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29 Jun 2004 08:25
Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 world champion, could return to the Williams formula one team as Ralf Schumacher’s substitute after it emerged on Monday that the German driver may be temporarily out of action following his 272kph crash in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix.
Williams insiders believe Schumacher might miss the French Grand Prix on July 4 and the British race at Silverstone a week later.
“He is in a lot of pain,” said Frank Williams.
Schumacher’s Williams-BMW FW26 spun into the concrete retaining wall at the Indianapolis track after puncturing a tyre.
It emerged on Monday that the impact not only knocked him unconscious for a couple of minutes, but when he was questioned about the accident after undergoing hospital checks he initially had no recollection of what had happened to him.
Villeneuve, who will be at the Goodwood Festival of Speed on Saturday to demonstrate the Ferrari 312T3 in which his late father Gilles won the 1978 Canadian Grand Prix, is keen to make a formula one comeback after being dropped by BAR-Honda at the end of last season.
In testing at Monza prior to last year’s Italian Grand Prix Schumacher was involved in a similar high-speed crash, which left him dazed for a couple of weeks. He took part in first practice for the race, but felt too groggy and had to withdraw, handing the car to the Williams test driver Marc Gene who finished fifth.
There has been much speculation over the past couple of months that Villeneuve would be given a test with Williams this season as the team tries to decide who will replace Schumacher and Montoya, both of whom are leaving at the end of the season. However, Gene and the team’s other test driver Antonio Pizzonia are also regarded as potential stand-ins for Schumacher.
Rubens Barrichello says his Ferrari teammate Michael Schumacher can expect a fight for the championship, despite the German’s eighth win in nine races at Indianapolis.
The Brazilian challenged the six-times world champion more than ever at Indianapolis, racing side by side and even putting a wheel on the grass as he tried to overtake.
“Our drivers were free to race one another and we just told them to be sensible and not have an accident,” said the Ferrari team’s technical director Ross Brawn. — Â
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