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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Villeneuve Causes Stir With Panis Comments

COMBINED REPORTS


MAGNY-COURS, France -- Canadian Jacques Villeneuve was involved in a new Formula One controversy Friday as world championship leader Michael Schumacher topped the times in rain-hit practice for Sunday's French Grand Prix.


Villeneuve, 28, wound up fifth fastest for Williams after causing a stir in the paddock with comments suggesting that Formula One was too politically correct -- and that the drivers were insincere in their expressed feelings for injured rival Olivier Panis.


Villeneuve, who was reprimanded by the sports ruling body, the International Motoring Federation, two weeks ago for his colorful and outspoken criticism of the 1998 rule changes, also said he felt that Panis's injuries -- two broken legs -- were not something to cause serious concern.


"As a driver you know the risk is there every time you go out," said Villeneuve. "I am not saying it should be more dangerous, but when you think about it two broken legs is not that bad.


"That happens to everyone at some point in their life."


Frenchman Panis suffered double fractures to both of his legs when he crashed his Prost car during the Canadian Grand Prix.


Villeneuve's comments provoked strong reactions, but few of his fellow drivers were prepared to become involved in a war of words.


Schumacher, however, said: "I was genuinely concerned when I saw Olivier. You are not human if that sort of incident does not effect you."


In the rain-hit practice, Germany's double world champion was quickest in his Ferrari ahead of Italian Giancarlo Fisichella in a Jordan, Mika Hakkinen of Finland in a McLaren and Ralf Schumacher in the second Jordan.


Villeneuve was fifth with his Williams teammate Heinz-Harald Frentzen in sixth.


Schumacher, unexpected Formula One world championship leader and winner of the last race in Canada, was resolutely gloomy about his chances Thursday.


The Ferrari driver described his current seven-point title lead over Villeneuve as precarious.


"We are coming to two circuits where it will be hard to finish in the points," he said of the race Sunday and then in Britain two weeks later. "My lead could turn around quickly.


"I may be second after here and after Silverstone I don't know where I am going to find myself.


"What we don't yet know is whether other circuits that are coming up will hurt or help us."(A)