New Ferrari F2001 the tool for Schumacher to retain title

FERRARI may be poised to offer Michael Schumacher an inflation-busting five year extension to his F1 contract, but his enthusiasm to ink such a deal could depend on the competitive success of the new F2001 contender which broke cover at the Italian team's Fiorano test track this morning.

The deal could hike Michael's fee from 16 to 20 million pounds a year through to the end of the 2005 season when the German ace is expected to retire at the age of 36.

Schumacher is scheduled to give the F2001 its preliminary shakedown today, and start a proper test program with the car at Fiorano on Wednesday or Thursday, while Rubens Barrichello flies to Barcelona later today to continue tire testing in one of last year's F2000s.

Compared to the car that won last year's championship, the most obvious visual differences concern the aerodynamics, the F2001 featuring a lower nose cone, higher positioned front wing and longer side pods.

The car is powered by the latest type 050 cast aluminium V10 engine developing over 800bhp with pneumatic valvegear and Magneti Marelli digital electronic injection. No details have been given of the new engine's vee angle, but insiders hint that it has been opened out slightly further than last year's 90-degrees in an effort to further lower the engine cover and enhance airflow over the rear wing, a particularly crucial factor given the limitations on rear wing size under the 2001 technical rules. The car retains the periscope-style side exhausts which vent upwards through the engine cover just inside the rear wheels.

Power is transmitted through a sequential, seven speed longitudinal gearbox manufactured from pre-machined and welded titanium.

Much attention has been given by technical director Ross Brawn's engineering team to further lowering the car's center of gravity and considerable research has been carried out into reducing the engine's internal friction.

The winning team from last season remains intact. Technical director Ross Brawn and chief designer Rory Byrne have worked tirelessly to parlay the F2000's consistently competitive track performance to new levels within the terms of the new aerodynamic rules.

Nigel Stepney is expected to take the role of team manager and sporting director Jean Todt - in so many ways the architect of last year's title success - will continue to provide the crucial "fire wall" insulating the racing team from the Ferrari company management.

Moreover, with electronic driver aids not set to be reintroduced until the fifth race of the season, Ferrari will benefit from rule stability for the opening phase of its title defence, effectively giving it a flying start into the new year.

Maranello insiders believe that this will give Schumacher an early points advantage before he has to worry about McLaren brainstorming its way to a superior traction control system from the Spanish GP onwards.

The official communique on the F2001 commented delightfully; "Ferrari's engineers contribute in no uncertain terms to building a car that is as reliable as possible despite the technological exasperation involved in the construction of all its components."

In reality, they will be keeping their fingers crossed that Schumacher will be using their handiwork to cause as much "exasperation" to rivals McLaren as he possibly can.

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