The ninth race of the Formula One championship, the United States Grand Prix, is fast approaching and Indianapolis will mark the half way stage of the 18 race season. Michael Schumacher has won every race he's finished in 2004 and the question seems to be, can Ferrari be beaten?
It took Schumacher crashing in the Monaco tunnel for F1 to have a different winner, Renault's Jarno Trulli. But as long as the reining champion is on track, rivals just can't find a way to get the upper hand. With five one-two finishes -- albeit one by default -- from Schumacher and teammate Rubens Barrichello, competitors have a mountain to climb in terms of matching Ferrari's performance.
BAR has been heading the campaign to challenge the Scuderia but team boss David Richards thinks beating the reds in terms of competitiveness is beyond anyone's grasp. However, as Monaco proved, if fate plays a hand there are opportunities to be had.
"The realistic situation for this year is that nobody is going to close the performance gap," said Richards. "But that doesn't mean there won't be opportunities to beat Ferrari."
"They lost Monaco under very strange circumstances, so that was not a normal situation and there will be other situations that are not normal during the course of the year. I'm sure of that. We just have to wait and make sure that when it happens, we are in a position to take advantage of it. That's the key."
BAR's star Jenson Button outqualified Michael by over a second in Canada to take to the front row of the grid alongside pole sitter Ralf Schumacher. Michael started sixth -- and won the race. Ferrari can be beaten in qualifying, for sure, but it makes no difference to the results.
"Coming away (from Montreal) with fourth place after qualifying may be seen as disappointing, but the reality is that we just didn't have the pace on the day," said Richards, before Button was promoted to third when Williams was disqualified. "Lessons learnt this weekend will I'm sure stand us in good stead for Indianapolis."
Ferrari has not only the upper hand in the performance stakes, but also the strategic genius of technical director Ross Brawn. All too often this year we've seen Michael gain the lead through pit stop strategy. He didn't overtake a single car on track to get from sixth to first in Canada -- the two Renaults ahead dropped out and the rest was done in the pit stops.
"Ours was a well thought out strategy," said Michael in regard to Montreal. "We knew from the times we set in free practice that it would not have gone too well in qualifying so we focused on the performance in the race."
If anyone does actually beat Ferrari to the top step of the podium through straightforward competition, that will indeed be a victory.