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Schumi's been strong in upcoming races

MANAMA, Bahrain -- Ferrari's Michael Schumacher is
heading for the best start to a season of his remarkable Formula
One career after scorching to a third win in three races in
Bahrain on Sunday.

Ferrari was dominant in the desert, finishing the Middle
East's first grand prix one-two just as in the opening
Australian round.

They could well repeat the feat on April 25 when Imola, the
champions' home circuit named after team founder Enzo and his
son Dino, hosts the first race of the year in Europe.

Six-time world champion Schumacher has won the San Marino
Grand Prix for the past two seasons and four times in the past
five years.

After Imola comes the Spanish Grand Prix, a race that the
German has won for the last three years.

By the time he gets to Monaco in May, a race where
qualifying is crucial, he could easily have stretched his record
tally of career wins to 75.

If he triumphs at Imola, Schumacher will have equaled his
best ever start of four wins in a row at the beginning of the
1994 season.

Ferrari's rivals are either in disarray or still putting
together the building blocks for a genuine championship
challenge.

"In race trim, Ferrari apparently are still in a class of
their own," acknowledged Mario Theissen, motorsport director of
Williams' engine partners BMW, on Sunday.

McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen, Schumacher's closest rival last
year, blew up for the third race in a row and has yet to score a
point in 2004. The former champions are now a mind-blowing 47
points adrift of Ferrari.

Williams' Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, third overall last
year, limped home 13th after losing most his gears.

His team needs to mirror its performance of last year,
improving rapidly once the first three long-haul races were out
of the way after starting with a car that needed significant
development.

By August they looked like title favorites after being
written off in the early races.

"We are working very hard and I hope we can repeat what we
did last year," said Theissen. "We just have to move on, to push
for development ... currently I think it is more about how the
tires suit the weather conditions than how the car suits the
track.

"Looking forward to Imola, the main issue is temperature in
my view. We have had some strong races in Imola as well so
generally the track should suit us."

The first three races have been unusually cool, with brief
showers and overcast skies in Bahrain, favoring Ferrari's
Bridgestone tires over rivals' Michelins.

While Williams and McLaren search for solutions, BAR and
Renault are providing the main race day resistance.

Renault's Fernando Alonso was third in Australia, and has
scored points in every race from the most unpromising of
positions, while Briton Jenson Button has been on the podium for
BAR in the last two races.

"Jenson was simply incredible this afternoon and now we must
aim for that first win," said BAR boss David Richards.

Ferrari, despite an increasing sense that Formula One is
experiencing a re-run of 2002 when they won all but two of the
races, is refusing to take anything for granted.

"We deeply believe that the others will catch up strongly
and we'd better be prepared, otherwise we have the same
situation as last year, and we'd rather finish a bit more
comfortably than last year," said Schumacher.