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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Villeneuve Dusts Hill In Practice

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium -- Formula One rookie Jacques Villeneuve proved Friday what a lightning fast learner he is, leaving teammate Damon Hill in the dust during his maiden run on the Belgian Grand Prix track and increasing the pressure on the leader in the world standings.


Fastest during Friday's practice sessions was Gerhard Berger in a Benetton-Renault ahead of McLaren-Mercedes driver David Coulthard. But all eyes centered on the battle of Williams-Renault teammates Hill and Villeneuve, who have vowed not to yield an inch in the battle for their first world title.


As a rookie, it has been an unbelievable season for Villeneuve, especially since last month. He has steadily grown in stature during races, winning in Hill's back yard in Silverstone and in Hungary.


The Belgian Grand Prix brings back tragic memories for the Villeneuve family. His father Gilles died during practice in 1982 at the Zolder circuit.


But Villeneuve has not dwelled upon stepping into the overpowering Williams-Renault, which has already won the team constructors championship.


Reigning world champion Michael Schumacher showed the spectacular track through the hills and woods could be too much for anyone, spinning and slamming hard into the security tires at some 200 kph (125 mph). He walked away from the scene with nothing more than a sore knee and continued to practice.


Canada's Villeneuve finished third in Friday's practice but held a big edge over Hill, who only mustered a seventh time overall. Hill however, has proved he always peaks during Saturday's qualifying session for the grid, where he holds an 11-1 edge over Villeneuve so far.


On the twisting 6.974-kilometer (4.333-mile) run through the rugged Ardennes hills, Berger set a time of 1 minute 53.706, and held a healthy .636 second gap over Coulthard. Villeneuve was third .737 behind, but, more importantly, be beat Hill by a whopping .838 seconds.


In the overall standings, the Briton leads Villeneuve by 17 points going into Sunday's Grand Prix with only 40 left at stake. Even a string of four second places behind the Canadian would be enough, But Hill has said he wants to finish off any challenge by winning the next two races.


But has already caused more than one surprise. During his maiden Formula One season, the IndyCar champion has already won three races to keep his hopes for successive IndyCar-Formula One championships alive. During his first practice session here, he trailed Hill by 1.588 seconds before his stunning turnaround. Little wonder he called the old track "fantastic.''


Meanwhile, Schumacher continued to struggle with his Ferrari. Moments after setting the second-fastest time during morning practice, he started slip-sliding on two successive corners before skidding over the sandpit and slamming backwards into the security tires.


He blamed "balance problems'' of his much-maligned Ferrari for the high-speed crash.


The reigning world champion has suffered from technical problems throughout his sorry season, and failed to finish in seven of the 12 races so far. He had the eighth time overall Friday.