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Hill-Villeneuve Formula One Duel a Washout

April 1, 1996

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) _ The expected Brazilian Formula One duel between Williams-Renault drivers Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve never took place.

Hill overcame early heavy rain and changing conditions to earn his 15th career Formula One victory Sunday, dominating the race from start to finish and winning by almost 18 seconds.

``It was a bit tricky, this race, because there were moments when it was raining on one half of the track and dry on the other half. We didn’t know what strategy to use,″ Hill said.

His Williams-Renault mastered the soaked 2.687-mile Jose Carlos Pace Circuit to finish the 71 laps in 1 hour, 49 minutes, 52.976 seconds.

Hill, starting from the pole, never lost the lead except during a brief pit stop on the 40th lap.

Teammate Villeneuve was a distant second when he spun out during a struggle for second with Benetton-Renault’s Jean Alesi on the 26th lap, depriving spectators of the duel they came to see.

Round one of the duel started on March 10 when the two drivers finished 1-2 in the Australian Grand Prix, with Villeneuve running out front until giving up the lead with five laps left because of oil pressure problems.

After Sunday’s race, Villeneuve said: ``I did make a braking mistake, (but) I also have very little experience on this track, especially when wet,″ he said. ``I have no experience at all racing in the rain.″

``I just went a little bit too quick in the turn and a little bit wide where it was wet and lost it,″ Villeneuve said.

The hot, sunny weather changed abruptly just 30 minutes before race time, and a torrential rain forced teams to change tires and strategy.

But if the fans were disappointed with the duel that never was, they were treated to an exciting performance by hometown favorite Rubens Barrichello of the Jordan-Peugeot team.

In the final 15 laps, Barrichello brought the crowd to its feet with an exciting chase of Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari. The Brazilian caught him on a curve but was repassed immediately, and then lost his car into the gravel.

That allowed Mika Hakkinen to finish fourth in his McLaren ahead of fellow Finn Mika Salo in his Tyrell. Frenchman Olivier Panis, who initially was disqualified after Saturday’s qualifying but reinstated to 15th place on the grid, finished sixth in his Ligier.

Panis’ Ligier teammate Pedro Diniz of Brazil, who had his qualifying time disqualified and placed at the back of the field, finished eighth.

``My only real problem was with the brakes. We adjusted the air cooling ducts a bit before the start to suit the rainy weather. But as the track dried out they got hot and started to fade. When I overtook Schumacher at the first corner they got too hot and at the next corner I went off,″ Barrichello said.

Defending world champion Schumacher, who struggled all weekend with his untested Ferrari, had brake problems that made it hard just keeping the car on the slick track.

``Towards the end of the race I had problems with my brakes and had to brake early. This is why Barrichello was able to get past me,″ Schumacher said. ``We still have to improve in many areas, especially the engine, chassis and aerodynamics.″

Schumacher earned his first podium for Ferrari, finishing third.

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