This weekend sees the Formula One circus hit Spain for the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya.

After the dominant performance of Ferrari at Imola it looks all set to be the Italian cars to continue their reign in Spain. And although the San Marino GP was won by Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello looked far more convincing than he has in a long time. For the Spanish Grand Prix preview Crash will be starting its assessment at the back of the field in terms of points scored thus far this season.

Starting from the back there's a trio of pointless teams. Arrows, BAR and Jordan are all going into the fifth Grand Prix of the season without having registering any points. Notably all three teams are using full works engines, the BAR and Jordan team the Honda unit at which much criticism has been levied, whereas Arrows are using Cosworth engines, which although strictly speaking customer engines as Arrows pay for them, the engines are to the exact same spec as the ones that Jaguar use.

Arrows' season seems to be beset with nothing but problems this year. Their first race of the season gave notice that this could be a trying season for the team: both cars stalled on the grid and both were subsequently black flagged in the race. In Malaysia it was only Frentzen that stalled on the line, Bernoldi did get some racing in and even unlapped himself briefly from Michael Schumacher. At Malaysia Frentzen did at least make it to the finish, whereas Bernoldi fell out of the race with fuel problems. At Brazil both cars were retired. At the San Marino race once again neither car made it to the finish.

So should Spain offer any hope for a good Arrows showing? The Mike Coughlan designed A23 chassis does appear to have good potential for the short times that it does run, and Frentzen looks to be settling well in his new environment. The team has undertaken an extensive test programme since their San Marino DNFs designed to overcome their reliability woes. That said it's probably too much to expect great things from the Arrows in Spain.

Arrows technical director Mike Coughlan is hardly talking in fighting terms coming up to the race: ''Barcelona should be an interesting race for us,'' he comments ''The team has been working hard back at the factory and in testing at Silverstone last week. We added some good mileage to the car which will hopefully remove some of the reliability problems we have had in the first few races. The car was running well and we were moderately quick over the three days, so I think it's fair to say we come to Spain better prepared.''

Over at BAR and there are also many sorrows to be drowned. Dave Richards has wielded his axe and recognises there is much to do. New technical director Geoff Willis has spoken in far from complimentary terms about the 004 and rates it as being about five years behind the times.

In the races so far this year BAR has seen both cars drop out in Australia, an eight for Villeneuve in Malaysia but no finish for Panis, who also didn't make it to the finish in Brazil where Villeneuve was classified tenth despite an engine dying a lap from home. San Marino saw a turn up for the boys at BAR will Jacques coming home seventh after qualifying in tenth place, yet once more Panis did not make it to the chequered flag

Last year Villeneuve was on the podium at this race, and the former World Champion won at the circuit when he was at Williams: ''We've done a lot of work to prepare for the next race and Barcelona is a track we know well through testing, but it won't be easy for us to repeat our Imola performance. We're certainly not expecting a repeat of last year's podium but we have to do as good a job through the weekend as we did in the last race so we can take advantage of any opportunities.'' He concluded, ''I've won in Barcelona before and I like the circuit, but it's hard on brakes and understeer is a big problem. We're expecting a tough race.''

Jordan is the final team not to have scored points. As just a few years ago they were challenging the top teams, their current position must be most galling. The team has followed BAR's lead and just announced that it too will be seeing personnel departures including team stalwart Trevor Foster to effect a staff reduction of some 15%. They are in the same position as BAR with a Honda engine that has fallen below expectations and equally, like BAR, have suffered particularly bad luck and reliability. Most concerning is that Jordan's reliability seems t be getting worse with both cars not making it to the end at Imola.

