Sauber Optimistic Villeneuve Will Deliver

Sauber expect Jacques Villeneuve to be his old self when he joins them next year despite the former champion's disappointing comeback with Renault.

Sauber Optimistic Villeneuve Will Deliver

Sauber expect Jacques Villeneuve to be his old self when he joins them next year despite the former champion's disappointing comeback with Renault.

"For me, none of this came as a surprise, and I'd pointed this out to Jacques in our preliminary discussions," Peter Sauber said in a team release after the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix. "His comeback was exactly as I'd expected it to be.

"It's only normal that a Formula One driver - after a year of absence and in a new team at that - needs a certain number of kilometres both in test and race conditions before he's able to deliver his full performance.

"I'm not worried though. Jacques will be in top shape for our winter tests already and I'm looking forward to a successful cooperation with him."

Villeneuve replaced Italian Jarno Trulli at Renault for the Chinese, Japanese and Brazilian races and finished 11th, 10th and 10th respectively. The Canadian, World Champion with Williams in 1997, was dropped by BAR at the end of 2003 and had not raced for almost a year before his return in Shanghai.

Renault had hoped Villeneuve could help secure second place in the Constructors' Championship from BAR but they had to settle for third.

The team were criticised by former champion Alain Prost for preferring Villeneuve, 33, to French test driver Franck Montagny while Sauber's signing of the Canadian surprised those who expected Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi to get the seat.

Swiss-based Sauber finished the season sixth overall, ahead of manufacturer teams like Jaguar and Toyota, and scored 34 points compared to 19 in 2003. Sauber said the team, reaping the benefits of a new wind tunnel, were in a much stronger position than a year previously.

He suggested that Italian Giancarlo Fisichella, leaving for Renault, might occasionally envy them next year.

"I wish him all the best for the future and, who knows, perhaps his eyes will be wandering across the Sauber pits with a bit of a wistful look now and then," he said.

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