BAR Honda seems on course for its maiden GP win following three consecutive podium finishes and an impressive test session performance at Mugello, but can Jenson Button trump Michael Schumacher at Barcelona - the Ferrari star's 200th grand prix?

BAR Honda seems on course for its maiden GP win following three consecutive podium finishes and an impressive test session performance at Mugello, but can Jenson Button trump Michael Schumacher at Barcelona - the Ferrari star's 200th grand prix?



The Circuit de Catalunya is a challenging circuit and several observers believe this weekends' Spanish Grand Prix will offer Ferrari's competitors the best opportunity to stop Schumacher's string of consecutive victories - which stands at four so far.


BAR Honda has secured two third places and one second place in the last three races and Button set pole position on Ferrari's home turf at Imola two weeks ago. BAR can better Ferrari in qualifying, that much has been proven, but a race distance is a different matter. If Schumacher gets his car in front, it's unlikely that his Ferrari will be beaten - given the good reliability the F-2004 has shown thus far.


But Ferrari is not as dominant as the results appear to show. Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari was matched by Renault and Williams-BMW at Imola. Without a clear track ahead, Ferrari's superiority dwindled to an average performance. Schumacher had a clear track immediately after the first pit stops and made the most of it. It would be interesting to see what he could do put in the same position as Barrichello was at San Marino.


BAR's Honda engine is now regarded the most powerful on the grid, but Schumacher's cruise to victory at Imola underlines that power alone is not going to win races. Still, while BAR's applause worthy efforts are generating the most interest at the moment, there's other teams hoping to break the Ferrari deadlock this weekend. Now F1 is back in Europe, hardly a race goes by without new aerodynamic or engine tweaks being introduced.


Williams-BMW has delivered solid performance but the FW-26 has not fulfilled its potential. Both Juan-Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher have been grousing about the shortcomings of the car. The Grove-based team has set the pace during periods of a race weekend but never for the duration of a grand prix. Renault is the other way round - its reliability and consistency is so far the team's biggest asset but qualifying has been a stumbling block. Over a single lap, the drivers haven't been on the pace.


Montoya is still seething because Schumacher nudged his Williams-BMW onto the grass on the opening lap of the San Marino Grand Prix.


"I'm going to go and speak to (FIA race director) Whiting," Montoya said. "How can you have a one-move rule in Formula One and then have Michael Schumacher move left and then right and do nothing about it? That's two moves."


However, his team-mate Ralf said it was about time Montoya forgot about the incident: "I think Montoya should stop whingeing about it and focus on his driving. It's unrealistic to criticise Michael and then do what he did to me (Montoya’s car appeared to squeeze Ralf’s car onto the shoulder of the asphalt at the very next bend)”.


Ralf, though, also has a query for Whiting regarding his own incident with Alonso: "I had to go to see the stewards after the race and they said to me that if he's alongside, then you've got to give him room. But how far alongside is alongside? I want clarification on that too."


McLaren-Mercedes is aiming to introduce the MP4-19B in Germany but will field a revised package for the MP4-19 in Spain.


As for the rest of the field, Jaguar has impressed F1 observers with its pace during practice sessions, but despite Mark Webber's heroics in the qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix, the Milton Keynes team has flattered to deceive. Sauber has improved slightly, albeit not enough to make an appreciable difference yet. Toyota has been a disappointment and Jordan and Minardi are grimly struggling on with uncompetitive equipment.


The Cirucit de Catalunya is familiar territory with the amount of testing done there but the 4,6 km track is fairly demanding. "Barcelona is a challenging circuit for the drivers and engineers to find a well balanced set-up," says Williams-BMW chief operations engineer Sam Michael. "We spend a lot of time here during winter testing but the changeable conditions mean that you are still experimenting with the set-up during the race weekend."


Schumacher's victory in last year's race was overshadowed by local hero Fernando Alonso's thrilling second-place finish for Renault. "I don't want to create expectations and then fail to deliver on our promises," the Spaniard said. "Each one of the first races has been a surprise for us, and we have had different levels of competitiveness at each track."


Button is upbeat about BAR's chances of closing the gap to Ferrari even further: "I am confident that we will be very competitive in Spain and, hopefully, even closer to the red cars," the Briton said. "We have had very positive tests in Barcelona and the car has shown to be very strong there."