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Friday preview - will Button raise the BAR? 07 May 2004

(L to R): Takuma Sato (JPN) BAR; David Richards (GBR) BAR Team Principal; Jenson Button (GBR) BAR; Anthony Davidson (GBR) BAR Test Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Preparations, Barcelona, Spain, 6 May 2004 Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari has a ride on the bucking bronco.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Preparations, Barcelona, Spain, 6 May 2004 The Sauber C23 in the pitlane.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Preparations, Barcelona, Spain, 6 May 2004 A Toyota TF104 in the pit lane.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Preparations, Barcelona, Spain, 6 May 2004 A Jaguar mechanic sits with the Michelin tyres.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Preparations, Barcelona, Spain, 6 May 2004

Two weeks ago Michael Schumacher was slightly non-plussed at this stage of the weekend by the speed shown by BAR in testing and admitted that he wasn’t sure quite what to expect from the Honda-powered team as the situation developed.

After Imola, and the team’s pace testing at Mugello, the world champion has been suggesting that the team might spring a surprise here in Barcelona. It’s an intriguing thought for those who would like to see a change in the 2004 results status quo, but yesterday both Jenson Button and David Richards were at pains to play things down even though BAR have done more testing this season than Ferrari round the tricky Circuit de Catalunya.

“Taku went very well test in Mugello last week,” Button said. “I found it a bit more difficult to find a set-up on my car but he went very quickly, and the car seemed to work very well in the wet compared to the Ferrari. It was very positive, wet or dry, so I was confident that we made a step forward relating to Ferrari for this race. A good car should work at every circuit. On slow-speed tracks such as Imola we have proved that it’s fast and we have proved it here in testing that it’s fast and reliable on high-speed circuits too. There is no reason why we cannot perform as well as we did at Imola, with a step forward with few new aero parts on car and another small step on the engine.”

Button believes that all of BAR’s testing here could play a role, but added: “Obviously they [Ferrari] are very experienced and know where they stand here. But it’s nice to hear Michael and other people at Ferrari say they are slightly worried coming here and that they expect us to have a good result. Here we have been looking strong, over one lap and on a long run, and we have been strong over winter. We have made good ground to Ferrari in the last two weeks. Hopefully I am gonna win, it’s just a matter of how long. The Imola result was very good, but you may have noticed that we were not jumping with joy. Being on the second step of the podium was great, looking up at Michael, but his step is where we want to be. I hope it’s not going to take too long to get there.”

Richards said: “The changes we have made are small details, and Honda has also made a small change, so we are relentlessly moving forward. The major change on the engine won’t come until Canada. We are working more closely with Michelin and have some aerodynamic improvements. We know that we missed our qualifying opportunity in Bahrain, and there were issues about our pit stops in Imola, and we have addressed them. It’s all about identifying problems and doing something about them. Michael is incredibly strong, and there is not a circuit in the world he can go to and not know that he is the man to beat. You can let flattery go to your head but we won’t do that. We won’t let up until the last race of the season.”

Both men say that the pressure, though mounting, is not getting to them. “I don’t feel under pressure to perform from outside,” Button said. “I put myself under a lot of personal pressure and seem to react quite well to that. I think I did an okay job at Imola.” Richards added: “When you talk of pressure I think you always expect it when you believe your opportunity is a once in lifetime thing. Personally, I believe that Jenson and BAR will have many opportunities over the coming years. We are taking it all as a step in right direction. The team are not unduly under great pressure. We are more self-confident, but we have our feet on ground, There is a lot of work to do, to do this on a consistent basis.”

Despite BAR’s speed in qualifying in Imola, the Ferraris were still eight-tenths a lap quicker in the race. “That’s a big margin,” Button admits, “but I think we can be closer or they might not qualify as they think they will. If they do the perfect race – as they have done so far all season – it’s going to be very difficult to beat them here, also.”

Either way, with Renault likely to shine here after Fernando Alonso’s performance in 2003, and Williams adamant that they have made good technical progress since Imola, today’s practice sessions will be a fascinating insight into whether anyone has eroded Ferrari’s advantage.