Schumacher's reign is at an end, says Button

The 25 year-old Englishman claimed yesterday that despite the world champion's recent haul of 18 points from the Canadian and United States grands prix Schumacher would not challenge for the title this season.

"I think that Ferrari are about where we are," he said, referring to his BAR-Honda team. "We have maybe the third or fourth best car, but we are all chasing McLaren and I think that they have a clear advantage at present. And I expect Kimi [Raikkonen] to be very quick this weekend."

While Button is focusing on the short term, there is general concern in the sport about the possibility of 20 races next season. None of the teams wanted 19 events this year but were cajoled into it in order to safeguard the troubled French and British races.

The extra race may be held in Cancun, where a Mexican consortium has been building a circuit for the past two years.

McLaren-Mercedes' team principal, Ron Dennis, has said that he thought it was unlikely the teams would agree to more than 17 races next season. Yesterday the BAR-Honda chief Nick Fry suggested that compromises would be necessary to accommodate yet another grand prix.

"One has to question whether the public will have the appetite for 20 races," he said, "and at the end of the season we will have to consider this quite carefully. Obviously there would have to be a way to counterbalance the extra races." One way of achieving that would be to limit testing, which the seven so-called "rebel" teams – BAR-Honda, McLaren-Mercedes, Renault, Williams-BMW, Sauber, Toyota and Minardi – have been proposing since the Brazilian Grand Prix last October.

"We do need the global exposure," Fry conceded, "so perhaps the best way would be to cap the season at 16 or 18 races by thinning out the countries that currently run two races." That could affect Germany, Italy and France, who respectively have races in Hockenheim and Nurburgring, Imola and Monza, and Magny-Cours and Monaco's Monte Carlo.

Fry also highlighted the strain that a long season can have on the family life of team personnel. "Both BAR and McLaren are losing people because of the pressures of being away from home for too long."

The projected race dates are: 12 March, 19 March, 2 April, 16 April, 30 April, 14 May, 28 May, 4 June, 18 June, 25 June, 2 July, 16 July, 30 July, 6 August, 27 August, 10 September, 17 September, 1 October, 15 October and 22 October.

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