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Fighting fires at Ferrari

THE Italian press corps launched yet more attacks on the Ferrari Formula 1 team last week - after the team's third disastrous Grand Prix in succession. Since Michael Schumacher's victory in Spain at the start of June nothing has gone right for the team at the races.

In Canada, Schumacher had to start from the back of the grid after his engine refused to fire up. He retired after 41 laps when a drive shaft broke on his car. Eddie Irvine retired after two laps with a front suspension failure.

At the French GP, Schumacher blew an engine on the warming up lap of the race, while Irvine's car lasted just five laps until sidelined by gearbox trouble.

At Silverstone, Schumacher retired after three laps with gearbox trouble, while Irvine stopped after five laps with differential failure.

This disastrous - and embarrassing series of results - means that Ferrari is now only three points ahead of McLaren in the Constructors' Championship and Schumacher is only a point ahead of Jean Alesi in the battle for third place in the Drivers' title race.

The Italian press, which seems to have higher expectations than the team itself, has been calling for the resignation of French team manager Jean Todt.

At the launch of the new Ferrari 550 road car at the Nurburgring on Sunday, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo defended Todt against the attacks - showing once again that he does not intend to buckle under criticism, as has often happened at Ferrari in recent years.

"I have made a big effort to build up this team in the last three years," said Montezemolo. "I am not going to destroy it because we lost just two or three races. It is important to achieve the goal we set for the season. I still think we can win two or three races."

The team remains relatively buoyant in the face of the criticism and spent last week thundering around at Monza, with both Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine testing at the Autodromo Nazionale, in preparation for the German GP at Hockenheim.

The pair were working on the modifications which are due to be introduced in Germany, which include a new undertray (to work with the new raised nose), a modified rear suspension and seven-speed gearbox.

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