Jacques Villeneuve: Vettel’s World Championship reign over

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Former F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve has declared that four-time reigning champ Sebastian Vettel will not continue his title-winning run into a fifth year.

The always outspoken Canadian, who is set to return to the Indianapolis 500 this May, told a pair of Italian publications that Renault’s problematic preseason testing has already finished off Vettel and Red Bull Racing’s hopes for another crown.

“He’s not going to win this year for sure,” Villeneuve told Autosprint and La Repubblica. “To me, Renault seems completely lost and unable even to finish a Grand Prix. Even if [Red Bull] are making a new car for the European races, it won’t change anything — maybe they’ll do 30 laps instead of 15. It’s not the car but the engine.

“I’m joking, but why bother going to Australia? They can’t do half a Grand Prix and are slower than most.”

Red Bull and Renault’s work in the preseason was repeatedly marred by gremlins on both the new RB10 and Renault V-6 engine. While it’s never wise to count out a defending champion, let alone a four-time defending champion like Vettel, reliability figures to be the top priority for him and the team through the early stages of the season, which begins this weekend in Australia.

For his part, Vettel has conceded that Red Bull is not a favorite to win in Oz but has not given up completely.

“[Red Bull and I] have achieved a lot together and I know everyone is working flat out as normal,” he said last weekend.

Going back to Villeneuve, he believes that Mercedes has to be considered the early favorite for the 2014 title but saw the team’s driving tandem of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as “without a spark.”

He also told the Italian papers that Ferrari remains in striking distance equipment-wise and that he thinks Kimi Raikkonen’s move back to the Scuderia – where he’ll go head-to-head with fellow ex-World Champion Fernando Alonso – will pay dividends.

“For the first time, I see [Raikkonen] working seriously. Maybe his year without pay was good for him,” he said.

“Alonso is a fighter from the first lap and so he might use too much fuel. It also depends on the attitude that he has…The Alonso of 2012 could win this year, but not the Alonso of 2013.”

The Aussie GP weekend officially begins with Thursday night’s opening practice at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra. Coverage starts at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN with the Countdown to F1 season preview show.

A full weekend schedule can be found here.

Montoya: ‘Hopefully I get a chance to do Indy again’ (VIDEO)

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Juan Pablo Montoya is on site at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, his latest trip in a summer and fall filled with a lot of international travel and a number of different race cars he’s been in.

Montoya is committed to a full season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Acura Team Penske in 2018, as he’ll share one of the team’s Acura ARX-05s with Dane Cameron.

However, the question of whether he’ll be able to race in the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil remains.

Team Penske has said it plans to only run four cars next month of May, with Helio Castroneves as the fourth driver alongside the three full-time cars driven by Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power.

While Montoya has said elsewhere that he’s shopping offers and has talked with other teams, it’d be highly surprising to see the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion who developed the Chevrolet engine for IndyCar’s 2018 Dallara universal body kit in a Honda-powered IndyCar, although he is running Honda’s brand (Acura) in sports cars.

Montoya elaborated on his Indy 500 prospects in an interview with NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton at the Circuit of The Americas.

“Not full-time no,” Montoya told NBCSN of his IndyCar 2018 prospects. “Hopefully I get a chance to go to Indy, hopefully with Penske, (and) if not someone else. We’ll see.”

Photo: IndyCar

Montoya has extolled the early testing both on the 2018 IndyCar and on the Acura ARX-05.

The first Acura chassis has run at Road Atlanta and Sebring International Raceway thus far, and will be put through its paces at other venues over the next few months.

“It’s been good. We did a lot of work with INDYCAR on that car. Fans are gonna like it,” Montoya said of the 2018 kit.

“Going to IMSA with the Acura program, we’ve done a lot of testing. It’s a beauty to drive. It drives better than what it looks! I haven’t had that much fun driving a race car in a long time.”

Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype international (DPi) race car to be campaigned by Team Penske in 2018