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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Victory at Spa 'Cures' Schumacher

COMBINED REPORTS


SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium -- Michael Schumacher needed a cure after a bad crash and a lousy season. The original health spa, where hope springs eternal, lived up to its name.


But the Belgian Grand Prix left embattled world championship leader Damon Hill feeling sick after Formula One rookie Jacques Villeneuve finished second behind the German on Sunday to narrow the gap in the world standings with three races remaining.


The 25-year-old French-Canadian vowed not to give up the fight with his Williams-Renault teammate for the world title.


"The championship is still wide open," warned Villeneuve, who is seeking successive IndyCar and Formula One titles after Britain's Nigel Mansell scored a reverse double in 1992-1993.


Villeneuve flew out of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit by helicopter Sunday night cursing a radio breakdown which he says cost him a vital victory.


Villeneuve, who was leading Sunday's race when a safety car was introduced after Dutchman Jos Verstappen crashed, could not understand his Williams team's instructions when they called him into the pits.


"We lost the race by lack of communications at the moment when the flag came out," he complained later. "We didn't understand what we were saying to each other."


As a result of the misunderstanding, Villeneuve stayed on the track behind the pace car while world champion Schumacher drove into the Ferrari pits for a quick tire and fuel stop which gave him a decisive tactical advantage.


The German went on to clinch his third victory in five years at Spa-Francorchamps. Villeneuve said he was disappointed not to have collected the 10 points needed to cut more deeply into team mate Damon Hill's lead in the title race.


Hill, who finished fifth, now leads by 13 points with three races remaining.


"It was a good opportunity to put up a lot of points against Damon, so in that respect I am disappointed," Villeneuve said.


He pointed out that beating Hill into second place in the last three Grands Prix would not be enough to secure him the drivers' title.


"We need to beat Damon by more than that and it's going to have to be a six-point gain at one of the races. I am obviously very happy about today's race because the car was very strong and we only lost because of the pitstop. It's a disappointing way to lose but it's as fair as any other." Hill and Villeneuve may now find that their private Williams duel for the crown could, ironically, be settled by a Ferrari revival at Monza in next month's Italian Grand Prix.


Double world champion Schumacher, driving for Ferrari, hinted as much after Sunday's race, in which Mika Hakkinen of Finland finished a strong third for McLaren to prove his team will also play a part in the run-in.


Asked if he felt Ferrari could win in Italy, Schumacher said: "Our car has always worked well [at Monza] in all our tests, but it is difficult to predict our rivals' performance levels.


"It would be nice to help Damon or Jacques win the title, too, and a bit unusual for me. I don't mind which of them wins it so long as Ferrari wins."


If Schumacher maintains his and Ferrari's good form, it would clearly help Hill clinch the championship, but the German jokingly told Villeneuve he was prepared to help him win the title at the right price.


"How much would it cost?" the 27-year-old German asked.


"Let's talk about that later," replied Villeneuve, somewhat flustered by the question, but aware that Schumacher could well dictate the outcome of the title race.


Hill, disappointed at the outcome of what he described as "an interesting race," knows one big win over his teammate would virtually seal the championship title.


"I was relieved to get some points," he admitted. "They could be crucial."


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