F1 heads to Spain this weekend for the fifth round of the Championship. The big question is going to concern traction control. What effect will this have? If any, Who is going to be best prepared to exploit it? And on top of that we have the usual questions to be answered - Is Williams now a regular contender for race wins after their win at the San Marino GP and Montoya's performance in Brazil? Has Ferrari dropped behind? Is McLaren's Mika Hakkinen out of the fight for the championship? And can Jordan continue to stake their claim as the best Honda powered-team?

All these questions and more could be resolved this weekend and once again any of six drivers could probably take the ultimate prize come Sunday. Furthermore while it is probably true Michael Schumacher will still be favourite the gap to the others is now getting less and less and it would take a brave man to beat against a David Coulthard win, or a Ralf Schumacher victory or Mika Hakkinen getting his first of 2001. That of course doesn't even mention Rubens Barrichello or Juan Pablo Montoya both also capable of taking the chequered flag first.

So where do we begin? Ferrari is always the best place to start and as Mark Blundell highlighted in his column they are probably still the team that carries the number one flag - but only just. Last week Ferrari was testing at Fiorano and Mugello and once again the Ferrari's set some blistering times - admittedly against opposition which is at the other end of the grid.

Michael Schumacher heads to Spain on the back of his first DNF of the season. The last time he failed to finish was at the German GP July 30th 2000. His run of ten top two finishes though could not go on forever and now the German will be hungry to put things right and re-assert his dominance over the rest of the field especially a certain David Coulthard.

As for his teammate Rubens Barrichello he at least salvaged third place at Imola for the Maranello based team and this time we can be sure Ross Brawn and co won't pick the wrong tyres. After the race Jean Todt admitted they had chosen wrongly. He said: ''It (the harder tyres) didn't bring the result we expected, to be honest. We hoped that by using the harder tyres we would be more competitive, but it didn't turn out that way. Of course, in the end, Michael had a gearbox problem and later a problem with the left front corner which damaged the wheel rim and caused his retirement, so in the end, it didn't really make that much difference.''

Over at McLaren the team are looking well placed in the drivers' championship with David Coulthard. The Scot said: ''I am looking forward to the Spanish Grand Prix, where I hope to build on the results achieved so far this season in order to maintain my position in the Drivers' World Championship. We test regularly at this circuit so we know it well, it's fairly technical with a good mix of corners and straights.''

His teammate Mika Hakkinen doesn't have the same luxury of good results this year and with only four points to the 26 scored by DC and Michael Schumacher the Finn needs to win this time out. He added optimistically: ''The championship is still a very open situation. No one is too far ahead and there are still plenty of points to be scored. I have a successful record at Barcelona, having won the past three races, which I am hoping to extend this season.''

Team boss Ron Dennis is upbeat about his team's performance so far. He concluded: ''The West McLaren Mercedes team is in a strong position in both World Championships heading into what will be an interesting race at Barcelona, with both the introduction of electronic driver aids and the race for the title, which following Imola is wide open. We have taken a number of positive steps forward over the last couple of races, which we aim to further in Spain.''

If McLaren is being positive the Williams team is attempting to play down their hopes as they approach the Spanish Grand Prix. After winning at Imola Frank Williams said: ''It's too early (to say if we are championship contenders). We are going from race to race and after a few more we will see where we are. If we are still somewhere near the front then, maybe, yes, there is a possibility (we could challenge for the titles), but I'm still not confident to say we are good enough.''

After the dominating performance by Ralf Schumacher at the San Marino GP the German had this to say about the forthcoming GP. Talking about the track he said: ''Barcelona is a combination of fast and slow corners so is quite interesting and demanding. Tyre wear can be a problem there. Last year I finished fourth and in '99 fifth, so this shows that normally it is a circuit that suits me. It is difficult to predict where we are standing, because we had some very good tests there and then others that were not so promising. We still have some work to do to improve our traction control. All in all we just have to wait and see what will happen.''

