by Peter McLaren

"If (Rossi) could do in a car what he does on a bike, he would beat all of us" - Rubens Barrichello.

It's almost unknown for a motorcycle rider to be mentioned in an official Formula One press conference, but during today's post practice press call at Shanghai - venue for this weekend's inaugural Chinese Grand Prix - Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello and Jacques Villeneuve found themselves answering questions on the possibility of Rossi lining up alongside them on the 2005 F1 grid.

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Schumacher had previously faced such questions following Rossi's impressive one-off Ferrari test earlier this year - when, on his single seater debut, the Italian reportedly lapped just three-seconds from Schumacher's Mugello lap record - but with the Jaguar team being axed at the end of this season, the possibility now exits that the leading F1 teams will be forced to field a third car next season, to meet minimum grid numbers.

And with Rossi getting ever closer to winning his sixth motorcycling world championship, and Yamaha's first since 1992, rumours are building that the car mad Italian - who has previously gone on record as saying he will end his career at Yamaha - may feel there is little point in defending another two-wheel title in 2005.

According to the Italian press, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has also stated that Rossi would be a 'good choice' for a third driver position and, with that in mind, Schumacher was asked for his opinion on the chances of the #46 driving a Ferrari next season.

"Interesting thought," mused Michael. "I think he liked very much his (F1) experience. But there are too many ifs, anyway..."

But while Schumacher sounded dismissive, Barrichello and Villeneuve - who were later asked a similar question - went into much greater detail; each openly recognising Rossi's two-wheeled talent, but cautious of whether such a switch would be realistically possible.

"I have no idea of that at all," began Barrichello, when asked about the Ferrari president's comments. "Obviously, I don't know if it is a PR thing that is just good for the press and so on.

"I was there the day that Valentino was running the car. He ran very well. Obviously, for him to race, I think he will need more than just the month of December to test to be able to get to reasonable times for the car, but I don't know if it's true or not," continued the Brazilian.

"I would have no problems running with him," stated Rubens. "I am a big fan when I see his riding and, if he could do in a car what he does on a bike, he would beat all of us."

"He's a great rider," added former world champion Villeneuve, making his F1 comeback this weekend. "He is so quick on a motorbike, there is no reason for him to be slow in a car, so I am sure that, with enough testing, he would be up to speed something like halfway through the season.

"But the main difficulty would be that, when you get to F1, you have been in other formulae before, and F1 hurts. If he hasn't been in a car, only on a motorbike, then the first winter would not be enough physically. You just need a lot of mileage," warned the French Canadian.

BMW WilliamsF1 driver, Juan-Pablo Montoya, also agreed with those evaluations.

Rossi has a 39-point lead over nearest title rival Sete Gibernau with four rounds, and 100-points, remaining in the 2004 MotoGP season.