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Schumi gearing up to snatch lead

London: Michael Schumacher is ready to seize the championship lead at the Canadian Grand Prix this weekend even though he says the track is not suited to his style of driving.

Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen, who is enjoying an outstanding season with McLaren, leads the standings with 48 points to Schumacher’s 44 and is aiming for a seventh podium in eight races in what could be a farewell to the old MP4-17D car.

But Schumacher, whose five wins in Montreal make him easily the most successful driver at the city circuit, remains the clear race favourite.

“I enjoy racing in Canada, even if Montreal isn’t the track best suited to my driving style,” he said. “I like high-speed curves and here there aren’t any. So I can’t really explain why this race has always gone well for me. Maybe it’s because I feel so relaxed in Canada.”

Any speculation about the five-times world champion’s possible retirement plans has been swept aside by his decision this week to stay with Ferrari, along with the top technical men, to the end of 2006.

With that sideshow out of the way, the German can return from a relaxing North American vacation to focus on speeding up his bid for a record sixth title.

“I am really motivated for this race as I can try to overtake Raikkonen in the championship seeing as there is only a four-point gap,” he said before the season’s halfway point.

“To win in Canada you need a good car, good tyres and a good engine. We have every chance of being successful.”

The temporary track on a man-made island in the St Lawrence Seaway is a real test of engines and brakes and Schumacher was confident that it would suit Ferrari more than Williams or McLaren.

“Obviously we are going out to win in Canada, as in every race. We have a great car whose qualities should be evident in Montreal,” said Schumacher, whose victory there last year was Ferrari’s 150th win.

“The circuit is one to which the F2003-GA should be perfectly suited. The Canadian GP is one in which the performance of the engine counts a lot and this is one of our strengths. I believe that in this area Ferrari are ahead of all the other teams,” he said.

McLaren boss Ron Dennis, who aims to introduce the team’s new car at the Nuerburgring in Germany on June 29, warned after the last Monaco Grand Prix that his drivers could have a hard time in Canada. But Williams will fancy their chances after winning in Monaco with Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya.

“More than the confidence that the win gave me, I believe that the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit should suit our chassis-engine-tyre package,” said Montoya. “We generally have performed well there in the past. Ralf (Schumacher) won in 2001 and last year, after claiming pole, I was forced to retire from the race when I was in second position after I had been in the lead for several laps.

“I like racing in Montreal, it’s a drivers’ circuit.”

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