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Friday race preview - Villeneuve's farewell? 10 Oct 2003

Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) BAR.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, 6 March 2003

While Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen get ready for their final fight to decide who will be the 2003 world champion, Jacques Villeneuve has already headed home, having turned his back on BAR as a result of the team dropping him for 2004. Villeneuve's manager Craig Pollock called team principal David Richards while he was on his way to Suzuka on the bullet train from Tokyo and told him that his driver wasn't going to race.

Villeneuve said: "I don't have the level of motivation that I need," and BAR lost no time in calling on the services of Takuma Sato. He is due to replace Villeneuve next year anyway, and was in Tokyo on official team business. Last year Sato drove a superb Japanese Grand Prix for Jordan to place fifth, thus scoring his first points of his Formula One career.

His presence in the team will ensure that Jenson Button stays on his toes, and has already proved massively popular with the enthusiastic local fans.

Yesterday Button, who of course led a Grand Prix for the first time at Indianapolis, admitted that he expects it to be tough going in Suzuka this weekend, and said he was sorry to see the French-Canadian go. "Jacques has been here at BAR for five years, up and down, and it's disappointing to see him leaving F1."

Neither of the title contenders appeared too concerned by Villeneuve's withdrawal, and both said that they intend to carry on business as normal during their weekends and to put to the backs of their minds just what is at stake.

Raikkonen must win, and hope that for once Schumacher actually retires. The German has now gone 37 consecutive races without a mechanical problem, and yesterday he said of that: "I think I just have a good team, very methodical and precise. The mathematics are quite good for me, but while everyone seems to think the thing is done, I don't think it is. That's the point, we still have to win the constructors' championship and be very careful not to retire. We have more to lose than to gain in a way, but in the end when you sit in the car you do what you naturally do and don't think too much about it. It will depend on qualifying. There is this feeling that it is all to lose, but on the other hand my past experience is that whatever you think beforehand, it is different when you sit in the car. Then I just react to the situation. The championships I won in 1994 and '95 were won in a similar situation."

Schumacher admitted that Hockenheim and Hungary were difficult races, but said that the turning point came when he won at Monza. "I was still leading the championship before that, but you knew how difficult it could be. But it was Monza which turned the situation."

Raikkonen said: "I'm not approaching the race any differently. I'll drive the same as at the last race, I will try and win and see what happens. I'm not really feeling any pressure and I don't really mind, if we don't win the championship, if we lose the second place. Only first is important to me. I will just drive as hard as I can and hopefully it will be enough. It's the same thing we've done at all the races this year. I'm quite confident, after the last race."

Tyres will of course play a major role this weekend, but Bridgestone has said that it has not brought anything dramatic to its home race. A spokesman said: "We will bring along similar tyres to those we used in Indianapolis. We don't have anything major that is new."