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Bet on red but watch the BAR man
May 03, 2004 11:53 IST
Michael Schumacher says it is totally unrealistic to think that he will win every race this season.
Few would disagree with that assessment, since the championship is still young and he would be the first in Formula One history to do it. But the Ferrari ace could certainly win most of them.
In fact he already has, several times over.
With the exception of the new Chinese Grand Prix to be held in Shanghai in September, there is not a race out of the 14 rounds left that the six-times world champion has not won repeatedly over the past decade.
There is also not a race that the German will not fancy his chances in.
Schumacher and Ferrari are in a class of their own right now and suspicions that he and they could be on for an unprecedented run of success look well-founded.
"Michael's only rival is himself," BAR boss David Richards said. "He has nobody else out there that can hold a torch to him at the moment."
Next week's Spanish Grand Prix could see the German equal Nigel Mansell's best start to a season with five wins in a row. If he passes that test then he has a fistful of favourite circuits to look forward to.
There will be plenty of people betting on red in Monaco and as many expecting a home triumph at the Nuerburgring before he aims for a seventh Canadian Grand Prix victory.
Much will depend on how well Honda-powered BAR and Jenson Button go in Barcelona, a circuit where their car's potential first became apparent in pre-season testing, and whether Williams and Renault can close the gap.
McLaren's David Coulthard, the last Briton to win a race, is sure Button's first win will soon follow his first pole position and second place at Imola last weekend.
"The first time Ferrari trips he is going to win a grand prix and it will be totally deserved," he said.
But so far Ferrari have not put a foot wrong.
Whereas they started last season shakily and were taken down to the wire in the closest and most exciting championship in years, the top step of the podium has been all red since September -- a run of seven races.
Schumacher is driving better than ever, better even than 2002 when he won a record 11 wins in a season.
The one hint of a weak spot so far has been provided by Brazilian Rubens Barrichello.
Ferrari can hope to equal McLaren's 1988 achievement of winning all but one of the races but they will probably need Barrichello to get closer to Schumacher's pace to have a chance of doing that.
The Brazilian was second in Australia and Bahrain but he was pushed off the podium in Malaysia and at Imola.
"He didn't settle into a set-up he was happy with and he struggled against the world's best driver, which happens," Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn said on Sunday.
That at least has allowed others to shine, breaking up what might otherwise have been a succession of Ferrari one-two processions.
If last weekend was dominated by the memory of Brazilian Ayrton Senna, 10 years after his fatal crash at the circuit, then it also served as a reminder of the sort of duels one dominant team can still serve up.
McLaren, currently grappling with exploding Mercedes engines and five meagre points from four races, put on a thrilling show in 1988 when Senna and French team mate Alain Prost won 15 of the 16 races.
Williams technical director Patrick Head cast his mind back to the time when Senna and Prost lined up on the front row at Imola and lapped the entire field.
It may have been a private battle but it was a battle nonetheless.
"The lap record was just going down and down and down," he recalled. "Frank and I were absolutely mesmerised, we'd forgotten our own cars, we were mesmerised watching the duel. You could see the psychology and the intensity of it.
"And that doesn't seem to exist now."