More Rift Between Villeneuve and Sauber

The relationship between Sauber and Jacques Villeneuve took another hit this week, after the team decided to cut the Canadian's running at the Barcelona testing short and draft in teammate Felipe Massa instead, Autosport-Atlas exclusively reveals

More Rift Between Villeneuve and Sauber

Villeneuve, who has been surrounded by speculation that he may be replaced at Sauber because of his struggles with the C24, was furious with both the state of the car during the test on Wednesday, and by the fact that the team chose to cut short his running to draft in Massa a day earlier than originally planned.

The situation developed after a troubled outing for the team and Villeneuve - whose running was blighted by a brake failure, electronic problems and a major handling imbalance on his car.

He ended the day slowest overall, almost four seconds slower than pace-setter Pedro de la Rosa.

Having said several times that he is in need of testing miles to get a grip on a car that he has found difficult to drive, Villeneuve was unimpressed by the day's experience or the fact that the team preferred to gauge Massa's opinion on the car rather than press on with him.

Massa was telephoned at home at lunch-time on Wednesday and told to go to the factory, where he was subsequently told to fly down to Barcelona for an extra day's running.

Speaking exclusively to Autosport-Atlas about the situation, a visibly angry Villeneuve hinted that there may be a fundamental problem with the team's car.

"We are doing one of our few tests, but first I had a brake failure which is never nice - particularly on this type of track," said Villeneuve. "This was supposed to be an aero test, but the balance of the car was not there.

"Something is not right and the car is way too slow. The other driver is coming here to check - but at the moment the car is just too slow."

Sources close to Villeneuve claim he is losing patience with the competitiveness of the C24 and that he is unhappy by the fact the team so quickly chose to change their plans and gauge Massa's opinion on the car instead.

On the back of a difficult three races for Villeneuve, this latest twist in the situation will do little to ease doubts that the French-Canadian will not see out the season with Sauber.

What is different about the Barcelona test situation, however, is the fact that Villeneuve appears angrier with the situation than Sauber.

Only last weekend, team boss Peter Sauber made it clear that he was getting frustrated with the constant speculation surrounding Villeneuve, rather than anything the French-Canadian was doing himself.

"In Malaysia we were married to Anthony Davidson, before Bahrain apparently Klien or Liuzzi would replace Jacques very soon," said Sauber. "But there was no contact whatsoever with any of these drivers.

"And the reason for that is simple: I feel no urge for a driver change. My priority one is to make the car go faster; only then we can start to have a look at the performance of the drivers."

Sauber have done as much as possible to help Villeneuve's cause and try to improve the performance of the car. In Bahrain the car featured new winglets and a modified front-wing endplate, while the team introduced a larger master cylinder for the rear braking circuit to help Villeneuve - as well as new software to further assist his braking problems.

"It always strikes me how short the memory of some people is," added Sauber. "Jacques drove fastest laps in winter time with our C23, also on a wet track which is not really the strength of the Canadian. Do the critics really think that suddenly Jacques has lost his capabilities?

"Of course, we were disappointed with his performances, but even more so he is himself. In Bahrain we saw an upwards trend, and as long as we are not in the position to let him test more often and to adapt better to the car, it would not be the right time to blame him.

"He needs a car with more downforce, our car is lacking in that area. A part of the problem might be that he likes to go his own way with the setup, but the new rules demand a much tighter window in which you can operate. There are many more restrictions regarding aerodynamics and tyres.

"It did also not help that you have to be easy on your engine during free practice because it must last two events. Jacques needs every lap he can get."

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