tyre choice. The truth -as usual - is somewhere in between. Ferrari are still the team to beat, they were a second ahead of the Williams of Juan Pablo Montoya in Qualifying and they were on similar fuel loads. It is hard to compare them against McLaren in Qualifying as David was on a much heavier fuel load (single stop) and Kimi made a mistake on his Qualifying lap making his time meaningless.
Ferrari have definitely made the wrong tyre choice, first they started on intermediates when they should have started on slicks and more importantly had to stop twice after they switched to dry tyres and that cost them the race.
The performance of the McLaren's and Juan Pablo Montoya was impressive though but we won't know how much they've closed the gap to Ferrari until we see them race under dry conditions without safety car interruptions.
The new regulations may have made the race exciting but the drying conditions at the start and the 2 safety car periods contributed more. Qualifying is now an extension of the race and at the end of it, one can only speculate the race strategies, the times don't mean much until the race.

5 of the 6 teams that opted for full testing were testing at Jerez and Fiorano. Only the Sauber team didn't test last week. Most of the teams had their test drivers doing the driving as their regular drivers were taking a break in the east. The Toyota pair of Olivier Panis and Cristiano da Matta as well as Ralf Schumacher were present though. As usual, it is very hard to read much into the lap times from testing as each team runs their own programme.
Bad news for Ferrari with the F2003-GA crashing heavily twice due to mechanical failure. Not a good sign if they were hoping to introduce it within the next 2 races. 

McLaren: They went for a single stop and hence their poor qualifying grid positions. Drying conditions and the 2 safety car periods prevented us from knowing if their strategy was right. They were fast and reliable though and are certainly closer to Ferrari. Reliability 9/10 - Speed 9.0/10

Drivers: David Coulthard won the race due to the misfortunes of the others, particularly Juan Pablo Montoya who spun and Kimi Raikkonen who was penalised for speeding in the pitlane. That said, David is one of the most consistent drivers today and that pays when the others falter. He could win in Malaysia under similar circumstances which is unlikely. A podium is possible.

Kimi Raikkonen missed out on his first win in his career by a wrongly calibrated speed limiter. That must be hard on the young Finn but he'll bounce back. His superb skill in preventing Michael Schumacher passing him is enough to tell us that he is a World Championship material. Expect him to be close to the Ferraris here. A podium is likely with a win possible.

Williams: We saw two different cars in Melbourne, the one driven by Juan Pablo looked like a winner while the one driven by Ralf Schumacher resembled the slow Williams of the pre-season testing. Sure going out on dry tyres helped Montoya but it should've helped Ralf as well. While the Williams has improved,  it hasn't improved as much as the McLaren. Reliability 9/10 - Speed 8.5/10

Drivers: Juan Pablo Montoya must have driven the car on the absolute limit to put it were it is. In qualifying he was brilliant compared to his team-mate (both were on very similar fuel loads) and in the race he was brilliant too (apart from that unforced spin that lost him the race). Expect him to perform well in Malaysia and be close to the Ferraris. A podium is likely with a win possible.

Ralf Schumacher didn't have a good weekend in Australia. Lets hope that he recovers in time for Malaysia. He won here last year thank to the tangle between Juan Pablo and Michael. He'll almost need  a miracle to repeat that victory again.

Renault: Despite them finishing both cars in the points in Australia, Renault were a bit disappointing. They appeared to have suffered by the changing conditions. A positive though was that they finished both their cars. Now they need to increase those revs! 
Reliability 8.5/10 - Speed 8.5/10

Drivers: Jarno Trulli managed to benefit from the conditions more than his team-mate and ended up ahead of him despite starting behind him. Trulli however is an excellent Qualifier and having Alonso out-qualify him in his first race for Renault isn't a good sign. Another points finish is possible.

Fernando Alonso passed his first test with Renault with flying colours. He out-qualified his team-mate on what appeared to be similar fuel loads and had a good race finishing 7th. The fight between these two will be intense. Expect Alonso to be closer to Trulli in Malaysia.  

Ferrari: They were strong in Australia in qualifying but the wrong tyre choice and unusual mistakes by their drivers in the race masked their true potential. They are still the team to beat. 
Reliability 9.5/10 - Speed 9.0/10

Drivers: Michael Schumacher surprisingly opted for intermediates at the start of the race in Melbourne even though he is usually comfortable with dry tyres on drying tracks. The decision to stop twice following the switch to dry tyres was also not a characteristic of the Michael - Ross genius when adapting the strategy to the conditions. He will bounce back though and do better here. 

