The Formula One world and its followers are looking forward to this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix, the second European event of the season, with an equal blend of fervour and curiosity, but tyre supplier Michelin knows that the debut of Ferrari's new F2003-GA will up the ante for its teams.

"People are keen to know whether the excellent early-season form of West McLaren-Mercedes and Michelin is going to upset the F1 formbook in the long term, or whether their main rival's introduction of new chassis might re-establish last year's hierarchy," said Michelin motorsport director Pierre Dupasquier, "What we can say for sure is that the previous race in Imola confirmed the pace of the West McLaren-Mercedes/Kimi R?ikk?nen/Michelin combination and we picked up another healthy helping of championship points."

McLaren won the opening two rounds of the 2003 series, with Ferrari only getting on the board at an emotional San Marino Grand Prix last time out. However, while Michael Schumacher enjoyed a comfortable victory in front of the tifosi, Michelin-shod Raikkonen used an alternative two-stop strategy to take second place from sixth on the grid.

There was some concern raised over the Finn's front tyres at one stage of the race, when it appeared that excessive wear had reduced the previously grooved rubber to an apparent slick. Dupasquier, however, is quick to refute this.

"Some of the TV images highlighted the state of the right front tyre of R?ikk?nen's McLaren but, while it might have looked quite smooth to the naked eye, the tyre had picked up lots of rubber from the track and this led to the grooves filling with debris," he explained, "Once the tyres were hosed down, it was clear that the wear rate had been negligible."

The introduction of the F2003-GA is just one of the things occupying Dupasquier's mind as the series swaps Italy for Spain this weekend. The two circuits, although being at a similar latitude, are distinctly different, with the Barcelona venue possessing a more abrasive surface than its predecessor on the calendar.

"We have a different challenge on our hands this weekend because the Circuit of Catalunya and Imola are not at all alike," Dupasquier said, "Will our tyres be sufficiently fast and durable? We'll see on Sunday, but I feel confident.

"It is vital to have a well-sorted chassis in Barcelona and getting the set-up right can be something of a delicate exercise. The circuit features a very long main straight and also has a number of fast, testing corners that place a great strain on tyres - an issue compounded by the nature of the track surface, which is very abrasive.

"Aerodynamic balance plays a key role, because there are several quick corners that demand a high level of downforce. At the same time, however, teams have to make sure they don't run too much wing because they don't want to compromise top-end speed on the main straight, which is one of the longest in the championship. Also, the lap-time penalty for a heavy fuel load at this track equates to about 0.4secs per ten kilos."

Williams-BMW driver Ralf Schumacher, who qualified on the front row alongside his brother at Imola, is optimistic that Michelin will find the right choice of tyre for round five.

"Besides being a circuit where it is quite challenging to find a good balance for the car, due to the great variety of corners it presents, the Circuit de Catalunya requires harder tyres because of the high degradation in four high speed corners which also put high demands on aerodynamic efficiency," he said, "We have been testing with Michelin so much in Barcelona that it makes me very confident they will provide us with a very adequate tyre."