Preview: Schumacher No Longer Favourite

For most of his Formula One career, Michael Schumacher has arrived in Canada as a racing certainty

Preview: Schumacher No Longer Favourite

Not this time.
 
The Ferrari World Champion has not won a race since last October, has reaped a mere 16 points from seven Grands Prix so far this season and his hopes of an eighth crown have all but disappeared.

Sunday's race could herald the long-awaited Ferrari renaissance (and where better than at a track named after one of the best-loved Ferrari drivers?) but the 36-year-old German is making no predictions.

"I'd rather not," he said. "My predictions haven't been all that great lately."

Even though Schumacher has won for the last three years at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, and a record seven times since his first appearance in Montreal in 1992 with Benetton, Ferrari's dominance has ebbed away.

Renault, McLaren, Toyota and Williams have been stronger so far and all have just as much if not more reason to hope for victory on Sunday.

Renault's young Spaniard Fernando Alonso, with four victories under his belt and a 32-point lead in the Championship over McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen and Toyota's Jarno Trulli, certainly fancies his chances.

"Every year I have been there with Renault, we have been quick in Montreal," said the 23-year-old. "With the R23 (in 2003) I set the fastest lap and with the R24 we were in a position to win.

"So with this year's car, there is no reason not to expect a podium or perhaps the victory, as long as we have no problems during the weekend.

"I am really confident the car will be competitive."

McLaren Determined

Raikkonen, thwarted at the last race at the Nurburgring when he flat-spotted a tyre and suffered a catastrophic suspension failure on the last lap while leading, needs to claw back some points and regain his momentum.

Had it not been for that failure, he would be arriving in Canada with three straight wins under his belt and Alonso no more than 20 points clear.

The Finn's European Grand Prix retirement means that he has the disadvantage of running early in qualifying on a little-used circuit that takes time to clean up even if it has been resurfaced since last year.

So too will Toyota's Ralf Schumacher, overshadowed by Italian Trulli so far this year, who won in Canada in 2001 with Williams but suffered his team's first retirement of the year at the Nurburgring.

Williams could be the ones to watch, if they can get their starts sorted out, as the season moves into low downforce, high power mode.

Germany's Nick Heidfeld has now had two second places in a row while Australian Mark Webber will feel at home at a circuit that reminds him of Melbourne and has favoured Williams in the past.

Former champion Jacques Villeneuve, son of Gilles but absent last year after being dropped by BAR, returns home with Sauber but with few expectations after slow performances in most of the last seven races.

The Canadian will also have to share the limelight with another North American in Friday practice when Californian Scott Speed makes his debut at a Grand Prix weekend in the third Red Bull.

"We will be watching his progress with interest," said team boss Christian Horner, who also welcomes back Austrian Christian Klien as a race driver alongside Briton David Coulthard.

"Scott is obviously the most promising talent to come out of the USA for some considerable time."

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