Frentzen keen to bring pride back to Arrows

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The Independent Online

They sat a few feet apart, but the gulf between them becomes wider by the season. Perhaps here, at their home Grand Prix, they might find common ground at last.

Michael Schumacher inevitably took centre stage, wearing a new red cap bearing a star for each of his five world championships. His latest, achieved in record time, prompted a party in France on Sunday night that is still the talk of Italy.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen had nothing to celebrate last week. He has had nothing to celebrate for many weeks. His team, Arrows, are in dire financial straits and mustered only a token attempt at qualifying for the French Grand Prix.

Their failure to make the race saved them money, but brought a warning from the sport's governing body, the FIA, that a repeat this weekend would not be tolerated. Arrows insist they are here to compete properly and Frentzen has the opportunity to mark a sad anniversary by restoring some self-esteem.

Frentzen, sacked by Jordan just before last year's German Grand Prix, said: "That was a shock for me, and I wondered whether I would ever race in my home Grand Prix again. Last week was frustrating not only for me, but for all the team. What matters is that we are here now and we shall be racing.

"Michael has won another world championship, and maybe he will celebrate with a win here. There is no chance for me to win, but if I get a point, it will be just as good. I had my chance to win the championship at Jordan and I don't expect one now, but I still think I've got something to offer, and this is a challenge for me at Arrows.''

Schumacher and his Ferrari team showed no ill effects yesterday for the latest of their celebratory extravaganzas, which are rapidly gaining legendary status. The influence of Schumacher, British technical director Ross Brawn, and other northern Europeans evidently goes way beyond winning races. All the old reticence of Ferrari employees in the company of their superiors has been lubricated and eased away. The drinking culture, once alien to Italians, has, after three championships, become second nature.

Schumacher said: "We had a good party, and it was nice to see all the mechanics and engineers enjoying themselves so much. It's not natural for an Italian team to let themselves go like that. They were a bit stiff in the early days, but in the meantime we have had a few celebrations and now it's good to see them partying the way they do.''

Now it's back to business, and probably more celebrating, for Schumacher and Ferrari. He wants to throw the party open to his countrymen and register only his second Formula One win here. The team, embarrassed over Rubens Barrichello's failure to start last week, are intent on guiding the Brazilian to second place in the championship, supplying him with his own spare car.

Barrichello claimed the first of his two wins here, although he and the other drivers have a radically designed circuit to negotiate this time. The track, long dubbed the most boring in Grand Prix racing, is shorter and incorporates potential overtaking opportunities. Schumacher and the rest inspected their new playground with great interest yesterday.

Schumacher said: "I was approached by the designer and we discussed a couple of things. The general trend to create overtaking possibilities comes from the drivers.''

Giancarlo Fisichella, the Jordan driver who missed the French Grand Prix after crashing in practice on Saturday, has been passed fit to compete this weekend.