Villeneuve sets out to upstage Hill

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The Independent Online
Damon Hill's countenance was far more revealing than any figures on the time sheets yesterday. His Williams-Renault team-mate, Jacques Villeneuve, had beaten him by seven-tenths of a second in practice for tomorrow's British Grand Prix and the Englishman was duly complimentary.

Here, however, was a driver at peace with himself and his world. He was content with his preparations, assured of his direction and relishing the prospect of a genuine contest.

"Jacques' time is very impressive and he's put down his marker. He did a good job, he's fired up and I'm going to have to work hard to beat him," Hill said. "I think he'll be a real challenge, a serious threat. He knows this circuit and he'll be my main challenger, by the looks of it. Certainly it seems he's trying to spoil the script and it's down to me to not let him."

The script, of course, has Hill winning in front of his home crowd and extending his 25-point lead over Villeneuve in the championship. The Benetton- Renaults may edge closer, and Ferrari in Michael Schumacher's hands can never be discounted, but Williams retain command and Hill has to be favourite. "I get an extra buzz driving in front of the English fans," Hill said. "I'm feeding on the support."

Villeneuve's support in Canada was not enough to carry him to victory and he has fallen short of general expectations so far. There have been suggestions Williams are dissatisfied, but Frank Williams insisted he was happy with his "rookie" and Villeneuve dismissed the stories as "papers' talk".

Villeneuve does, however, acknowledge his second win is overdue. He said: "I've seen a win coming for some time and it would be great to get it here. All you can do is work as hard as you can but if you don't get it you don't."

The domination of the Williams has presented Hill with this priceless opportunity of winning the championship and he, in turn, senses the chance to cash in next season. However many millions he is aspiring to - and he is rumoured to be asking for pounds 12m - there will be no offers from Ferrari.

Luca di Montezemolo, president of Ferrari, said he had no plans to hire a second No 1 alongside Schumacher and that he was satisfied with Eddie Irvine's supporting role. Irvine is apparently one of the many still unconvinced about Hill's ability. "You can't judge a driver in a good car, only in a bad car, and until he goes to another team he's not going to get that much respect," he said.

Hill was a tenth of a second faster than Benetton's Jean Alesi yesterday, with David Coulthard, in a McLaren, fourth and Schumacher fifth.

Schumacher, in dire need of a proper race after the fiascos of Canada and France, is anticipating getting a better sort of weekend here. "Just as I expected, this is not an easy situation," he said." All the same we are not too far off the pace of the Benettons and even the Williams are not completely out of reach."

A strong finish is probably the best Schumacher can hope for. He and Hill may not be close enough to run the risk of another collision this time.

"I don't remember last year," Hill said, still smiling broadly. "Very short memory." A win tomorrow would make that aberration a little easier to forget.

n A cellular phone transmitter near Silverstone had to be switched off yesterday after its signals interfered with broadcasts from on-board car cameras. There were also fears that rescue service frequencies could have been affected.

BRITISH GRAND PRIX (Silverstone): First two timed practices: 1 J Villeneuve (Can) Williams-Renault, 1min 27.541sec, 129.607mph; 2 D Hill (GB) Williams- Renault, 1:28.241; 3 J Alesi (Fr) Benetton-Renault, 1:28.364. 4 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Mercedes, 1:28.417; 5 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari, 1:28.436; 6 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes, 1:28.888; 7 G Berger (Aut) Benetton- Renault, 1:29.013; 8 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Peugeot, 1:29.137; 9 M Brundle (GB) Jordan-Peugeot, 1:29.146; 10 O Panis (Fr) Ligier-Mugen- Honda, 1:29.236; 11 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Sauber-Ford, 1:29.312; 12 E Irvine (GB) Ferrari, 1:29.458; 13 J Verstappen (Neth) Footwork-Hart, 1:29.753; 14 M Salo (Fin) Tyrrell-Yamaha, 1:30.388; 15 J Herbert (GB) Sauber-Ford, 1:30.459; 16 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha, 1:30.826; 17 P Diniz (Bra) Ligier- Mugen-Honda, 1:30.829; 18 R Rosset (Bra) Footwork-Hart, 1:31.032; 19 G Fisichella (It) Minardi-Ford, 1:31.450; 20 P Lamy (Por) Minardi-Ford, 1:31.661.

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