Preview: Schumacher Needs to Win

Michael Schumacher and mis-firing Ferrari need to win Sunday's San Marino Grand Prix

Preview: Schumacher Needs to Win

Last year the German arrived at Imola, Ferrari's home circuit, heading for his seventh Formula One Championship after three wins in a row.

He was dominant then but there is no triumphalism now. Schumacher is 24 points behind Renault's Spaniard Fernando Alonso and reeling from his worst start to a season in 14 years of Grand Prix racing.

Ferrari, winners of 15 of last year's 18 races, have a four-race losing streak to end and are sixth in the Championship.

Even if Schumacher says he can afford to take risks in Sunday's Grand Prix because he has nothing to lose, he knows that Imola is a key race and a real measure of Ferrari's title aspirations.

Nobody has a better record there than Schumacher, winner five times in the last six years.

"Imola is important in many ways this year," said Schumacher. "First of all it is our home race, which naturally makes it a race that we want to show a good performance at.

"This year, the start of the European leg of the season is also somewhat of a new beginning for us: we want to begin fighting for the Championship title again now and we believe that our chances are quite good.

"I'm confident that we can fight to win," he added.

Renault's Run

Even if Ferrari have sorted out the F2005's reliability and Bridgestone improved the tyres that showed heavy wear in Bahrain, Schumacher will still have his work cut out.

Renault, with Italian Giancarlo Fisichella hoping for a more powerful engine to boost his home hopes, will remain a big threat as they seek a fourth win in a row and Alonso's hat-trick.

"I won my first Formula Three race at Imola and took my first world championship points there with Jordan," said Fisichella. "It's not just any old circuit for me."

Toyota also have high hopes after Italian Jarno Trulli's second places in Malaysia and Bahrain. Ralf Schumacher also won at Imola for Williams in 2001.

"A lot of people are saying 'can you win a race?'. Well, why not," said technical director Mike Gascoyne. "We've finished the last two races behind Fernando Alonso. If he'd retired, we'd have won both."

McLaren look to Finland's Kimi Raikkonen while Austrian Alexander Wurz starts his first Grand Prix for more than four years as a replacement for injured Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya.

Jenson Button, runner-up to Schumacher last year after starting on pole position for the first time in his career, will be looking for proof that his BAR team have finally turned a corner after three races without a point.

The Briton and Japanese teammate Takuma Sato have impressed in recent testing in Spain and France while BAR have brought in former CART champion and Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran as sporting director.

"There's no way we're going to turn up and not be quicker," said Button last week.

Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi makes his Formula One debut for Red Bull, with Austrian Christian Klien standing down for three races, while at the back of the grid Minardi's new PS05 car will make its first competitive appearance.

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