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Page last updated at 14:44 GMT, Sunday, 10 May 2009 15:44 UK

David Coulthard column

David Couthard
By David Coulthard
BBC Sport in Barcelona

Felipe Massa in Spanish Grand Prix qualifying
Ferrari showed greatly improved form at the Spanish Grand Prix

Barcelona is the first European race of the season and with teams having some time back at base that means it is time to roll out updates to their cars.

All the teams seem to be saying the modifications have given them extra performance but the biggest winner appears to be Ferrari.

Out of 2008's duelling title rivals, Ferrari have taken a step forward whereas Barcelona turned out to be a big disappointment for McLaren.

World champion Lewis Hamilton was giving short answers when he has had to face the media at the Circuit de Catalunya and that's a sign that he is not a happy bunny.

McLaren took two steps forward in the first three Grands Prix but two steps back in Barcelona.

The team do have some upgrades on their car but they are just not working for them and the team are clearly not happy.

The combination of their modifications, the unforgiving track and the tyres available this weekend has left them desperately uncompetitive in Barcelona.

The engineers' predictions from the wind tunnel data do not always correlate with what happens on the track, even though they should.

You cannot judge if this really is a turning point for Ferrari or McLaren based on just one race

David Coulthard

The teams commit to manufacturing parts based on that analysis but ultimately it's lap times not time spent in the wind tunnel that determines a car's performance.

Not all new parts necessarily make the car go quicker - and that's what McLaren are finding out in Barcelona.

The situation looks much more rosy for Hamilton's chief rival in 2008, Ferrari's Felipe Massa.

The Brazilian qualified in fourth with a heavier fuel load than the two Brawns and Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull ahead of him - and, although he did not have the pace of the Brawns or Red Bulls in the race, it was by far Ferrari's strongest performance of the year.

That is very encouraging for Massa. He's hustling and hungry for results, he needs it and so do Ferrari.

But you cannot judge if this really is a turning point for Ferrari or McLaren based on just one race.

The question now is will Ferrari use their performance gain in Barcelona as a base to push forward and can McLaren arrive in Monaco with a better package and regroup?

Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton has been giving monosyllabic answers to the media in Spain

In truth, qualifying was a bit of a mixed bag for Ferrari as their decision not to send Kimi Raikkonen out again in the first session saw him finish down in 16th.

Both Kimi and the team have admirably said it was a mistake; they could have made up all sorts of excuses but they have been very open.

It is the second time it has happened this season as Massa made the same mistake in Malaysia.

You'd have thought that would have been warning enough but there is a lot going on in the garage and when the clock is ticking, decisions have to be made quickly and occasionally these things happen.

There have been rumours in the paddock that Ferrari's seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher might have had a say in not sending out Massa and Raikkonen again during qualifying but that's just gobbledegook!


He's a consultant to the team and the most successful driver in F1 so he doesn't have a history of making bad decisions but equally I don't think he's invested with the power to make key decisions during qualifying or the race.

Red Bull are continuing to stay right on the coattails of frontrunners Brawn but for the fifth time in a row Sebastian Vettel has out-qualified his team-mate Mark Webber.

I don't think there is a number one or number two within the team, it is down to each of them to maximise their opportunities.

Mark should be given some credit as he is coming back from a broken leg, which hardly gave him the pre-season preparation that he would have wanted.

Confidence is also a big part of a driver's performance and going into the first race in Australia, his was already down.

Sebastian, on the other hand, is a supremely talented young driver who, after his victory in China and second place in Bahrain, is on the crest of a wave.

That confidence means he has not put a foot wrong whereas Mark just needs a solid results to get him going.

He wants to be winning Grands Prix but there are 13 races left to go, and that means there is still a long way to go for him and everyone else.

David Coulthard won 13 Grands Prix in a 15-year F1 career. He is a BBC Sport pundit and a consultant for Red Bull. He was talking to Sarah Holt.

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see also
Last-gasp Button grabs Spain pole
09 May 09 |  Formula 1
Spanish Grand Prix qualifying results
05 May 09 |  Results
Spanish GP qualifying photos
09 May 09 |  Formula 1
Spanish GP qualifying as it happened
09 May 09 |  Formula 1
David Coulthard column
26 Apr 09 |  Formula 1
David Coulthard column
19 Apr 09 |  Formula 1
Coulthard on Hamilton row
04 Apr 09 |  Formula 1
David Coulthard column
28 Mar 09 |  Formula 1

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