Motor Racing: Villeneuve red hot for title defence

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The Independent Online
Jacques Villeneuve has a a world title to defend and a new Williams to do it in. Derick Allsop was at Silverstone to view the fast-moving combination that the other grand prix teams could again not see for dust.

The colour may change, the sponsor and name of the engine may change, but all else, you sense, is much the same. Williams are the team to beat in Formula One.

That familiar air of business first, the rest whenever, was apparent again yesterday when the champions of grand prix motor racing unveiled their latest challenger, the FW20.

The new car, in red livery and powered by a Renault engine now called mechachrome, was finished at 7.30am, just two and a half hours before it was officially launched, and although no one can gauge its potential until it has undergone substantial testing, those at Ferrari and McLaren will be wise to anticipate the worst.

Jacques Villeneuve, who won the title last season after that infamous skirmish with Ferrari's Michael Schumacher at Jerez, reflected a determination within the Williams camp undiminished by their becoming the most successful championship campaigners in the history of Formula One.

A change in regulations, resulting in narrower cars and grooved tyres, offers the other teams the chance to start on a par with Williams, but Villeneuve remains confident in the expertise and motivation of his colleagues.

"Everyone wants to see Williams beaten, because they think we won't have an advantage anymore," Villeneuve said. "But we have to prove to the people they are wrong.

"When someone is performing like Williams for many years, people take great enjoyment in seeing a change. That's natural. When you are at the top, the fall is very long and hard, and it happens very easily.

"The Williams car is usually good straight out of the box. It looks a great car and all the information from the factory indicates it is."

Villeneuve upset the sport's authorities last year with his views on the rule changes and now, six weeks before the start of the season on 8 March in Australia, he is still expressing his opposition, suggesting the racing could be more dangerous rather then safer, as was intended.

"To race and overtake now you will have to be more hectic, because everyone will be on the limit," he said. "It will be more difficult to do something extra when you need to overtake. Before it was difficult to reach the limit and to keep it every lap of a race. Despite what people said, you could overtake."

The crash between Villeneuve and Schumacher in the deciding Grand Prix of Europe led to simmering hostility towards the German, who turned his car into Villeneuve's as the Canadian overtook on the inside of a bend. Schumacher was subsequently stripped of his second place in the championship.

Attempts by Schumacher to portray them as buddies have been rebuffed by Villeneuve. "I've been upset the way the personal side has been pushed, when there actually wasn't any," he said. "I try not to think of Michael Schumacher and put that behind me. We don't really know each other. We know each other as racers. I don't know him on the personal side and I don't really care."

Villeneuve cites Schumacher, his own team-mate Heinz- Harald Frentzen and McLaren as his most likely rivals this year, but insists there are no additional pressures.

"I want to fight again for the championship, but I don't have to prove I can win it. I have done that," he said.