Motor Racing: Hill tips Villeneuve to triumph in tight finish

Damon Hill, the world champion, is expecting a tight finish to the Formula One season. Derick Allsop reports from the Nurburgring
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You sensed that Damon Hill enjoyed it: the chance to analyse the potential of the final throes, to tread a familiar road but from the sidewalk.

His conclusion was that Jacques Villeneuve, blessed with a Williams, should edge out Michael Schumacher, driving a Ferrari, for the world championship, but he was willing to risk no more than a Deutschmark on his hunch.

Much, the outgoing champion believes, depends on whether Villeneuve can contain his "road rage" in the final three rounds, starting in the Luxembourg Grand Prix, here on Sunday.

Hill, who beat Villeneuve for the title last year and lost two previous duels with Schumacher, said: "I think I would put a small bet on Jacques because he has an advantage of perhaps 10-9, or 100-95, in machinery and competitive opportunity.

"They are both tough and aggressive, but it's important to push in a controlled way. You could slide off at any time, even in practice. Jacques has an inner rage which comes out in his driving every now and then. Last week in Austria, for instance, he went off the road and was fortunate to get back on and then went on to win the race.

"Michael always seems to have it under control. You've got to be careful and can't take too many chances. There's a lot to be said for maturity and experience, and Michael has that in abundance, together with his natural talent. Exuberance can only get you so far."

Schumacher will have home advantage on Sunday in his 100th Formula One race- the Luxembourg label is a convenient cover for a money-spinning event - but Hill remembers all too vividly the pressures of leading with the line in sight.

"It's like an egg and spoon race," he said. "When you're leading and getting to the end you just don't want to drop the egg. When you're coming from behind it doesn't matter if you drop the egg.

"But Jacques started the year as favourite and I don't think Michael would be seen as losing it. He always said this was a three-year programme and it is only the second year. I knew last year I had to win it, and it will prey on Jacques' mind that he shouldn't lose it."

Schumacher was typically composed and outwardly unmoved by the significance of the weekend. He said: "The 100 races have gone very quickly. I always feel it is support rather than pressure to drive in front of my home crowd. It brings the best out of me when I'm really challenged and I'm challenged now."

David Richards, head of the Pro-Drive rally team, will succeed Flavio Briatore as chief of Benetton's Formula One operation.