For this race Jordan rookie Takuma Sato at least has the advantage of knowing the track in an F1 car, not something he's been able to boast at any of the previous Grand Prix this year. That said, he did manage to out-qualify his far more experienced team-mate last time out at Imola. And any design improvements will not be coming from the EJ12's original designer with the news that former Arrows man Eghbal Hamidy has left the team

Moving into the points and there's Minardi and Toyota on two points apiece. Both have been flattered by the trouble suffered by the other teams rather than the quality of their cars so what should Barcelona hold for these two? Toyota certainly has plenty of experience of the place after spending much of last year testing at the Spanish circuit. Mika Salo, however, doesn't see this as necessarily being a good thing: ''I expected us to find it harder in Europe, and that was proved at the last race. The car didn't work over the bumps at Imola and, while we have a few modifications for Barcelona, I am expecting another difficult weekend here. We are going to the track that all the teams know best, so any weaknesses are going to be exaggerated.''

Salo continued: ''I am quite familiar with the Catalunya circuit and it is quite a good track to drive. The fast corners are really fast and challenging - especially the last one - and there is a good overtaking opportunity at the end of the pit-straight. Unfortunately due to the number of test days I've done there in my F1 career, it is not one of the most exciting circuits on the calendar. Still, when you are on a hot lap, you get a lot of satisfaction from getting it right. Many of the corners are inter-linked, which punishes mistakes, and there is a good flow to the lap. The surface is very bumpy, however; the ripples result in the car constantly moving up and down.''

Despite the top name teams Toyota current heads in the points standings, team principal Ove Andersson notes: ''The last race at Imola was a reminder to everyone at Panasonic Toyota Racing that we still have a long way to go before we can challenge regularly in the midfield. The most important thing for us at this stage is to finish races and for sure we learnt more about the car at the recent Mugello test. Of course performance is important, but we must never sacrifice reliability.''

Minardi will be facing an uphill struggle again in Barcelona. Yoong once more is likely to be trailing the field in what is his second season in Formula 1, Webber, in his first season is making far better use of the tools at his disposal. The Australian has been having an interesting time in testing with an engine-related problem, followed by a small fire causing him some problems as he tested in Silverstone last week. ''It was certainly good to have some testing mileage instead of just the usual short periods we have with the car on race weekends,'' Webber said, ''We experienced a frustrating problem this morning, followed by the fire - how the guys turned it around in the time, I don't know. We then did some light data and software evaluation during the showery afternoon session. The work we've done will undoubtedly help us for Barcelona.''

Next up on three points apiece are Sauber and Jaguar. Of these two the Sauber certainly looks to be the quicker vehicle and Jaguar's points have come more through luck. Last year Sauber finished fourth in the championship, and this year's car seems to have good pace

Willy Rampf, Sauber's Technical Director, explains the challenge that the Spanish circuit presents: ''Teams and drivers know the Circuit de Catalunya really well because everyone goes there so often for testing. It doesn't really have any slow-speed corners, they are all medium to high-speed. That places a premium on aerodynamic efficiency. We need almost maximum downforce as usual in qualifying, but despite the long, long pit straight we unusually retain that set-up for the race as well.

''The track surface is quite abrasive, so it can also be pretty hard on the tyres. Aerodynamic and mechanical set-up work therefore assumes even greater importance. Having traction control helps to prevent wheelspin. The driver needs to adapt his style to look after his front tyres, especially the left front because of the long corners like turn 3. Tyre conservation is a key factor in race strategy.''

Jaguar, now with a full two weeks usage of their new wind tunnel under their belt, still have a long way to go with the R3. For Pedro de la Rosa its his home race, as the Spaniard resides a few miles away in Barcelona and, given how much testing is conducted at the Circuit de Catalunya, knows the track very well.

However, being local also has is drawbacks, and the Catalan star admits that he feels more pressure at this race than any other on the calendar: ''A home race brings an added pressure to what you would normally experience at other races,'' he explains, ''You become very aware of the expectation around you and, while Formula One isn't as popular in Spain as motorcycling or the World Rally Championship, the Spanish Grand Prix does generate a lot of public interest.''

