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Schumacher out of Button's reach
Alan Baldwin | April 26, 2004 14:34 IST
Last Updated: April 26, 2004 14:36 IST
Jenson Button and BAR have moved closer to the top of the Formula One podium but world champion Michael Schumacher and Ferrari are still in a class of their own.
Once ahead of the 24-year-old Briton, starting on pole for the first time at Sunday's San Marino Grand Prix, Schumacher powered irresistibly to his fourth win in four races this season.
If the German continues like that, even in a championship expanded to an unprecedented 18 races, his seventh title will be gift wrapped in record time.
But BAR boss David Richards put that into perspective.
"Michael's only rival is himself," he said. "He has nobody else out there that can hold a torch to him at the moment. But things change.
"His day will come and somebody else has to come up and challenge him and Jenson's moving forward at a rapid rate of knots."
Button's former team boss Frank Williams, who gave a 20-year-old Button his race debut in 2000, agreed that the driver had grown up and joined the big boys after three successive podiums.
"I think he's developed very much this year and last year with his car. The two have gone hand in hand.
"But he's just maturing and he is a very quick boy."
Button's second place lifted BAR to third in the championship, equal on points with Williams but ahead on race placings.
With nearly a quarter of the championship over, BAR have replaced McLaren among the big four in terms of results.
Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, who joins McLaren from Williams next year and who finished third on Sunday, recognised that his team had work to do.
"We are down on power and we are down on downforce as well," said Montoya. "We are a bit like best of the rest apart from that BAR have overtaken us. We need to find a way to come back a little bit."
Renault remain a key part of the equation, second overall in the constructors' championship with 31 points to BAR and Williams' 27. Ferrari have 64, McLaren five.
The French team will be strong contenders at the next race, Spaniard Fernando Alonso's home Grand Prix in Barcelona where he finished a strong second to Schumacher last year, and are with Ferrari the only team to have scored points with both cars in every round.
But BAR have looked very strong in testing at the Circuit de Catalunya and expect to keep up the pressure.
"We have been quick at Barcelona over one lap and the long runs are reasonable as well, but looking at Ferrari's pace in every race this year they seem to be very good in race trim," said Button.
"We might be closer but to beat them is a big step forward."
Schumacher, fives times a winner at Imola in the last six years, also has an intimidating record at Barcelona where he has won for the last three seasons.
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