SPORTS BETTING: Villeneuve still at knockdown price

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The Independent Online
GREG WOOD

Rather like the nascent racing season on the Flat, the 1996 Formula One championship began two weeks ago with all the leading teams apparently confident last year's problems with errant drivers or exploding engines had been ironed out and this would be their season. Yet just as so many racehorse trainers quickly discover their favourite colt is as slow as a boat, the opening race in Australia demonstrated very little has changed over the winter.

The Williams is still the car to beat, Ferrari will struggle even with Michael Schumacher, and so too will Benetton without him. Inevitably Damon Hill shortened still further at the head of the market after winning the first Grand Prix (10-11 with Ladbrokes is the best price now), but so did Jacques Villeneuve, from 100-30 to a top quote of 5-2 (Coral).

Given that Villeneuve was unfortunate not to win on his Grand Prix debut, however, that price still seems generous. There is significantly more pressure on Hill, not least because, if he is ever to win the title, it must surely be this year. When Damon is under pressure, he tends to do something silly - witness last year's series of shunts which would have left you or me without a no-claims bonus for the next 30 years.

Schumacher's pre-season insistence that Ferrari are 12 months away from a serious challenge was not, it now seems, mere kidology. Benetton generally improve as the season progresses, but so too should Villeneuve as he finds his feet, and Hill will always be vulnerable to a driver with a touch of brilliance.

The decent odds against Villeneuve may not last much longer. Get on while you still can.

FORMULA ONE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (Ladbrokes): 10-11 Hill, 9-4 Villeneuve, 6 Schumacher, 10 Alesi, 20 Berger, Irvine, 50 Hakkinen, 66 Coulthard, 100 bar.

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