Refreshed Villeneuve Enjoys F1 Return

Former champion Jacques Villeneuve, preparing for his first Grand Prix in almost a year, relived the carefree days of his 1996 Formula One debut on Friday.

Refreshed Villeneuve Enjoys F1 Return

Former champion Jacques Villeneuve, preparing for his first Grand Prix in almost a year, relived the carefree days of his 1996 Formula One debut on Friday.

"It's good, it's nice. It feels like getting back home," said Villeneuve.

Asked to compare the BAR he drove last year with the Renault he races in Sunday's inaugural Chinese Grand Prix, the Canadian made clear a weight had lifted after an acrimonious 2003 season.

"This is a beginning instead of an end, so that is already a lot more positive," the 1997 champion said after his first full day of practice since last September's US Grand Prix. "I had been in a situation where it was a long tunnel and you didn't see the light and it just seemed to get worse every day.

"There were a lot of other things going on that made it difficult. Driving wasn't the hard part, it was everything else around it. Right now it's like being in the first race in 1996."

The Canadian was a revelation in that Melbourne debut, putting his Williams on pole at a circuit he had never seen before. He then finished second behind British teammate Damon Hill.

Different Script

Villeneuve cannot expect a similar script on Sunday, even if the circuit is as unfamiliar to him as Australia was back then. Villeneuve was 15th fastest in Friday's second practice session. His time was just 0.337 off that of Spanish teammate Fernando Alonso.

"The team is working well, they all made it very easy for me to come back and work and be comfortable. There's no pressure, no stress and I can just get down to working," he told a news conference.

"I have been in racing since I was 17, almost every day with two months off once in a while, but there were always pressures, and the last few years have been very difficult, political and so on," he said. "It was just great to be able to sit down and relax. It allows me to come back with a lot of positive energy."

Villeneuve endured five barren years at BAR, which was set up by his manager Craig Pollock, before being ousted before the final race of last year's Championship in Japan.

Villeneuve is replacing Italian Jarno Trulli for the last three races of the year before moving to Sauber, where he will have Brazilian Felipe Massa as his teammate - an interesting partnership given the Canadian's unsparing criticism of the youngster's performances as a rookie in 2002.

Villeneuve said that was all water under the bridge now.

"I was critical of many people," he said. "I was critical in his first season and everyone in the first season has to learn and you make mistakes. There is nothing wrong with criticising mistakes as long as people learn and he seems to be doing a very good job now, he doesn't annoy anybody or anything, and it will be quite good.

"He has a lot of experience, he tested Ferrari and he has been driving with the Sauber team for quite a while so it will be great."

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