Schumacher not really bothered

Michael Schumacher's second consecutive failure to achieve a podium finish this season still doesn't bother the five-time Formula One world champion.

Michael Schumacher's Ferrari collides with Jarno Trulli's Renault (foreground) on the third turn of the race in Sepang. Schumacher received a drive-through penalty for this offence and ultimately finished sixth in the race. — Pic. AFP-

"We have had many podium finishes in the past, this year the podium wins are not so far, they will come,'' Schumacher said.

The German finished sixth and a lap behind the winner at the Sepang track after his fourth place at the Australian GP season opener earlier.

Adding to the world champion's woes was a drive-through penalty awarded against him for causing a collision with Jarno Trulli's Renault on the third turn of the race that caused Trulli, who started second, to spin and put Schumacher on the grass for a few seconds.

"I am not very satisfied, but that is racing ... I am human so I make mistakes,'' Schumacher said. "I don't do them purposely. But in the end, still taking three points after what happened today is sort of OK.'' Ferrari had been among the top three at every F-1 race since September 1999.

Schumacher had not relinquished a lead since the U.S. Grand Prix in September 2000.

In an effort to slow Ferrari's dominance and boost slumping TV ratings, F-1 introduced a host of rule changes this season. Among them are one-car-at-a-time qualifying sessions over two days and other regulations governing fuel, car set up and points distribution based on race finishes.

Schumacher was not putting down his dismal start this season to new rules, but rather to a bad dose of luck in Sydney and Sepang.

In Australia his Ferrari team had a bad choice of tyres in wet weather and then Schumacher went over a curb and damaged a side panel that caused him to come in for an extra pit stop. Both Schumacher and Ferrari insist that the racer's current 2002 car, with which he won the championship last year, is still good enough to win races. The team is readying a 2003 model that is faster in testing. It is not known when the new car will be unveiled.

"I would like to race it as soon as it is ready but we will not be that stupid, forcing something which is not right,'' Schumacher said.

The Ferrari team — and Schumacher — must be hoping that the mishaps are one-off incidents and Schumacher will be on the podium again at the Brazilian GP.

HANS Off for now: Rubens Barrichello of Ferrari was allowed to race without a safety device — a decision which played a key role in his second-place finish. He was allowed to do away with the HANS device after he complained it was causing him pain.

The Head and Neck Support, or HANS, device is designed to prevent violent movement of the head and neck, which often has fatal consequences.

"I must thank the stewards for allowing me to race without the HANS system,'' Barrichello said. He said problems with the device that caused him pain in the collarbone in the season's first race.

The authorities' exemption for Barrichello was only for the Malaysian race. Barrichello said he was confident he would be able to wear the equipment for the Brazilian leg.

BAR mishap: The Malaysian GP was a disaster and a bit of a comedy of errors for BAR-Honda's Jacques Villeneuve.

An electrical problem forced his car out of the race minutes before it was to begin. Villeneuve got out of his car and ran for more than 100 meters to the BAR-Honda pit for help, hoping to get into the spare car.

But team officials told him to go back to the main car. Villeneuve started running back to the grid. The BAR mechanics were not able to get the car started and Villeneuve never started the race.

"A big disappointment as we concentrated all weekend on the race set-up and fuel strategy. We couldn't show it though,'' Villeneuve said. "Bad luck but that's life.''