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Montoya hopeful, Michael expectant 23 Jul 2004

Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) Williams.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, German Grand Prix, Preparations, Hockenheim, Germany, 22 July 2004 Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, German Grand Prix, Preparations, Hockenheim, Germany, 22 July 2004 Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) Williams.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, German Grand Prix, Preparations, Hockenheim, Germany, 22 July 2004 Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) Williams.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, German Grand Prix, Preparations, Hockenheim, Germany, 22 July 2004 Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari in the Thursday press conference.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, German Grand Prix, Preparations, Hockenheim, Germany, 22 July 2004

Can the Colombian repeat his 2003 whitewash?

Juan Pablo Montoya is cautiously optimistic that Williams and Michelin will be in a better position to challenge Ferrari this weekend in Hockenheim, the scene of the Colombian’s dominant victory last season. But even so he admits it will take something very special to beat them on Michael Schumacher's home ground.

“We are improving, and we have a couple of things coming in the car, it’s nice to see that,” he said yesterday. “But we have a long way to go to be fully competitive. A lot of aerodynamic things are fixed, and that doesn’t really change the way you have got to run the car. It was more I think at Silverstone we had a couple of new things on it and improved. Having changed car over winter it has been pretty good, we have new things again here and I think we have started to get a normal grade of development race by race, and it is good to see, but in the first six months of the season we just fell back so much and that really cost us.”

Both Michelin and BMW have recently spoken of their desire to see summer arrive, in terms of ambient (and therefore track) temperatures, and Montoya believes that Hockenheim’s usual weather conditions might help. “I think our last test (in Jerez, where Pizzonia was fastest) went quite well, these conditions (here) weather-wise are not as extreme as in Jerez, but they should be pretty good. Last year was a very good race track for the tyres, we were miles quicker than anybody else. And the tyres could compensate for shortcomings in car. Renault, BAR, Williams and McLaren, all the top Michelin runners are very close. One race suits one better than the other and that just makes it really hard. One race you can be P2, the next P8! It’s very tough.

“So we have closed on Ferrari, yeah, everybody has closed the gap a little bit and it depends on the track, this might be one of the closer ones, but it’s still a big gap. I am hoping it works well here, we are hoping get a podium, it would be awesome to get a win. It would be nice if we could get the car working here. It was nice to win here last year: Schumacher’s home, BMW’s, and it wasn’t close, it was a win by miles. That was nice.”

The odds, naturally, favour Schumacher, even though Hockenheim in the past has only yielded him one pole position and two victories. “The results don’t look so great for whatever reason,” he conceded cheerfully yesterday, “but coming here I always feel good. I didn’t finish so well in England these last few years and it came good there recently, so I hope to turn it round here, too.”

The champion played a charity football match here on Wednesday evening, and although he has a touch of flu says he will be 100 percent by Sunday, when he intends to clinch a record sixth constructors’ championship in a row for Ferrari even though competitors are getting closer. “We live from the fact that we almost always get 100 percent out of our package and our strategies and live occasionally from when our competitors don’t do it, because maybe they had a bad qualifying or they just made a mistake on the strategy, which allows us to look very strong. To win as many races as we have done this season shouldn’t have happened, honestly, but we are glad it has and we hope we can continue! We would rather win the constructors here, obviously. It would be a nice present four our fans and supporters to do it here and it could mean that we could have nice celebration afterwards.”