Button steers clear of Schumacher's flattery

Michael Schumacher thinks that Jenson Button and BAR-Honda could pose a serious threat to his supremacy in Spain this weekend, but yesterday neither Button nor team owner David Richards were rising to the bait.

"Michael is incredibly strong, and there is not a circuit in the world that he can go to where he isn't going to be the man to beat. You can let flattery go to your head and drop your guard," Richards said. "But we won't do that."

Nevertheless, the performance of the team has raised expectations, with Button taking two thirds and then second place behind Schumacher, a fortnight ago in Imola, after taking pole position and leading the opening laps. It has been a great year so far for the 24-year-old from Frome in Somerset, but he and Richards know that BAR still have a big mountain to climb before they get on terms with the red cars, which were eight-tenths of a second a lap quicker in the race at Imola.

"It was a big margin," Button concedes, "but we can be closer here or they might not qualify as well as usual. But if they do the perfect race - and they have done that so far all season - it's going to be very difficult to beat them."

BAR, however, have tested more over the winter than Ferrari at the Circuit de Catalunya. "Obviously they are very experienced and know where they stand here," Button said. "But it's nice to hear Michael say they are slightly worried coming here, and that they expect us to have a good result."

There is fervour in BAR's desire to play things down, but Richards admits that he gave his team a pep talk at the beginning of the year in which he outlined their strategy for a season in which much more than they had ever delivered would be expected.

"We had some very good tests and some were sceptical about our lap times over the winter, but we were reasonably confident," Richards said. "We set our agenda for the year back at Brackley, and shared it with the management and the team and set our goals together.

"I was suspicious people might not have bought into it so we did a survey, and 90 per cent of the staff agreed our goals had changed. We have tough targets compared to where we've been in the past."

In Button you can also detect a new toughness and determination to help his team realise their goals. It is there when he says: "Our Imola result was very good, but we weren't jumping with joy, as you might have noticed.

"Being on the second step was great, looking up at Michael, but his step is where we wanna be. I hope it's not going to take too long to get there. Hopefully I am gonna win; it's just a matter of how long."

Schumacher's bulletproof Ferrari has now gone a record 42 races without mechanical failure. But the slightest slip this weekend could elevate Button and BAR that final, crucial, step.

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