Byline: IAN GORDON
MICHAEL Schumacher is confident he can end his six-year search for a victory in Austria this weekend and increase his lead in the World Championship.
The A1-Ring near Zeltweg in the Styrian Alps is the only circuit on the current 17-race calendar where Schumacher is yet to win.
But the German believes his supremacy in the Ferrari F-2002 gives him the best chance ever of ending that losing streak and make it five wins in six races so far this season.
'I know a lot of people think that the statistics should affect my confidence because I have never won there, but I never pay too much attention to statistics,'' said Schumacher, whose best result is second last year.
'In fact, you can also look at it the other way and say perhaps it's time I was due a win there.
'There's no suggestion that this circuit poses any particular problems for me, it has always just been a question of circumstances, which have meant it hasn't worked out for me there.
'I certainly won't be approaching this race any differently than the others. And with two almost perfect races behind us, I'm obviously looking forward to the Austrian Grand Prix with a lot of confidence.''
Schumacher's only pole in six attempts on the track which returned to the calendar in 1997 came last year.
But after a collision with the Williams of Juan Pablo Montoya it took a controversial decision by Ferrari to order Rubens Barrichello to, reluctantly, move over for Schumacher to finish second to McLaren's David Coulthard.
The 33-year-old also finished sixth in 1997 and third in 1998 - again when he benefitted from team orders - but missed the race in 1999 because of his accident at Silverstone, while in 2000 he went out at the first corner.
'We can certainly go to Austria feeling optimistic and fight to win there,'' added Schumacher, who insisted after the last race in Spain that he did not expect to be at a disadvantage on any of the remaining 12 circuits.
'I don't know any reason why our run of good luck should come to an end. The F-2002 is such a fantastic car that we ought to have the best possible chances in Zeltweg.
'That doesn't mean we're taking the race lightly - on the contrary. We at Ferrari are more aware than some others that the race for the World Championship title is far from being decided yet and that we're bound to suffer setbacks. Why should we be immune?
'We'll go into every race with renewed concentration. There's a saying in football: the next game is always the most difficult. This is also true of Formula 1.''
But given Schumacher's crushing margin of victory in Barcelona - which extended his lead in the championship to 21 points over Montoya - the Swiss-based racer will start favourite although Williams will hope to be closer.
'I think the tyres will be crucial, but of course, you can't say in advance who will come off better in that respect,'' added Schumacher.
'But at least we are certain that we have the right package and everything is working in harmony, so the most decisive factor will be how things develop with the other teams. We can certainly be very confident.''
FLASHBACK: Michael Schumacher hopes he does not experience the same problem as last year in Austria when he spun off at the first corner