Ferrari's dominance may take a back seat to the ten-year anniversary of the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger - and what will probably be F1's last visit to the famous Imola circuit - at the San Marino Grand Prix this weekend.

Ferrari's dominance may take a back seat to the ten-year anniversary of the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger - and what will probably be F1's last visit to the famous Imola circuit - at the San Marino Grand Prix this weekend.


The anti-clockwise Imola track is just under five kilometres long and has medium to high-speed corners. The kerbs are harsh on the cars and between flat-out straights are more than a few chicanes, so traction and brakes are important for the stop-and-go nature of the circuit.


The track surface is fairly smooth so tyre compounds are likely to be in the mid to soft range. After the heat of Malaysia and Bahrain, San Marino will be a much cooler climate and weather conditions will play their part. With its short pit lane, Imola lends itself to a three-stop strategy.


Last year , Michael Schumacher took a home win for Ferrari and , remarkably , it was his first victory of the season. There were six retirements, four of which were engine related. McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen came home second, Rubens Barrichello third and Williams had both cars in the points. It was a fairly sedate event, although the pit stop strategies added some interest.


Ferrari's form in the first three races of 2004 has been ominous. Schumacher has won four of the last five races at Imola, but opposition teams may fair better as a result of engine and aerodynamic developments introduced this weekend.


Williams-BMW, Renault and BAR are all on a comparable performance level and McLaren-Mercedes has been showing gradual improvement in testing. But Ferrari's achievements so far this year have set a very high benchmark - and of course, the Maranello squad will not be resting on its laurels.


"Even at Ferrari there is a lot that we can still improve," said Schumacher. "The European stages begin now and it is from here on that teams develop more consistency. We certainly can't relax in a period like this."


Renault is second to Ferrari in the constructors' standings, while drivers Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli are tied on points in the drivers'. As CARtoday.com reported earlier this week, Renault will introduce a new B-spec RS24 engine this weekend.


Ralf Schumacher took his first GP victory at Imola in 2001 but he is cautious about predicting too much for this weekend. "Miracles should not be expected from us in Imola, but the circuit has always suited our car," he said. "During our most recent tests at Barcelona and Paul Ricard, we have made improvements, so I believe we will be able to close the gap to the front runners."


McLaren-Mercedes' fortunes went from bad to worse in Bahrain, with neither Kimi Raikkonen nor David Coulthard reaching the chequered flag. There have been rumours of the team perhaps introducing a heavily revised version of the MP4-19 in the summer -- maybe they should have stuck with last year's 17D.


BAR has emerged as one to challenge the front runners, Jenson Button claiming two podium finishes so far. Can the team keep the momentum going? "This year, we promised to take the fight to the top three teams and our current position in the drivers' and constructors' standings clearly shows that we can deliver against that target," said team principal David Richards.


Jaguar's Mark Webber claimed a fortuitous point after the demise of Juan-Pablo Montoya's Williams-BMW at Bahrain. But it was rookie team-mate Christian Klien who shone in the desert, outqualifying Webber for the first time. Still learning some circuits, Imola at least is one Klien is familiar with. "I know it quite well as I have done a lot of races there and it really makes a difference when you know the track," he said.


Sauber got both cars home in Bahrain, albeit without points, as did Jordan. If the never-ending rumour mill is to be believed, Giorgio Pantano's days could be numbered with the Silverstone-based team. Jordan is reportedly not happy with Pantano's performance, but the performance of the car is not exactly up to scratch either.