Echoing the claims made in each of the past few seasons, Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn addressed the assembled crowd of guests and media at the Scuderia's annual F1 launch by announcing that the new F2004 was probably the best car that the team had produced.

He then warned the team's rivals that it was 'the best - so far'....

"Although Rory [Byrne] will give you a technical description of the new car, once again this car represents another significant step in performance," he announced, "I am proud to say that this is the best Ferrari we have produced... so far.

"Our analysis of the 2003 season has highlighted the areas where we were strong and those where we were weak. Certainly, we did not react aggressively enough to the opportunities presented by the 2003 regulation changes and, for 2004, we have worked to ensure that we will not make the same mistake."

Brawn went on to cover the changes to the 2004 regulations, before explaining exactly why he felt that the team was ready to renew battle with its foes.

"For 2004, we have a number of new regulations. The size of the engine cover and the size of the rear wing endplates have been increased to create more space for sponsorship. The rear wing has been limited to two elements to provide a small reduction in downforce. The gearbox must now be operated manually and automatic starting systems have been banned. There has also been an increase in the minimum strength of the wheel tether system.

"Significantly, we are limited to one engine for the duration of the whole event, practice, qualifying and the race and this requires engines with twice the life of a 2003 engine.

"The practice and qualifying schedule has also changed, meaning that Friday will now be a car set-up day. We will have two consecutive qualifying sessions on Saturday afternoon, the second qualifying session determining grid position and also signifying the commencement of parc ferme meaning race fuel levels will be used.

"One of the reasons we are able to progress each year is stability. It is a stability that bonds the team during difficult periods, such as in 2003. But it also a stability that allows us to grow from within.

"For the past few years, our objective has been to develop key members of our staff so that they will become the Rory Byrnes or Ross Brawns at Ferrari in the future. As part of this plan, we have made a number of changes for 2004. Luca Baldisserri will become our chief race engineer, with responsibility for race engineering activities, including race strategy. Aldo Costa has taken more overall responsibility for this car than previous Ferraris and this trend will continue for the next few years. John Iley has joined as head of aerodynamics, and is now responsible for our aerodynamic activities. Many of our key staff are expanding their fields of responsibility and we can look forward to the future with optimism.

"One of the key elements to our eventual success in 2003 was our technical partnerships. We had a tremendous response and support from all of our partners without exception.

"Perhaps the most crucial partnership is with Bridgestone. What must be understood is that during a tyre war of the intensity and level we have experienced in the last few seasons, no tyre company can be totally dominant. We will succeed or fail on the strength of our tyres. This does not mean that we expect Bridgestone to shoulder that responsibility alone. We are not going to step back and say 'it is up to you, Bridgestone'. We have built a strong technical and human partnership and both partners must share the responsibility of producing the most competitive tyres. We will succeed together and we will fail together. And if we fail, then we will need to work harder and work smarter.

"Testing continues with our 2003 car, and we now have five major tests before the beginning of the season. We have been testing for several months using many major components from the 2004 car such as cooling systems, transmission components and engine components and we are pleased with progress.

"Our new car will run at Fiorano at the end of this week, with Michael [Schumacher] driving. The programme will then continue for the whole of February at Fiorano, Mugello and Imola. All the major crash testing has already been successfully completed with the second new car and that will join the test programme later in February.

"Last year was an extremely challenging year and many difficult questions were asked of Ferrari. We faced these challenges and answered these questions with the spirit of which we are all proud.

We cannot guarantee to win, but we can guarantee to always try our best."