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VILLENEUVE, SCHUMACHER RIVALRY HEATING UP

Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve, who meet for the Formula One drivers' championship this weekend in Jerez, Spain, had a verbal confrontation Thursday.

The dispute came at a press conference at the Jerez race track, where the European Grand Prix will be held Sunday -- the final Formula One race of the season.

Schumacher leads Villeneuve by one point after winning the Japanese Grand Prix Oct. 12. In that race, Schumacher's Ferrari teammate, Eddie Irvine, let Schumacher pass in the 25th lap while keeping Villeneuve behind him.

The lingering animosity over the race came to the fore when Schumacher hinted that Villeneuve lost the race on his own, and not because of Irvine.

"People feel that (Irvine) blocked Jacques, which I'm not so sure he actually did," Schumacher said.

Villeneuve knocked down the microphone in his haste to give his version.

"Well, he (Irvine) blocked me for one lap, which was enough for Michael to get away," the Canadian said.

Villeneuve's results from the Japan Grand Prix were annulled last week by the sport's governing body because he had ignored a yellow flag during a practice session.

Villeneuve's Williams team appealed the penalty but dropped it after FIA president Max Mosely suggested Villeneuve could be banned from Sunday's race.

Villeneuve had led Schumacher by one point in the drivers' standings. The FIA sanction dropped him one point behind.

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