German Michael Schumacher has targeted victory in this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix as he attempts to close in on the lead of the drivers’ world championship.
Schumacher (37), who drives for Ferrari, has 51 points — 23 fewer than defending world champion Fernando Alonso of Spain — and knows that he must start a dramatic turnaround in Montreal if he is to stand any chance of taking a record eighth world title.
Despite being soundly beaten by the Spaniard in the last three races, Schumacher is optimistic about out-pacing his rival at a circuit where he has won seven times in his career — more than twice as many times as anybody else.
Schumacher said: ”We have every reason to be optimistic. Our car has lived up to all of our expectations so far and we have improved it continuously. I don’t want to make any predictions about how that will play out at Montreal.
”The circuit is totally different than the last ones we were on recently and we will be using completely different aerodynamics packages.
”Apart from that, nobody knows exactly what to expect, because no team has tested here and has insights to go by. So everything is completely different now except our fighting spirit, which has been refreshed perfectly.
”We’re ready to go and want to do well in Canada. And I see no reason whatsoever why we shouldn’t.”
Unlike Schumacher, championship leader Alonso (24) has never won in Canada — and neither have his Renault team.
Alonso, though, is determined to end that run on Sunday by taking his sixth victory of the season after admitting that Montreal is a race he has always wanted to win.
Alonso said: ”Canada was one of the races on my ‘to-do’ list at the start of the season. I have never finished on the podium there, and that was one of my goals for 2006. So I will be really pushing to get a strong result there.”
Last year’s race was the 13-time Grand Prix winner’s most frustrating event of the season.
He struggled to match the pace of his Italian teammate Giancarlo Fisichella and then retired with rear-end damage after he hit one of Montreal’s famous concrete barriers on lap 38.
But memories of that accident will not tempt Alonso into easing-up and sitting on his healthy championship lead.
Alonso added: ”The season is not even at the half-way stage yet, and in Ferrari, we have very strong competition.
”They will be there at every race, and very strong in Canada as well. So we are still being aggressive, putting new parts on the car and trying to push the limits at every race. That’s the only approach we can take this season.”
The race marks a homecoming for Canadian Jacques Villeneuve.
Ten years ago, he competed in his country’s premier race for the first time, evoking emotional memories of his late father Gilles — the Ferrari legend who won at the track in 1978 and had it re-named in his honour following his tragic death in 1982.
The younger Villeneuve (35) finished second on his maiden Canadian Grand Prix appearance for Williams, but has failed to trouble the front-runners since.
But, following a positive run of results that has seen his BMW Sauber team score points in the last three races, he is looking forward to the Montreal race.
Villeneuve said: ”It’s always nice to come to Montreal. I hold very fond memories of my home. Since my childhood, I have had fewer and fewer chances to visit Canada. That makes it even nicer to return here for the Grand Prix every year.
”It is a special weekend, and seeing how everybody is happy to be in Canada makes me proud. The crowd is fantastic; you can really feel the positive energy. The whole town is into the race big time. It’s a bit like Monaco. The attitude there is very young and upbeat.”
Villeneuve is planning a double celebration, as he returns to his homeland for the first time since getting married, and will also release his debut music single in the week after the race.
Accepterais-tu? will be officially launched at the Newtown bar that Villeneuve owns in the city centre, and will feature original songs written and performed by the driver. — AFP