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Ferrari set to keep on winning

Ferrari are determined to enjoy their Formula One dominance while they can because even they know it will not last forever.

But after winning 11 of 13 grands prix this year and nailing a fourth successive constructors' championship in Hungary on Sunday, the runaway red machine appears to be speeding up rather than slowing down. No team has truly pushed them this year and some rivals fear it could be another season before that happens. Yet Ferrari remain cautious.

"We just want to do as much as we can to remain where we are," said Ferrari's sporting director Jean Todt after another one-two at the Hungaroring. "But we know it will be difficult and we know it will not last forever."

Historically, Formula One has gone through cycles of dominance and McLaren boss Ron Dennis, whose team enjoyed a run of success with four constructors' titles in a row from 1988 to 1991, was full of hope. "There is nothing more certain than that Ferrari will be beaten," he told reporters. "That is absolutely certain. It is only a question of when. If you look at the history, I think you'll see we sustained a very strong position for six years, something like that. It has been done."

The problem for the likes of McLaren and Williams, Ferrari's main rivals this year, is that the Italian team has an enviable degree of stability as well as a special relationship with tyre provider Bridgestone. Michael Schumacher, with a record-equalling fifth championship secured, has been there since 1996 and is signed up to the end of 2004 with the rest of the leadership and key technical experts including Todt.

"A stable successful grand prix team is definitely more difficult to beat than an unstable and successful team," agreed Dennis.

His driver David Coulthard, runner-up to Schumacher last season, accepted that he was unlikely to repeat the feat this year with Ferrari putting all their efforts into ensuring Brazilian Rubens Barrichello finishes second. The Scot, whose success in Monaco makes him one of just two non-Ferrari winners this year, also worried about 2003.

"It is worrying because we are having to pin a lot of hopes on the fact that the new package will give us performance," he said. "If we don't roll out the new car and go a second quicker, it's going to be potentially another year of chasing Ferrari. Certainly I think they (Ferrari) can carry this sort of performance into next year," added the Scot. "But beyond that I think it's a brave man that would say it's just an indefinite performance."

Four races remain this season and, despite Williams winning at Monza last year with Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, Ferrari look to have most of them in the bag.

"Places like Spa and Monza we might see us just have a stronger performance and consistency and less wear in our tyres," said Coulthard. "So that might get us ahead of Williams again but I still think Ferrari have enough in hand. Just because we all want it to be more competitive, doesn't mean it's going to be."

The main question is when Barrichello can secure the runner-up slot and give the two Ferrari drivers the rare option of racing freely. Schumacher needs one more victory to become the first driver to win ten races in a season, and may do that at Spa, his favourite track, in two week's time, but the team's priority is for Barrichello to be overall runner-up. Until that is assured, there will be team orders.

"We want our drivers to race against the other competitors, not against each other," said Todt. "We are not intending to have both drivers fighting against each other if it is not in the interests of the team."

Schumacher can also increase his amazing sequence of podium finishes, 15 in a row at present, and set a record for the number of points in a season as well. "It's a fantastic achievement of Michael's to score points in every race. Having 112 points in 13 races, it's an average of eight points," said Todt. "It's outstanding. I think it will be a very difficult record to beat, probably the most difficult."

By Alan Baldwin

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