by Russell Atkins

Rubens Barrichello insists Honda has much work still to do to regain its former level of competitiveness in 2007, despite what was on the face of it a highly encouraging opening day's practice in Montreal.

The Brazilian ended the day seventh-quickest, in the thick of the midfield battle and a welcome tonic after a dismal morning session that had seen him struggling down on the fringes of the top 20. Despite that - and the Japanese outfit's best qualifying performance of the season in Monaco a fortnight ago - he warns the hard work has only just begun.

"It was a good day," the nine-time grand prix winner underlined, "but Friday means very little. I think there are reasons to be happy, but we do still need to improve the car a lot because our straight-line speed is not very good.

"We have improved a bit, but I don't think we have turned a corner yet. We have made a step in the right direction, but we need another two steps to be able to qualify consistently inside the top ten and fight for points. Right now we are just knocking on the door and that's not enough."

Although the slippery surface caught many out, Barrichello said he was confident it would be a different story come the race - albeit one that is invariably one of attrition, placing major stresses on both drivers and the machinery underneath them.

"The track was dirtier than normal," he acknowledged. "People have told me it has rained quite a lot here over the past two weeks, but I'm sure it will improve 100 per cent by Sunday. We have more practice sessions and there are other races to go between now and then, so I think it will return to its normal standard in time for the race."

Looking further ahead, much speculation has been made as to whether 2007 will mark the 35-year-old's final fling in the top flight, after 14 full seasons of racing in grand prix circles. Retirement, he is adamant, is not something that is even remotely on the horizon.

"I struggled at the start in 2006," he admitted. "The way I had learned to work in the past with first Goodyear then Bridgestone was very different to how I needed to work with Michelin. I tended to qualify well but would then slip back at the start of the race.

"I drove a car last year I didn't like at all. It was very difficult, but I think I did a good job with something I wasn't used to. Even though this year's car isn't good, it's much more to my liking. I feel very relaxed, I have a lot of speed still left in me and I have no intention to stop."

 

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