Rubens Barrichello spun out of the race while on wet tyres on a drying track. It is a shame that we didn't see what kind of fuel he was on. If he was on a similar fuel to Michael then he hasn't really moved up a step to match Michael. Perhaps we'll know in Malaysia. A podium finish is possible.

Sauber: Did well in Australia with Frentzen running with the Renaults but we cannot tell yet how close or far Sauber is from the top 4. One thing we do know is that Sauber will need to score as many points as they can early in the season as their customer Ferrari engine becomes very outdated later on. Reliability 8.5/10 - Speed 8.0/10

Drivers: Heinz Harald Frentzen made a successful return to Sauber and scored 3 points for the team. He also qualified in 4th which was impressive but we don't know how much fuel he had as he appeared to have changed strategy when he pitted for wets. A top 10 finish is possible.

Nick Heidfeld was unlucky to retire with a suspension failure as a result of touching another car early in the race. With Frentzen doing so well, the pressure is on him to perform. A top 10 finish is possible.

BAR: They managed to finish both their cars in Melbourne and that was an amazing achievement on its own given the number of Honda engines that have been blowing in testing and practice. They must have dropped the revs though.
They appear to have sorted out the chassis and now they need to get more power from the Honda engine.
The pit stop mixup was embarrassing for them and whatever the reason, David Richards should stop those things from happening. 
Reliability 8/10 - Speed 8.0/10

Drivers: Jacques Villeneuve did well in qualifying but after choosing the harder compound tyre, opting for a 2 stop strategy ? that was a mistake. He still managed one way or another to keep his team-mate behind him. He could do better in Malaysia and score some points provided that the Honda engine doesn't blow up.

Jenson Button was outqualifed by his team-mate who was on a harder compound but in the race he definitely had a better pace than Villeneuve. That is what he should concentrate on rather than get sucked into a psychological war with his teammate. If he can overcome that, he'll score points in Malaysia.

Minardi: They managed to finish one of their cars just one lap down despite starting from the pitlane. That is encouraging but it also shows that they are still the slowest team out there and if the others make it to the end, there won't be any points remaining for them.  
Reliability 7.5/10 - Speed 7.0/10

Drivers: Jos Verstappen managed to finish his first race with the team. The car isn't fast enough though to compete with anyone ahead of him. He'll only make it into the points if a lot of cars ahead retire. 

Justin Wilson had to retire from the race due to a radiator leak. He was running strongly before that and was mixing it with the other Cosworth powered cars. So far he appears to be adapting well to Formula 1. Like Verstappen though, he'll need to be very lucky to score some points.

Jordan: Despite their financial problems and a weaker Cosworth engine, Jordan managed to out-qualify and out-race the Jaguar team who are using the latest 90 degree Cosworth engine. That might be comforting for Eddie Jordan but the fact remains that the Jordan is relatively slow and unreliable.
Reliability 6.5/10 - Speed 7.5/10

Drivers: Giancarlo Fisichella retracted his comments about moving to a winning team next year and indicated that he hoped Jordan could do just that. Fisichella is highly regarded in Formula 1 but he can only do so much with an uncompetitive car. He could score a point or two but it will be tough.

Ralph Firman spun out of the race in Australia. That would be expected from a rookie. He'll need to improve on that fairly quickly.

Jaguar: Their cars are neither fast nor reliable but what does one expect from a team that has had management changes for the last 2 years ?. It will take a while to be sorted out.
Reliability 6.5/10 - Speed 7.5/10

Drivers: Mark Webber drove a brilliant 16 laps before his suspension broke. Too early to tell what kind of fuel load he had though!. A top 10 finish is possible if his car can make it.

Antonio Pizzonia struggled in Australia and should have done better given that he was a Williams test driver. However, one can't make any conclusions from a single race. Don't expect much in Malaysia though!.

Toyota: They proved that they've made a big step forward however they appear to be not as reliable yet. If that is sorted, they could be surprisingly close to the top 4
Reliability 8/10 - Speed 7.5/10

Drivers: Olivier Panis qualified in a superb 5th place and appeared to be on a single stop indicating a heavy fuel load. This shows just how much the Toyota has improved since last season. A points finish is possible.

Cristiano da Matta spun out of the race in Australia but that can be expected from a rookie. He did show some signs of brilliance throughout the weekend. Points will be hard.

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