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Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro will

Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro will start its defence of the Constructors' and Drivers' titles that have not left Maranello since 1999 and 2000 respectively. These statistics mean that the Italian team must start the 2005 season as favourites. However, in reality it looks like being a tough and much more competitive championship than last year's.

Tough? Certainly, as the calendar features no less than nineteen grands prix, making it the longest season in the history of Formula 1. The races are crammed into a similar time-period to 2004 and that means there are no less than six sets of "back-to-back" events (races just one week apart.) The European summer is going to be particularly intensive: there are five weekends in the month of July and there are grands prix on four of them!

Competitive? Definitely, as the many major car manufacturers involved in the sport are keen to put an end to the Scuderia's winning streak. McLaren-Mercedes underperformed last year and results from winter testing indicate they have made great steps forward. BAR-Honda and Renault can also be expected to improve.

With the new technical and sporting regulations only being ratified quite late in 2004, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro has decided to start the year using last year's car. This is not quite accurate as the car, now known as the F2004 M (M for modified) has been adapted to comply with the new regulations. The chassis has been fitted with additional side-intrusion panels to meet stricter crash test requirements. As per the rules, the front wing has been raised, the rear wing brought further inboard and the diffuser (the rear part of the floor) has been altered as the FIA intended, with the aim of reducing aerodynamic downforce by around 25%. As expected, much work in the Ferrari wind tunnel has seen this figure reduced.

The incredible reliability of its V10 engine has been a cornerstone of Ferrari's success and this year, the final season of the 3 litre V10 rule, will put an even greater emphasis on reliability. As from 2003, a driver had to use the same engine for one complete race weekend, but this year the engine must remain the same for two grands prix.

Perhaps the biggest rule change of all concerns tyres: drivers must now use the same set of tyres for both qualifying sessions and the race. In terms of the show, this probably means less pit stops than in the past, even though refuelling is still allowed. In practical terms, the rule means Ferrari has spent much of the winter testing in close collaboration with tyre partner Bridgestone, to come up with tyres that can last over 300 kilometres, rather than around 100, while still giving sufficient grip. A driver who has the skill to look after his tyres throughout Sunday afternoon and a chassis that is "kind" to its tyres will be very advantageous throughout the season.

As far as the sporting regulations for 2005 are concerned, the biggest change concerns the qualifying format. First qualifying takes place as usual on Saturday afternoon, but now, second qualifying takes place on race morning and grid positions are decided by aggregating a driver's time from both sessions.

Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro plays the consistency card as far as its driver line-up is concerned, with Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello embarking on the sixth year of their partnership, Melbourne sees several drivers having switched teams, with Minardi and Jordan featuring an all-rookie line-up. In the Jordan camp, Narain Karthikeyan has the honour of being the first ever Indian driver to compete in a grand prix.

Although it is a temporary facility, erected and dismantled each year, the 5.303 km Albert Park circuit provides an interesting challenge as the season curtain-raiser. It has a reputation as something of a car breaker, although engine failures are not that common here, even though they spend around 67% of the lap at full throttle. Actually, on a track where grip is poor, the most common reason for retirement is driver error, which might stem from the fact this is the first race of the year and even the stars of the show might be a bit "rusty" when it comes to racecraft after a four month break!

Although all the teams have tested extensively over the winter, Melbourne will be the first time that they have all run on the same track, at the same time and in the same conditions, so the weekend should provide a pointer as to the pecking order among the teams and drivers for the first part of the season.
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