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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 April, 2004, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
Ferrari make rivals look foolish

By Jonathan Legard
BBC motor racing correspondent

Michael Schumacher on his way to winning the Bahrain Grand Prix
Schumacher looks like going on to dominate the whole season
The desert storm came and went but Michael Schumacher still came up smelling of roses.

Bahrain's fizzy fruit punch replaced Formula One's usual champagne shower but that was the only significant difference from the podium celebrations in Australia and Malaysia.

Michael Schumacher's opening charge into 2004 has rocked the much fancied opposition on its heels.

"Clearly we have a lot of improvement to make. Ferrari have taken a very good car and made it better, and better by a significant step. It's very impressive," said a grim-faced Patrick Head, the Williams technical director.

"Juan Pablo (Montoya) had a hydraulic problem. But we weren't good on reliability and relative to Ferrari, our pace wasn't strong enough, so there's a lot to do."

"Of course we were expecting to come out of the first three races more successfully," said BMW director of motorsport Mario Theissen.

Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren trails smoke from his broken engine at the Bahrain Grand Prix
Kimi has had three appalling races - the title is now a Herculean task
Ron Dennis
McLaren boss
"Now it's all about improving our package."

The lament was even louder at McLaren after both cars failed to finish - a task they embarrassingly shared only with Zsolt Baumgartner's Minardi.

"We've certainly got work to do in key areas but it's going to take time," McLaren team principal Ron Dennis admitted.

"Kimi (Raikkonen) has had three appalling races. The title is now a Herculean task. Our first target now is to get competitive."

F1's first foray into the Middle East was supposed to level the playing field.

Instead Ferrari ramped up a mountain and raced up it. Williams and McLaren could have been climbing with lead weights.

Their championship aspirations are shrivelling by the race.

Malaysia's hot pursuit a fortnight ago appeared like a mirage in Bahrain's desert expanse.

Juan Pablo Montoya climbs out of his broken Williams at the end of the race
Montoya lost another podium finish with gearbox failure
Only BAR emerged with their reputation enhanced.

Jenson Button's second consecutive podium finish was a triumph of strategy and winter homework.

And Sato's recovery from his collision with Ralf Schumacher to equal his best F1 finish in fifth emphasised the strides that boss David Richards and technical director, Geoff Willis have made in this post-Villeneuve era.

"What I'm more happy about this time is the pace of the car," said a jubilant Button.

"We were chasing down the Williams and the Renault and that's very good.

"Challenging Ferrari's a tough one. They look to be a long way in front but if we can get qualifying right we'd be a lot stronger."

Button had set his sights on pole position after dominating Saturday practice.

The BAR-Honda team celebrate Jenson Button's second consecutive podium
BAR were the only challenger to do themselves credit
Renault declared themselves delighted with the weekend. After all, they are now second in the world championship.

But small glitches are hindering big advances.

Fernando Alonso's brake problem in qualifying left him with too much to do from 17th on the grid.

Jarno Trulli's race craft still lacks the killer touch to make him an F1 force.

Only six drivers have won the opening three races of an F1 season. On each occasion, the man in question became world champion.

Michael Schumacher has achieved the feat twice - in 1994 and 2000.

History already looks like repeating itself in 2004.

Schumacher takes hat-trick
04 Apr 04  |  Formula One
Ferrari keep feet on ground
04 Apr 04  |  Formula One
Ralf blamed for Sato crash
04 Apr 04  |  Formula One
Dixon 'could handle F1'
04 Apr 04  |  Formula One
McLaren stall on progress
04 Apr 04  |  Formula One
Schumacher praises Bahrain
04 Apr 04  |  Formula One
Schumacher on top again
03 Apr 04  |  Formula One
Bahrain GP as it happened
04 Apr 04  |  Formula One

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