Ralf Schumacher may only have been out of the cockpit for a matter of weeks following his incident-packed Japanese Grand Prix finale, but the German is already champing at the bit to begin preparations for the 2004 campaign.

Despite rumours speculating as to the reasons why he has not yet inked a new deal with the Williams-BMW team, Schumacher is keen to get back to testing in readiness for a year when he feels the Anglo-German combination will really be able to challenge brother Michael and the Ferrari team for world championship honours.

"You should always look ahead," Schumacher Jr insisted in an interview with the BMW Motorsport website, "Currently, we are in a promising position and I want it to stay like this."

Although the new FW26-BMW won't be ready to run until early in the New Year, Schumacher firmly believes that good winter tests will be of major importance to the development of the car, and that a lot of running between its launch and the first grand prix of the season in Australia will allow the team to begin on a par with its rivals.

"Successful testing in the coming four or five weeks will be a key factor concerning the development of the new FW26," he confirmed, "Next year, we want to be able to fight for top positions right from the start so, by January or February, we already need to be at the level of competitiveness we only reached in the middle of 2003."

Once the FW25 had found its true performance, Schumacher and team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya took three wins, four second places and a third in the final eight races of the 2003 season.

"With hindsight, it has been an extraordinary season," Schumacher reflected, "At the beginning, we were lucky that there were several teams suffering from a poor start - Ferrari made many mistakes and McLaren, who were really strong, also made mistakes. After that, it was good battle."



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