Villeneuve backs return to 'real racetracks'

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The Independent Online
Springtime in Emilia Romagna: trees in blossom, a gentle sun caressing the hillside vineyards and the promise of the nation's finest pasta. For some, a definition of heaven.

For the Formula One fraternity, however, this corner of Italy will forever rekindle a vision of hell, and the adjournment of the Ayrton Senna trial, just down the road from the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, cannot deflect from the conscience the horrors of the San Marino Grand Prix three years ago. Another consequence is a circuit neutralised by a chicane at the point where the Brazilian was killed, and a backlash from drivers demanding a return to "real racetracks."

Chief among them is Jacques Villeneuve, the world championship leader, and a man ever intent on saying what he thinks. Right now he thinks and says this circuit is boring, which is his impression of many circuits. Furthermore, he reiterated here yesterday, that he thinks Formula One racing is becoming boring to the extent that he and others will seek fun, if not fortunes, in IndyCars.

The Canadian claims he speaks for others, as well as himself, when he denounced rule changes scheduled for next year, which include the introduction of narrower cars and grooved tyres, intended to bring down lap times and improve racing. Fewer and fewer, apparently, now have faith in that theory.

Villeneuve said: "The changes will only help the big teams with money to open the gap between themselves and the others. If it becomes boring to drive then the pinnacle could be IndyCars. The money will not be enough to keep me here for long. Other drivers, too, have said they are looking at the other side."

The Williams-Renault driver is perceived by some as a moaner, in which case he will be in good company while he remains in Formula One. Giancarlo Fisichella, a new boy at Jordan-Peugeot this season, made it plain yesterday he had no time for his team-mate, another new boy, Ralf Schumacher, after their dust-up in Argentina, where the German barged the Italian out of his way en route to third place.

Eddie Jordan, the team owner, has given the pair a lecture and Schumacher apologised for the incident, but Fisichella said: "Our friendship is finished. I will always be correct on the track, and we'll work together on the car. But away from the track there will be nothing. We are not together."

Jordan may face the first test of his "team discipline" in Sunday's San Marino Grand Prix, when Fisichella's knowledge of the circuit may give him the edge over the ultra-combative Schumacher. Eddie Irvine would like to think he will discover on Sunday if the authorities are prepared to meet his request for a flag depicting a shamrock to be displayed on the podium in his honour. Better still, if they are prepared to play the non- sectarian Londonderry Air to mark his victory. The Ulsterman stood beneath the Irish tricolour after taking second place in Buenos Aires and, as a result, his parents received threatening phone calls.

Irvine, who lives in the Republic and is licensed as a racing driver there, wants to avoid any implied commitment to either the tricolour or the Union flag, suggesting the shamrock symbol would be a politically and socially acceptable compromise.

He said: "It can be a help being Irish and British, and this has not caused me problems, but it has for my father and mother back home, and people who work for me. Politics should be kept out of sport."