His teammate goes to Barcelona to race on track for a change that he is actually quite familiar with. Juan Montoya added: ''Barcelona has been a good track for me so far. I have raced there before in '98 in Formula 3000 and I won. We just have to see what happens now. I think it will be quite a tough race to be honest. During testing in the beginning in December and January we were really strong there, but for the last few tests we have done the car doesn't seem to have been working quite as well. I am sure when we get there we will figure it out and hopefully be competitive. It will be quite interesting. For me I am really looking forward to getting to the end of a race to score some points.''

Technical director Patrick Head continued that the regulation changes would have some effect especially if it rains. He said: ''It (traction control) would certainly be very significant if the qualifying or race are wet, or run on a damp track. Probably of less importance if the race and qualifying are dry, but certainly there will be many tracks this year where it will be a deciding factor.''

Following on now from Ferrari, McLaren and Williams - what now amounts to the big three - we have Jordan-Honda. Jordan have looked good so far this year and while they don't quite have what it takes to be up there with the 'big three' if anyone is going to make it a 'big four' then it is Eddie Jordan's team.

This weekend the Jordan team will be running with an extra - third - engineer on each car so that can only be a good thing as three heads are better than two as the saying goes. Italian driver Jarno Trulli who has put in some stunning laps will be hoping to finish well this weekend. He said: ''This is another circuit I like a lot. The car is well balanced and has performed very well so far this year, so we just hope we can prove our potential in this next race. The high speed corners require good physical fitness and makes the circuit quite technical, which is the main reason many teams test in Barcelona.''

His teammate Heinz-Harald Frentzen who has six points to Trulli's four added: ''I enjoy Barcelona but because we test here so often I know the track well and the racing is less of a challenge. It's a demanding circuit though, and you need to be fit to race well. It's one of the faster tracks, with quick corners where aerodynamics play a key role. It's hard to find the optimum set-up as the conditions change a lot, so it's a technical challenge.''

British American Racing will need to score some points at the Spanish GP before Jordan conclusively stakes it claim as the top Honda team. Furthermore while Olivier Panis has run well Jacques Villeneuve has not had a lucky time. Still without a point so far this year the Canadian like Mika Hakkinen needs to pull something out of the bag this weekend.

Whether or not the BAR team is up to it is another matter. Once again they been subject to media speculation about whether or not BAT (British American Tobacco) is going to sell it share in the team and such rumours do nothing for team morale and despite all the denials there is often no smoke without fire.

Jaguar too seems to be a team in a state of unrest. For the second season they are so far looking pretty pathetic and that's despite the millions invested by Ford. Niki Lauda has already practically written off this year. His said: ''I think with the existing car, even if we do all the development possible between every fortnight's race, we will end up hopefully between eighth and 12th on the grid or somewhere like this. Really to make the next step forward you need a brand new car.'' Not really the way to motivate people when you tell them the only way to jump forward will be with a new car.

As for the recent decision to promote Pedro de la Rosa to the race team and pass Luciano Burti onto Prost well that was probably a good move. Burti has been competent this year but he has never looked anything special and the experienced de la Rosa might just be able to push the car and the team that little bit higher. He will have his work cut out though in a car that really just isn't up to the task.

Talking about his home GP he said: ''I can't believe that my debut race for Jaguar Racing coincides with my home Grand Prix. People assume that because I'm from Barcelona, I know the track better than anybody. I wish this were true. I know this track as well as any other F1 driver. I recently tested the Jaguar R2 at the Circuit de Catalunya and I don't expect us to be any higher on the grid this weekend than has been the case so far this season. Aerodynamics will play a crucial role and our efforts to find aerodynamic improvements are ongoing. I haven't driven the latest spec Michelin tyres, but I understand that they are an improvement. This circuit is one of the toughest on tyres and from what I've seen, I'm sure Michelin will be well-prepared for this race.''

Team boss Bobby Rahal has welcomed him to the race team. He said: ''We welcome Pedro on-board and look forward to seeing him race this weekend at his home Grand Prix. Pedro has done a commendable job for us in testing and I'm confident in his ability to deliver on the race-track. He has applied himself very diligently and has generated a lot of respect from within the team in a relatively short space of time. His work up until now, however, has been with the test team and not the race team. He visited the factory in Milton Keynes on Friday to acquaint himself with the race team and I'm sure he'll settle into his new role very quickly. Qualifying should certainly make for interesting viewing!''

