Motor racing: Schumacher doubts he can win title

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The Independent Online
Michael Schumacher said yesterday that he remains sceptical about Ferrari's ability to propel him to a third Formula One world title in the coming season.

The German, speaking at the unveiling of Ferrari's latest vehicle at the team's Fiorano test track in Maranello, was cautious about Ferrari's prospects for the new season, which starts in eight weeks' time. "My real hope is that we can compete for the championship and put pressure on the Williams team or any other that sets the pace, or that we will be under pressure from them, but I cannot predict that we will be champions.

"To be honest, I think this year we are looking for reliability and a big improvement on last year, but the real championship for us should come in 1998."

Schumacher, whose new contract keeps him with Ferrari until 1999, was nevertheless impressed by the new Ferrari F310B on his first close look at it. He supported the view of John Barnard, the Italian team's British chief designer, that it was more important to meet the post-Christmas deadline for the car's launch with a reliable competitor than to experiment with innovations. However, Barnard already has revisions and modifications planned. Some may be introduced after the eight weeks of initial testing, which start today and end before the season's first grand prix in Australia on 9 March.

The new car, an evolution of Barnard's unreliable and troublesome but adventurous 1996 model, showed several changes. Barnard said the most notable were a fully raised nose and modified side-pods which were designed to improve stability, aerodynamics and the high-speed handling of the car.

Schumacher's British team-mate, Eddie Irvine, who failed to finish 10 times last season, said he wanted greater reliability and more testing opportunities. "I don't want another year like the last and that car was the most difficult I have ever had to work with," he said.

While Ferrari may have to wait another year to attack the title, Williams' Jacques Villeneuve believes this season the crown will be his. "I am going in with the championship in mind," said the man who was second to Damon Hill, his former team-mate, last season. "There is only one spot better I can go and I will have to work hard to make sure I get that spot."

Of Hill's chances this term with Arrows, the Canadian said: "I don't think the whole package is ready to win - although I'm sure they could surprise us once in a while."