Toyota F1 president John Howett has again moved to deflect suggestions that Ralf Schumacher's position within the team may be under threat, claiming that there was little chance of Franck Montagny being promoted to the race line-up this season.

Although his comments do not rule out the possibility of another driver being drafted in to replace the lacklustre German - Timo Glock and Adrian Sutil have both been mentioned of late - Howett attempted to suggest that the Schumacher issue would not be dealt with until the end of the season.

"We have two race drivers and [Franck's] the test driver and third driver in the team and that's the status that we support," he said when asked if Montagny had a chance of partnering Jarno Trulli this season, "The issue really is whether we continue the contract with Ralf next year, which we are discussing with him and obviously then, if not, what we would do in the future. But the priority at the moment is to focus on this year, improving the performance and giving Ralf the maximum opportunity with the car."

Schumacher's position was rumoured to hinge on his performance in the two 'flyaway' races in Montreal and Indianapolis, which yielded a rare point and a first corner retirement respectively, but he remains in the car for Magny-Cours this weekend and, most likely now, for the remainder of the season, as Howett again tried to explain that the German was not at one with the TF107.

"You'd have to ask him, but the fundamental issue is the front end of the car and the tyre grip at the front, getting the car balanced and giving enough front potential to give him something he can use with the style he has," he said, "We are gradually improving that, but I think he has probably less acceptance of an understeering car [than Trulli] and, therefore, we need to get more front performance and more potential onto the front of the car for him."

Schumacher posted a top ten time in the second free practice session at the French Grand Prix, lapping marginally faster than his Italian team-mate.

 

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