Schumacher aiming to regain title

 

THE 1997 Ferrari Grand Prix car was unveiled yesterday with Michael Schumacher vowing to fight to regain the World Championship.

Ferrari's president, Luca di Montezemolo and Sporting Director Jean Todt were more cautious and only hoped to improve on Ferrari's three 1996 victories.

Schumacher, world champion in 1994 and 1995, also added a note of caution that sport was unpredictable and that errors by him or the car could compromise their chances to put pressure on the leaders.

Schumacher said while he expected progress this season, he saw Ferrari's real potential coming in 1998 and 1999, which is why he had committed to a three-year deal with the team.

The 1997 Ferrari F310B is a fairly conventional Formula One car, with much carried over from last year's F310 model to ensure basic reliability, the chief designer, John Barnard, said.

Barnard and engine designer, Paolo Martinelli, have already programmed a series of improvements, held back so the new car can start testing at Ferrari's Fiorano test track today, eight weeks before the first 1997 Grand Prix in Melbourne, Australia.

"There was a very big effort to get the car finished to allow plenty of time for development," said Barnard.

After four days at Fiorano, the team will have three test periods at Jerez, Spain, later this month and in February.

Ferrari's tough 1996 season was marked by repeated failures, notably in three successive races in July.

Barnard retained the 1996 car's rear construction, suspension and seven-speed transverse titanium gearbox, whose faults are now said, to be resolved. A new longitudinal gearbox will be mounted about mid-season, after extensive testing, he said.

Track testing of the 046/2 engine, an evolution of the 1996 unit, also starts today. Martinelli said it was proven to be reliable; but needed more horsepower and better flexibility.

Schumacher will start the testing with team-mate Eddie Irvine taking a larger role than last year, Todt said. Ferrari test, driver Nicola Larini has moved to Sauber and a replacement will not be announced for "some weeks," Todt added.

The launch was the first public appearance of British engineer Ross Brawn, who joined Ferrari recently and worked with Schumacher at Benetton for more than four years, including two world championship seasons.

Brawn will be technical co-ordinator at Maranello, and Schumacher praised him as someone who can always get the best out of anyone no matter how difficult they are.

Barnard's second spell at Ferrari in the past 10 years expires in mid-year and he confirmed he was negotiating about the future.

"I want to stay in Formula One," Barnard said. "I've put a lot of effort into Ferrari and I don't want to see that wasted. I always seem to leave before the final prize (is won).

"There's a way we can work together, but it's probably not in the same way we do now," said Barnard, who said he had not wanted to extend his fundamental design centre work in Britain to on-going development during race season.

He also acknowledged he would be very pleased to work with Alain Prost who is trying to take over the Ligier team, but said that team would need a lot of building up.

Canadian Grand Prix driver Jacques Villeneuve, the favourite for next season's title, ruled out reigning champion Damon Hill's chances of retaining the title.

Villeneuve, runner-up in his first season to former Williams team-mate Hill in last season's championship, believes this time he will take the title.

Hill is now with a new team, TWR Arrows, and Villeneuve doesn't rate the British driver's chances.