Eddie Irvine added: ''We have all tested so much here that we pretty much know what to expect from this track. The dominant feature here is long fast corners - aerodynamics and tyres will be a deciding factor. The wind can cause a few headaches here, as it often decides to change direction. It's also the first race with all the electronic aids back on the car. As I've said before, I am not in favour of them, but apart from the obvious changes, it will also be interesting to see what effect they will have on tyre performance and wear. I was sorry to see Luciano go, as he brought a lot to the team. But I can understand his reasons for going. Usually, changing team-mates in the middle of the season is not a good idea and can de-stabilize things, but in our case, Pedro has been with us for a while already and understands the task at hand so everything should go smoothly on that front.''

With De la Rosa in at Jaguar Luciano Burti will makes his debut then this weekend for the Prost-Acer team replacing Argentine driver Gaston Mazzacane. After signing for Alain Prost last week the Brazilian said that he didn't expect to be up to speed until the next GP in Austria. He noted after visiting the team's HQ: ''Today at the factory I was very impressed with Prost Grand Prix's structures and personnel. Now I look forward to the Barcelona Grand Prix, even though, being my first real time in the AP04, I will have a lot to learn. But starting from the next race in Austria (13th May), I hope to be competitive and perform to my best''.

Burti will have to get use to a new teammate and it will be interesting to see how he gets on with F1 veteran Jean Alesi. The Frenchman has already spoken out about the rule changes. He said: ''I can't say I'm for it. We're meant to be the best drivers in the world, but this ''aid'' will only be a performance leveller. Traction control on standard cars for your regular Tom, Dick or Harry - Ok. But in F1, no. It's stupid and besmirches F1's reputation a bit.''

Sauber this weekend go to Barcelona like all the other teams ready to use their traction control system for the first time (legally at least!). At last weeks tests in Mugello the Swiss outfit was along way of the times set by Ferrari - some one second adrift - and while that may not sound like much in F1 terms it is a life time. Lets just hope this wasn't a true reflection of the teams pace.

After testing on Thursday last week Kimi Raikkonen said: ''The poor weather today at least gave me a chance to try the traction control in dry and wet conditions. My first feeling is that it - TC - should improve the lap time of the car if it is correctly implemented, but that takes time to get fully used to.''

Sauber's Technical Director Willi Rampf added after completing the test: ''On this last of our programme we focused on further work on our traction control system, as well as tyre evaluation specifically for the Barcelona F1 Grand Prix and set-up of the chassis. We were also able to try our new power-steering system, which will be important for the forthcoming races of the F1 season. We were able to get some dry road running before it began to rain this afternoon.''

What of all the others? At Arrows the team tested solely at Vairano last week and while they may have made some improvements don't expect any big steps forward. Jos Verstappen and Enrique Bernoldi go to Barcelona with there eyes firmly placed on the sky - the hope of rain the only real factor that might see them finish in the points.

Bernoldi who has actually raced here before said he enjoys the challenges of the track. He added: ''For me this is a very good circuit. There is a good mixture of corners and lots of fast ones which I like. The return of traction control may bring the teams tighter together but all will be revealed at the weekend.''

As for Benetton and Minardi (yes - Benetton now have fallen this far) they both look to be in for a pretty normal weekend in that they will qualifying at the back of the field and look set to struggle in the race finishing - if they finish - two-three laps behind those at the front. Not exactly an exciting prospect for Jenson Button, Giancarlo Fisichella or Tarso Marques and Fernando Alonso but at least the latter two knew this was what to expect. Poor Button and Fisichella must be pulling their hair out.

So all in all we can look forward to another great Grand Prix this weekend with Ferrari, McLaren and Williams battling it out for the fifth win of the season. Of the rest expect Jordan, BAR and Sauber to contend for any points if any of the top three teams fall by the wayside and expect the rest to go around and pick up any remaining scraps.

As usual we at Crash Dot Net will be there all weekend bringing you the latest pics and all the hottest news. So stay tuned and enjoy the action.