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Button: BAR can be on Podium from the Start

BAR's Jenson Button believes he could be celebrating a debut Formula One podium from the first chequered flag of the season next month.

"You're always going to need a little bit of luck on your side to get that first podium," the Briton said at the launch of the team's 2004 car at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya on Sunday.

"But if we work like we have been working over the winter...I think there's no reason why we can't be on the podium at the first race in Melbourne."

Button, 24, is starting his fifth season in Formula One but has yet to finish higher than fourth place.

His Japanese teammate Takuma Sato, replacing Canadian Jacques Villeneuve, is starting his second full season after a year with Jordan in 2002 and BAR have one of the youngest line-ups in Formula One.

However Button has looked quick in recent testing, setting a record lap time in Barcelona last month albeit on new tyres and with low fuel levels. Team head David Richards predicted that 2004 would be the year that Honda-powered BAR, fifth overall last season, emerged as a real threat.

"This has to be a year where we make a serious challenge for the top three teams in Formula One and regularly appear on the podium. No bones about it, that's the target," he said.

Steps Forward

The unveiling of the new car was similarly matter of fact, the tobacco-funded team that once put on some of the most lavish launches cutting out the hype.

Reporters and photographers simply gathered outside the team's garage and watched as Button drove it out, paused briefly and then gunned it down the pitlane for a handful of laps.

"We've got to be realistic about where we are," said Richards. "This year is about another step forwards. I am quite convinced we can make that step."

The team chief likened the team to a house under construction, with the first year spent making sure the plans were sound and the second in constructing the foundations.

"You are about to see us come above the ground this year and show our true potential," he said.

BAR technical director Geoff Willis said the new car, boasting a new carbon-composite gearbox, was smaller and more compact and effectively 95 percent new.

"We have been bolder and there is lots of innovation in the car," he said. "This year is going to be a big step for us on the technical side."

The car also has a smaller fuel tank to reflect the single lap qualifying rule introduced last year.

"We have done a lot of testing with the interim concept car, around 4,000 km this year so far, and I think we've used out time very well over the winter," said Button.

"We're still not completely sure about the new car but its promising and the good thing is that it is very stable," added the Briton.

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