Motor racing: Villeneuve has rocket for Rosset

IT HAS its detractors and it is, in essence, a nonsensical track for Formula One racing cars, but the old streets invigorated the show here yesterday and Jacques Villeneuve, the world champion, predicted more of the same in Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix.

Not that the circuit can take credit, or blame, for catching out Villeneuve at the end of practice. The Canadian had no doubt the responsibility was entirely Ricardo Rosset's.

The climax of the day which saw Mika Hakkinen take his familiar place at the top and Michael Schumacher smash into the barrier exiting Casino Square, came when Villeneuve and Rosset collided negotiating a right-hander and the former leapt from his Williams to admonish the Brazilian.

Changed into his civvies and revealing his blue-tinged white hair, the Canadian had no inclination to moderate his opinions. "He has no right to be in Formula One," Villeneuve said. "I went over to him and pointed to his mirrors. From the first race of the season he's not been looking in his mirrors. He's always being overtaken so he should be used to looking in his mirrors by now.

"Every time I'm behind him I wonder what he's going to do. He is a liability. But I suppose it's good that some drivers are paying to be in Formula One," he added with heavy sarcasm.

Rosset, who contributed $5m (pounds 3.08m) to Tyrrell's budget this season, has been roundly criticised for his lack of pace and awareness. He missed the cut in qualifying at Barcelona, a fortnight ago. He insisted, however, this crash was not his fault: "I didn't see him. I was concentrating on my lap. That was not an overtaking point. Two cars cannot go through there.

"He shouted at me a bit but I don't know what he said. He shouldn't have been overtaking there anyway."

Ironically, the man who took on Rosset - a decision which caused Ken Tyrrell to walk out in disgust - is Villeneuve's former manager, Craig Pollock. As Rosset gave his version of events, Pollock could not contain a revealing grin. "I think if Jacques sees me he'll punch me on the nose," he said. Rosset was later warned by the stewards as to his future conduct.

Villeneuve was ninth and Rosset 18th. Hakkinen, the championship leader, registered the fastest time yesterday, although his team-mate and closest rival, David Coulthard, was beaten to second place by Giancarlo Fisichella, driving a Benetton-Mecachrome.

Schumacher was placed fifth, but his stunning driving in the Ferrari raised hopes that he might present a genuine threat to McLaren on Sunday. Adrian Newey, McLaren's technical director, said: "Schumacher is always the major worry."

The German said he was unperturbed by the accident which broke the front left wheel of his car. He said: "I was trying too hard and lost it. But although we are behind the McLarens, the gap is not too big."

Damon Hill was a meagre 17th after another troubled day in the Jordan- Mugen and he had time to stand and admire the work of Schumacher. "He has fantastic car control and he's always on the case," Hill said.

Eddie Irvine in the other Ferrari, was sixth, and Johnny Herbert, in a Sauber, seventh. Flavio Briatore, former team principal at Benetton, is to take charge of the Mecachrome engine development from next year.

LEADING PRACTICE TIMES (Monaco Grand Prix): 1 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren- Mercedes 1min 21.937sec; 2 G Fisichella (It) Benetton-Mecachrome 1:22.205; 3 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Mercedes; 1:22.757 4 H H Frentzen (Ger) Williams- Renault 1:23.656; 5 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1:23.685; 6 E Irvine (GB) Ferrari 1:23.765; 7 J Herbert (GB) Sauber-Petronas 1:23.914; 8 A Wurz (Aut) Benetton-Mecachrome 1:23.946; 9 J Villeneuve (Can) Williams-Renault 1:24.081; 10 J Trulli (It) Prost-Peugeot 1:24.191 11 P Diniz (Bra) Arrows- Yamaha 1:24.735; 12 J Alesi Sauber-Petronas 1:24.901; 13 O Panis Prost- Peugeot 1:25.119; 14 M Salo (Fin) Arrows-Yamaha 1:25.400; 15 J Magnussen (Den) Stewart-Ford 1:25.836; 16 R Barrichello (Bra) Stewart-Ford 1:25.863; 17 D Hill (GB) Jordan-Mugen-Honda 1:25.947; 18 R Rosset (Bra) Tyrrell- Ford 1:26.625; 19 T Takagi (Japan) Tyrrell-Ford 1:26.761; 20 R Schumacher (Ger) Jordan-Mugen-Honda 1:27.160; 21 E Tuero (Arg) Minardi-Ford1:27.844; 22 S Nakano (Japan) Minardi-Ford 1:28.652.