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McLaren, Williams falter; Renault, BAR shine 09 May 2004

(L to R): Norbert Haug (GER) Mercedes Sporting Director; Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren; Ron Dennis (GBR) McLaren Team Owner.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race Day, Barcelona, Spain, 9 May 2004 Ralf Schumacher (GER) Williams BMW FW26.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race Day, Barcelona, Spain, 9 May 2004 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Renault R24 leads the opening laps of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race Day, Barcelona, Spain, 9 May 2004 Takuma Sato (JPN) BAR Honda 005.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race Day, Barcelona, Spain, 9 May 2004 David Coulthard (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/19.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Barcelona, Spain, 8 May 2004

The dawn of a new age?

With another disappointing weekend for the McLaren and Williams teams in Spain, are we seeing a permanent and lasting change in the heirarchy of Formula One racing as new teams move forwards to take the fight to the might of Ferrari?

Another no-points result for McLaren means that the Woking-based team’s terrible start to the 2004 season shows little sign of improving any time soon. David Coulthard qualified in 10th place, but Kimi Raikkonen could only manage P13 on the grid, 2.4 seconds off Michael Schumacher’s pole-setting pace.

The race started relatively well for both drivers, Raikkonen gaining three places and Coulthard taking two. But as the race progressed it became increasingly clear that neither car possessed the pace to move up the field. The final result of tenth (Coulthard) and 11th (Raikkonen) meant that of all finishers only Mark Webber and Cristiano da Matta came below them, and it now looks like BAR, Renault and even Sauber are capable of beating McLaren at the moment.

And the Williams team suffered from another disappointing race weekend, too. Juan Pablo Montoya had put in a strong performance to take P2 on the grid, but his race faded progressively along with his brakes – and he eventually retired with total brake failure. Ralf Schumacher drove an uneventful race for an eventual sixth place finish.

But at the front of the grid the contrast was stark, the BAR team’s renaissance showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. Button made a mistake on his second qualifying lap to drop back to P13 on the grid, but Takuma Sato put in a very strong performance to take P3 – and even led the race during the first series of pitstops.

And Renault proved its pace once again as Trulli and Alonso followed each other home in third and fourth place, winning the contest to be ‘best of the rest’. And it was a good performance for Sauber, too – strong race pace fading in the closing stages with Fisichella and Massa eventually reaching the flag in seventh and ninth positions.

With Monaco in a fortnight’s time, it will be fascinating to see whether the ‘old guard’ of McLaren and Williams are able to find some much-needed pace.