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Schumacher now on a par with Rosberg - Villeneuve

ESPNF1 Staff
December 14, 2010 « More new rules for 2011 | »
Jacques Villeneuve believes Schumacher had the better of Rosberg by the last races of the season © Getty Images

Jacques Villeneuve reckons Michael Schumacher was on a par with Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg by the end of the season.

Schumacher finished the season 70 points adrift of his younger team-mate, but Villeneuve reckons that can be attributed to Schumacher's acclimatisation period in the first half of the year.

"It was difficult for him until mid-season but by the end he was ahead of his team-mate," he told autohebdo.fr.

Villeneuve, who beat Schumacher to the 1997 title, also thinks that the seven-time champion was never as dominant as he appeared to be over his team-mates, even in his championship-winning years.

"At Ferrari, he was one or two tenths ahead of his team-mate but rarely more," Villeneuve said. "Everyone thought he was going to be a second ahead of Rosberg, but it was never even like that in the past.

He added: "If the car didn't suit him then that's hard to resolve, but at the end of the season he was there."

Villeneuve also wanted to come back to F1 this year and he said he acknowledges the enormity of the challenge.

"It's difficult," he said. "I was away for six months [in 2004] and physically it was tough, and then you're getting your bearings. The last tenth is hard to get back."

In a separate interview, Villeneuve also denied that he had turned down an opportunity to race with Lotus Renault in 2011. A French Canadian radio commentator had implied he was offered the Indycar drive in Lotus colours this year and would then have progressed to F1 when the sports car marque announced its 2011 tie-up with Renault.

"That was never discussed," Villeneuve insisted in an interview with Rue Frontenac.

Late last year, the 39-year-old visited Lotus' Norfolk headquarters for talks with his friend Gino Rosato.

"There was never any discussion of F1," Villeneuve said. "Everyone knows how hard I worked on my return to F1. If the only thing I needed to do was spend a year in Indycar, I would have done it! The truth is that F1 only came into the plans of Lotus Cars in the last few months."

Rosato, who for a long time worked in F1 with Ferrari before moving to Lotus as vice-president of corporate affairs, backed Villeneuve's story.

"F1 was not in our plans when I spoke to Jacques about Indycar," he said. "I would have loved for him to race with us. In my head, Villeneuve and Lotus was a natural fit but the planets were not aligned."

Villeneuve agreed: "It's true that we talked about Indycar, but Takuma Sato had already been hired as their first driver and I was asked to bring some of the budget that my partners at the time wanted to invest for F1.

He added: "It was not an option. And Indycar and the Indy 500 - I've already done that. And that was before the separation, when the series was more competitive. If I have to bring a budget, it will be for a new challenge like NASCAR, not to go back to something I have already ticked off and achieved."