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Villeneuve back in at the deep end 26 Sep 2004

Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) Renault.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Chinese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Shanghai, China, 25 September 2004

The demands of the script called for a remarkable return to form for Jacques Villeneuve. His Formula One comeback at the Chinese Grand Prix was an opportunity for the French-Canadian to re-prove himself to the paddock, and to vindicate the decision of Flavio Briatore to replace Jarno Trulli with him for the rest of the season.

It did not go strictly to plan. Villeneuve was made to look pretty ordinary by team mate Fernando Alonso in Sunday's race, finishing 11th to the Spaniard's fourth, with little sign of the flair and pace that won him the 1997 Drivers’ Championship.

“I learned a lot during the race this afternoon,” Villeneuve said, “I know the R24 better, I have got a full race distance under my belt and I have also understood what a 2004-style race is like. To be honest, I just needed too long to get into the rhythm at the start of the race. I made a good start but I hadn’t warmed up the tyres enough and lost a lot of positions I had made up.”

At least Villeneuve was in good company – at various parts of the race he found himself battling hard with David Coulthard and Michael Schumacher – also suffering from disappointing performances relative to their respective team mates – it must have felt like old times!

Renault team boss Flavio Briatore was tight-lipped on his new star’s performance: “Our race was easy to analyse – we weren’t quick enough today. We are disappointed but we still got two cars to the finish and one at the foot of the podium. The team worked well during a difficult weekend and the drivers did a great job – Fernando pushed until the very end of the race, and Jacques succeeded with a difficult challenge.”

Villeneuve is looking forward to Suzuka, but he knows that he still has plenty to prove to his doubters – and also to Peter Sauber, who will be hoping he has made the right decision in taking on the former World Champion for next season.