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Byline: Kevin GARSIDE

THE RED flags that routinely greet wins by Ferrari were outnumbered by the white variety at Barcelona, raised by battered rivals after another humiliating afternoon at the hands of Michael Schumacher.

Gerhard Berger, BMW's motorsport director and a former Ferrari driver, led the retreat when he admitted the only way to beat them would be "to build a motorway and go straight up and down".

After sitting through an hour and 40 minutes of Schumacher-induced scarlet fever, Berger conceded the title had already gone and claimed the best BMW-Williams could now hope for was the constructors' championship.

They will be lucky. At times Schumacher was lapping a second faster than the field and finished the race more than half a minute clear of second-placed Juan Pablo Montoya.

It was his fourth win in five races. Brilliant for Ferrari, but a slow death for the rest.

If there is hope in the weeks ahead it lies in the possibility of mechanical failure.

Though Schumacher appears immune, his team-mate Rubens Barrichello showed bad karma does occasionally visit the Ferrari garage when he failed to get off the grid at the start with a gear-selection problem.

In the warm-up, Schumacher himself experienced hydraulic problems and was forced to race in the spare motor. How the others could do with a spare like his.

"I'm a big fan of Michael," said Berger. "He does a fantastic job on the circuit and off it by motivating people and leading them in the right direction.

"Ferrari just have a very strong package. There is no big secret.

"It is the outcome of working very hard, having the right people putting in a lot of effort, and of waiting 21 years to get back into their current position."

In a carbon copy of events at Imola, Schumacher exploded off the front row like a rocket, went into the first corner unchallenged and then disappeared.

Inevitably, the interesting stuff thereafter happened behind him.

David Coulthard's duel with Jenson Button was riveting until the Scot made the most of the Renault's failings on lap 43 to cut inside at turn one.

Coulthard was not to know Button had developed a hydraulic problem which would lead to his retirement with three laps remaining.

Australia aside, where he was a victim of the first corner carnage, it was the only setback of the season for Button.

"I'm big-time disappointed," he said. "The car wasn't fantastic at the beginning of the race and towards the end the steering became very heavy, as if someone had switched off the electric."

Coulthard also benefited from the appalling run of bad luck that is stalling the progress of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn lost the rear wing of his McLaren at the start of the fourth lap and took no further part.

For once, Coulthard enjoyed a trouble-free race, plodding around behind Schumacher and Montoya for a second podium finish of the season after Brazil.

Not quite the stuff of headlines, but progress none the less. "I had a good battle with Jenson and was able to overtake him after the first pit-stop," said Coulthard.

"That was my only excitement. After that I was on my own. It was pretty lonely. We are just not competitive enough at the moment."

His sentiments echoed around the Circuit de Catalunya.

Montoya, who had his own drama during his second pit-stop when he ran over the foot of his chief mechanic, admitted Ferrari were "way too fast". He added: "We knew there was nothing we could do against the Ferraris here. To get out of here with second and six points was the best outcome for us."

Jordan would settle for just seeing the finishing line. If Eddie Jordan thought matters could not possibly get any worse after laying off 40 staff a week before the race, he knows better now.

Giancarlo Fisichella lasted five laps before his hydraulics failed and Takuma Sato spun off on lap 11, making it seven failures to finish in 10 races for the Buzzing, sorry, Wheezing Hornets.

"It's been a hard week," said Jordan. "This result will make us even more committed."

Drive of the day belonged to former Jordan employee Heinz-Harald Frentzen of Arrows.

Frentzen finished sixth and scored the first point of the season for his team.

Team owner Tom Walkinshaw made the most of the opportunity to crow.

"Now you see why we invested in Heinz-Harald Frentzen," he said.

"I want to thank the team. They have all worked really hard for the past six weeks.

"It is satisfying to be racing with Renault and Sauber. Now we have to push on and beat them."

A satisfying day's work too for Toyota's Allan McNish, who was 19th on the grid and finished for the second time this season in eighth, two places above his team-mate, Mika Salo.

"Considering the starting position it was a good race," said McNish. "It felt great to have a second finish under my belt. I enjoyed that."

Like everyone else's, McNish's joy was relative.

Schumacher made it so and heads to Austria in a fortnight promising more heartache for a despairing pit lane.

"It will depend on how our Bridgestone tyres work and how competitive the other teams can be," he said.

Sadly, we all know the answer to that.


GROUNDHOG DAY: We've seen the Schumacher celebrations all before - from Melbourne to Sao Paulo to San Marino
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 29, 2002
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