Villeneuve Wins British GP; Schumacher, Hill Go Out
SILVERSTONE, England (AP) _ Formula One rookie Jacques Villeneuve, overshadowed all season by teammate Damon Hill, won the British Grand Prix the easy way Sunday.
Hill, closing in on the title, went out out of the race early on. He wasn’t alone.
It was another bad day for Michael Schumacher and his clunking, fix-it-again Ferrari. The methodical German _ the twice-defending world champion who joined the Italian team this season for a record contract _ sputtered to a near-stop on the third lap when he said a ``five penny″ part gave out.
Curiously, this was an improvement on the French Grand Prix two weeks ago, when Schumacher was humiliated when his car broke down on the warmup lap after he’d won the pole. In the last five races, he’s finished only once _ a victory in the rainy Spanish Grand Prix.
Villeneuve, a 25-year-old French Canadian, starting from the No. 2 spot with Williams-Renault teammate Hill on the pole, got a flying start and led virtually the entire race. He finished 19.026 seconds ahead of Gerhard Berger in a Benetton-Renault and 50.830 ahead of Mika Hakkinen in a McLaren Mercedes.
``If Damon doesn’t make a mistake he would be difficult to beat, but it can disappear very quickly,″ Villeneuve said when asked about his own title aspirations. ``My chances are better than they were (before) this weekend. There are six races left and 15 points so everything is possible.
``The fact that the next two tracks this season I don’t know won’t help, but we’ve eaten some of that lead from Damon.
Hill, winner of six races already this season and the favorite here, got a terrible start and went out in a spin on the 27th lap when a front wheel locked up.
Villeneuve’s biggest problem came after the 61-lap race when stewards _ after a waiting several hours _ turned down a protest by Benetton-Renault over stabilizing plates on the front wing of the winning car.
Criticized for having won only one previous race this season despite running for Formula One’s dominant team, the defending IndyCar champion quieted a sellout of 90,000 who came waving Union Jacks expecting to see Hill win. Villeneuve finished in 1 hour 33 minutes 0.874 seconds with an average speed of 124.017 mph.
Asked about rumors he might be dropped by Williams at season’s end because he had angered team technicians by not following advice on setting up his car, the boyish Villeneuve smiled.
``I know what my situation is, all you need is one person in the paddock to open his mouth and invent a story,″ Villeneuve said. ``Well, it’s bull.″
As far as tension with Hill, Villeneuve added, ``Damon will put pressure on himself I don’t have to play those stupid games.″
The 35-year-old Hill, looking for his first world championship after being second twice to Schumacher, has 63 points to 48 for Villeneuve with six races remaining and 10 points going to the winner of each. Schumacher has 26 to 25 for Benetton’s Jean Alesi.
``I had a sensation at the front of the car for three or four laps ... I think something seized up at the front,″ Hill said of his predicament. ``I made a very bad start but I was still ... within 20 seconds of Jacques, and on that basis there was still a very strong chance I could have won the race.″
Schumacher summed up his race _ and last month.
``This is absurd,″ said the angry German, whose Ferrari teammate Eddie Irvine went out on the sixth lap with engine failure. Irvine stalled out in France two weeks ago at almost the same point.
``It’s a five-penny part, it’s an o-ring which has gone wrong in my car, a nut which was loose ... I lost all my hydraulic pressure,″ Schumacher said. ``It’s something very, very small, but unfortunately small things stop us in the race.″