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Crunch time for Ferrari and Schumacher? 21 Apr 2006

Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari 248 F1 
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, San Marino Grand Prix, Preparations, Imola, Italy, 20 April 2006

Ferrari go into the San Marino Grand Prix weekend at Imola with pressure building on the famous Italian team to produce results. It is 10 months since the last Ferrari victory in Formula One racing and that was at the United States Grand Prix last June, where the major rivals were gone at the end of the parade lap.

The last victory against the full Formula One field was 18 months ago in Japan. It is perhaps inevitable that there is talk of Michael Schumacher leaving Ferrari at the end of this season when his current contract expires. Some would argue that things are clearly not as normal at Ferrari as, for the last 10 years, contract renewals have been made 18 months ahead of time. It is also evident that the reason for Ferrari's delay is that Schumacher is deciding what he wants to do.

The big question at Imola on Thursday was how important this race is for the seven-time champion. Imola is the start of a string of races - there are four in the next six weeks and a lot of world championship points will be up for grabs. There will be little time to change the cars and little time to test.

But Schumacher says that too much is being read into the situation.

"Every race is important for us," he says. "It is important that we make up ground. Words have been put in my mouth that this is a crucial race. We believe in our abilities and we hope to prove them. We believe pretty strongly that we can be competitive here. We have a new engine spec which gives extra performance. All the top teams have made a step forward and it will be interesting to see who makes the biggest one."

Beyond that Schumacher is not keen on discussing the future.

"I am pretty sure that once the decision is made you will be informed," he says. "I don't think that I have set a specific date to make a decision. I enjoy winning races not losing them. If I did not enjoy doing it I would probably call it a day."

Schumacher added on Thursday that going out on a high is not a huge concern.

"It would be nice to do so but everyone has different priorities," he said. "You do it as long as you enjoy it."

Elsewhere in the paddock all the teams are talking positively about improvement. The Imola weekend is likely to prove some dreams - and smash some others.