TOKYO -- Ferrari's domination of Formula One could soon be a thing of the past, Toyota's Ralf Schumacher said on Friday.
Renault and McLaren have both impressed in testing and
Schumacher told Reuters that Ferrari will be pushed to the limit
in the 2005 season, which begins in Melbourne on March 6.
"By the look of it in the testing season, you would say that
Ferrari are not the benchmark any more," said Schumacher,
younger brother of Ferrari's seven-times world champion Michael.
"It could all turn around but for the moment the benchmark
seems to be Renault or McLaren. I think it's going to be a tough
season for Ferrari. I doubt they are going to win 15 of 18."
Ferrari won 15 races in an all-conquering 2004 season to
bring the Italian manufacturer a sixth successive constructors'
Toyota's goals for the new season are less ambitious but
drivers Schumacher and Jarno Trulli will be under pressure to
produce the team's first podium finish.
"To get on the podium could be a realistic goal for us,"
said the German, who joined the big-budget Japanese team after
winning six races in six years at BMW-powered Williams.
"We have to wait and see how the season develops. In
previous years we had only Ferrari up there and the rest pretty
weak and inconsistent."
"This year...Renault, McLaren and Ferrari are pretty strong,
so it's going to be a real tough season for us," he added.
"I hope from mid-season we can score one or two podium
finishes and if we achieve that, it has been a great season."
Trulli, who has joined from Renault, is also a race winner
but Toyota have seen little return on their investment after
three years in Formula One.
Japan's largest carmaker watched domestic rivals Honda
achieve success as engine partners to BAR, who finished second
overall in the championship on a smaller budget in 2004.
Toyota finished 10th in their debut year in 2002 and were
eighth in 2003 and 2004. From 51 races they have taken just 27
Reliability will be even more of a factor in 2005 with
engines now having to last for two races instead of just one but
Schumacher still expects Toyota's new TF105 to be competitive.
"I will be listening to my engine because I hope that's
going to stay alive for two races," said the 29-year-old.
"For me, it is to just finish the first two races and I'm
sure if we achieve that, we're going to score some good points."
However, with an annual budget estimated at $400 million,
Toyota's team boss Tsutomu Tomita has been ordered to deliver a
podium finish by management bigwigs in Tokyo.
"We have a real chance to improve performance," Tomita told
Reuters. "In this F1 racing world, it's very difficult, but we
accept that or we wouldn't be in Formula One."