Sauber: Villeneuve Relationship Strained

Swiss Formula One team Sauber have admitted their relationship with driver Jacques Villeneuve is strained

Sauber: Villeneuve Relationship Strained

"The partnership between Jacques Villeneuve and Sauber Petronas is currently at a difficult point," team owner Peter Sauber told Reuters on Friday.

The 1997 World Champion has failed to score points in any of the season's three races so far and was replaced by Felipe Massa during testing in Barcelona this week after posting the slowest time on Wednesday.

Villeneuve's best laptime of 1:18.10 was almost a second behind the next slowest driver Olivier Panis of Toyota and nearly four seconds off the leading pace set by McLaren's Pedro de la Rosa.

Peter Sauber said the decision to switch drivers in Barcelona was taken on purely technical grounds.

"The objective of our test in Barcelona is to evaluate new aerodynamic components," he said. "Our times were so slow and inconsistent on Wednesday that the engineers were not certain about the cause.

"It was therefore decided to continue the test with Felipe Massa in order to have another reference."

Peter Sauber refused to say, however, if he was considering a more permanent change of driver.

"To keep from straining the relationship (with Villeneuve) any further, I prefer not to make any further comments at the moment," he said.

Many Swiss newspapers appear to have already written the 33-year-old Canadian off.

"It's clear that Sauber will be replacing Villeneuve," Zurich's Tages-Anzeiger newspaper said on Friday. "The only question is when and with whom?"

The Blick newspaper quoted Peter Sauber as saying Villeneuve would drive for the team at the San Marino Grand Prix on April 24, although he refused to comment when asked about the Spanish Grand Prix which is two weeks later.

Villeneuve himself sought to play down the rumours in a statement on his website.

"I am sure this situation will fire on a new set of rumours but we are used to them and it certainly won't affect our work," Villeneuve said.

"These rumours, which are getting out of control, are just unsettling for the team. At this time we are trying our hardest to get back on the pace and improve our performances, which haven't been what we had hoped in the first three races of the season."

Villeneuve retired for the second race in a row at Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix. He finished 13th at the opening race of the season in Melbourne.

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