Team Boss Niki Lauda is succinct in his analysis of the race ahead: ''It's an outright aero circuit and, until we have solved the aerodynamic issues on the Jaguar R3, we will unfortunately struggle on tracks like this. We are pushing forward on the aerodynamic development of the car but, until we find the answers that we're looking for, we have little choice but to extract the best from the package we have.

''I don't mean to sound downbeat or pessimistic - just realistic. The only way we are going to take a major step forward this season will be through significant aerodynamic improvements. Windtunnel work is extremely scientific in nature and the results from this meticulous work take time to generate. Our new head of aerodynamics, Ben Agathangelou, starts next week and in addition, we will have two new aerodynamicists joining us within the next fortnight. Both men will bring with them a new and experienced technical dimension to Jaguar Racing that will help accelerate our development path.''

F1 veteran Eddie Irvine is hoping that the weather will play a bigger part in helping the team than it did at the recent San Marino GP. In particular, the Irishman is looking for warmer temperatures to get the best from his Michelin tyres. ''We know exactly what to expect from the Circuit de Catalunya,'' he said, resignedly, ''The biggest challenge for us will be the long fast corners and in this instance, aerodynamic balance and tyres will play a key part. The prevailing wind can also affect the consistency of aerodynamic performance around this track and achieving a good set-up is critical.

''The tyres should work better for us in Barcelona than they did in Imola because of the relatively hotter temperature. The Jaguar R3 didn't generate enough heat into the tyres at Imola and that's where we suffered. Barcelona should be a little kinder to us, but until we find a solution to the car's aerodynamic problems, the next few races will be very tough.''

Moving into the top four teams and first it's Renault with eight points on the board, all courtesy of the Brit Button and Jenson's fine performances have been noted by many. ''The results so far this season weren't planned as such, but our level of competitiveness isn't a surprise,'' Button said. ''Overall it was a great result in Imola - we had the right strategy, excellent pit-stops from the team meant it worked perfectly, and I drove one of the best races of my career in F1!''

''It is important that we keep the points rolling in for the team throughout the year. One of the real advantages of being in a big, ambitious team is that the car is getting better and better at every race, and we are constantly growing in competitiveness. Testing has gone well at Barcelona and the car will definitely be competitive. I enjoy the circuit: turn three is a place where you can gain time, and really tough on the neck. The last two corners are also good fun.''

Button's Team-mate Trulli has thus far to score points and could be forgiven for feeling a little peeved at being overshadowed by the Brit. But seemingly the Italian has nothing to worry about from the Somerset lad: ''Jenson's a good bloke and he's doing a great job [this season],'' he told Italian magazine Autosprint, ''but I've had stronger team-mates - like Frentzen.'' Time for the Italian to start showing that by finishing in the points? Both Renault drivers should have plenty of opportunity to do just that, and last week Button did set the fastest test time at Silverstone, going faster than Ralf Schumacher's Williams in the process.

Third in the points is McLaren who, for them, are having a very low-key start to the season. Two third places and a sixth place is all the Woking squad can show this season. Both reliability and lack of speed are the two main problems which should be distracting Ron Dennis from his colour charts for the new McLaren factory walls.

Since the San Marino Grand Prix, David Coulthard, Kimi Raikkonen and Alex Wurz have been testing at the Mugello track in Italy. The team even drafted in Jean Alesi to help their testing. David Coulthard admits his frustrations so far this year: ''There's no denying it was a disappointing weekend at Imola, however the West McLaren Mercedes team has been working hard at Mugello and we are now looking forward to the Spanish Grand Prix.''

Norbert Haug, Vice-President of Mercedes-Benz explains the lengths that the team has gone to in its quest to regain form: ''After the San Marino Grand Prix, our team has worked very hard to regain competitiveness in the next few races. For the first time this year we tested at Mugello, which like Barcelona is a very demanding and selective circuit for both the chassis and engine. From Tuesday to Thursday of last week, David, Kimi, Alex and Jean Alesi ran through an intensive test programme. The four drivers, in two chassis, ran 1242 miles / 2000 km during the three days.'' Only time will tell if these efforts are enough.

