Formula One: Schumacher Earns the Last Laugh with Irresistible Punch Line

Article excerpt

Ferrari are fast becoming the iceberg of Formula One - most of what is going on tends to remain below the surface. And here in Barcelona, that iceberg lay in wait and, ultimately, sent the qualifying aspirations of BMW Williams and McLaren-Mercedes to the depths yesterday.

Everyone came to the Circuit de Catalunya expecting the red cars to do what they had done in San Marino two weeks ago, but when only four-tenths of a second separated Rubens Barrichello, Nick Heidfeld, Michael Schumacher, David Coulthard and Jenson Button on Saturday morning, hope stirred cautiously. Perhaps, just perhaps, it wasn't going to be a Ferrari redwash.

However, by the time the dust had settled after qualifying - and there was plenty of it, thanks to off-course moments by Kimi Raikkonen and Allan McNish and a collapsing front wing on Alex Yoong's Minardi Asiatech that mirrored a similar failure in the morning on team-mate Mark Webber's car - the opposition's worst nightmare had become reality. The Ferraris were almost a second clear of the BMW Williamses.

It's a strange track. Everyone knows it intimately because it's the place where they test most often during the off-season. But, in summer, its surface can change by the minute. By yesterday after- noon, Ferrari had revealed their hand, but once again it was Barrichello who upstaged Schumacher for much of the session in a repeat of his Imola form. There are those who have tried to write off the Brazilian in recent weeks, suggesting that Ferrari will not keep him for 2003. But Barrichello was definitely putting pressure on his team leader, and Schumacher was the first to admit it.

"I looked at his sector and corner times to see where I could improve," Schumacher said. "Sometimes you think you are on the limit and your team- mate shows you that you are not." Praise does not come much higher in this game.

Neither Ferrari driver made a fourth run - their first three were more than sufficient to keep them in front, allowing them to harvest tyres for a race that is traditionally tough on rubber. But where Schumacher made two errors in each of his first two outings, Barrichello looked serenely confident.

Jarno Trulli had set the ball rolling , but he was in turn displaced from pole position by Enrique Bernoldi, Mika Salo, Felipe Massa and Nick Heidfeld. …