Jacques Villeneuve has underlined his desire to return to Formula One next season by rehiring personal trainer Erwin Gollner to oversee his winter preparation programme.
The Canadian, who has not won a race in the top flight since claiming the 1997 world title at the second attempt and has missed the past three-and-a-half seasons since being usurped by Robert Kubica in the BMW-Sauber line-up, has long maintained that he is targeting a return in 2010, and has been a frequent visitor to grands prix throughout the year.
Reuniting with Austrian Gollner - who oversaw his fitness regime at BMW Sauber - Villeneuve has already begun training at a base just outside Salzburg as he continues to work on deals rumoured to include Lotus and fellow newcomer USF1
"I found Erwin because I must be ready to drive as soon as possible," Villeneuve told Canada's Rue Frontenac
, "He is providing the same routine as I had when I was in F1 before. It is a bit surprising, but I am actually in better shape now than before driving for Renault [after being dropped by BAR in late 2004]. Perhaps that is thanks to motocross or just because I began my training but, in any case, it's encouraging."
Although the rumour mill continues to link him to USF1, as as close to an American as the Peter Windsor/Ken Anderson-owned team may get in its first season, Villeneuve insists that nothing has been signed that would see him back on the grid when the 2010 campaign kicks off in Bahrain next March.
"There is nothing settled, but I like the direction things are taking," he teased, "Do you really think I'd come here to train, leaving my family so far away, if I didn't think I was in with a chance?
"The training programme lasts 100 minutes and the longest pause I have lasts for five seconds - it is really, really brutal. Fortunately, Erwin has yet to subject me to training in the sauna [a regime he is renowned for] and, for the moment, I am preparing for some winter tests, therefore it will be cool. However, when the preparation for Bahrain begins, I know that there will be no escape!"
Villeneuve continues to be linked to the nascent USF1 project, especially as co-owner Anderson recently admitted that the team needed an experienced hand in at least on of its two cars. With rising US star Jonathan Summerton - long championed by Crash.net
- being connected to a role with the team, Villeneuve and fellow veteran Pedro de la Rosa have emerged as possible contenders to spearhead the effort.
"The most important thing for us is to work with drivers who have F1 experience, simply because of the decrease in test days," Anderson told French magazine Auto Hebdo
recently, "Pedro de la Rosa is on our list, as his F1 experience would be a major asset for us, but that list has about twelve names on it, [and] all are excellent drivers who could bring us a lot. To choose two or three of them will not be easy."