And so, fighting for wins thus far this season, and in all likelihood in Barcelona as well, are Williams and Ferrari. Before we consider the teams themselves it's worth noting that the top two are on different rubber. WilliamsF1 will be starting the race on Michelin rubber and the French team has been working hard to ensure that the team is back in the wins again. Michelin motorsport director Pierre Dupasquier is well aware of the challenge faced: ''We noticed in Brazil that Ferrari's new F2002 had great potential, but we didn't believe the team's technical director Ross Brawn when he predicted it would be one and a half seconds per lap faster than the previous car. But it turns out he was right.''

To attempt to counter Ferrari/Bridgestone challenge the team will be bringing new tyres to the circuit, but Dupasquier is mindful that this is only Michelin's second year in F1 this time around: ''The two new compounds we are bringing to Spain have been evolved specifically for this track. It remains to be seen whether the Ferraris are going to be as comfortable in the quick corners as they were in certain sections of the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, at Imola. This will be important because it will help increase our overall understanding of how Formula One cars perform.''

''In Barcelona, either the performance gap will be reduced and all the hard work we have done will help us take the battle to Ferrari or the margin of superiority will remain unchanged and we will have to take an even harder look at what we are doing.'' As for Williams themselves, of the two drivers Ralf is certainly taking the upper hand so far this season. WilliamsF1 who have enjoyed good fortunes since the race moved to the Circuit de Catalunya in 1991, in eleven races they have claimed five wins, complemented by three visits to the second or third step of the podium.

Thus far Ralf seems to be enjoying the upper hand of the Williams duo. Looking ahead to the race the younger Schumacher said: ''Even though I would have really enjoyed winning at Imola last weekend, my frustration at the outcome was short-lived and my confidence for the next race is good. At Silverstone we have tested some new bits on the car and I believe we are now well prepared for Barcelona. Barcelona is a very difficult track to approach. It shows instantly who is good and who is not. We were quite competitive in the early season test, but we now need to improve to catch up with the new Ferrari.''

Montoya scored the first podium of his F1 career when he notched up a second place last year. The Columbian will be hoping that this year he can see a similar upturn in fortunes at the track: ''At Barcelona last season I finished my first race in Formula One and claimed my first points for the BMW WilliamsF1 Team. As a result, I have a very positive memory of the circuit, especially as it took until my fifth race to get to the finish and I ended up doing it on a track where we weren't especially competitive - so let's see how it goes this year. With the next race at a track where we test at most often after Silverstone, I know the Circuit de Catalunya quite well. It's not one of my favourite tracks, in spite of being a quick circuit. But I spend quite a lot of my leisure time in Spain and I like the country and culture very much, so that makes up for it!''

That just leaves the top of the field with Ferrari and Bridgestone. The Japanese tyre company enjoys a very close relationship with the Italian constructor and will be taking two tyre specs to Barcelona, one of which is new. Hisao Suganuma, technical manager of Bridgestone Motorsport, noted: ''Although there is not an enormous difference between the two specifications we will have at Barcelona, they each have different advantages depending on the conditions we encounter there. The tyre that has been tested previously at the Circuit de Catalunya showed good consistency while the other spec also seems to be consistent but with extra stability. Which ever is chosen may be dictated by the temperatures at the weekend, but I am confident that whether it is hot or cool we will be competitive.''

Ferrari are certainly on the top of their game at the moment and in all likelihood should top the times sheets in qualifying and lead the field for another victory. Michael Schumacher should be the person that takes that victory. The German is seemingly unstoppable at the moment and test crash aside couldn't be better placed to take the win. But Rubens Barrichello was putting on a lot more pressure, and was far closer to the elder Schumacher than he has been for a long time, so you never know...