Motor Racing: Coulthard leaves Hill with uphill battle

One ambition rekindled, another extinguished: the best of times and the worst of times, all captured in the emotions of David Coulthard and Damon Hill here yesterday.

Coulthard's maiden victory, in an engrossing Portuguese Grand Prix, may prove as significant in the annals of Formula One as Hill's capitulation.

The Williams-Renault pair were ultimately split by Michael Schumacher, the German's second place extending his lead over Hill in the championship to 17 points with four races and a maximum 40 points to be contested.

Yet again, Schumacher's wit and strategy gave him the edge over Hill, who was bold enough to back a hunch that two pit-stops would carry him through but always struggled to resist the Benetton-Renault on his disintegrating tyres.

Schumacher speared his car past Hills' nine laps from the end, the attack as devastating as any lance into the heart. In that one moment, Hill knew his destiny lay in the hands of the Almighty.

Coulthard felt the gods had conspired against him on more than one previous occasion, but this time the momentum generated over another excellent weekend of practice and qualifying was sustained through every turn and gear change of the race.

The 24-year-old Scot always insisted the effects of tonsillitis drained him of his competitive potential in the first half of the season, but even he sensed the grip of self-doubt tightening around him. Two consecutive pole positions revived his confidence and, in his 21st grand prix, he became Britain's 16th winner in world championship racing.

"It was a very warm feeling, and a relief," he said. The worst part was in the closing laps, keeping my concentration and worrying something might go wrong. I didn't want to miss another chance of winning. It was important to be a winner, and a winner fairly and squarely, without others dropping out."

Williams provided him with the reliability, abandoning a modification used over the weekend to avoid risk, and the freedom to race, as long as he did not hold up Hill. That potentially awkward situation never arose because Coulthard was simply too quick.

His boss, Frank Williams, said: "With all these Scottish epics around, Braveheart and the like, it's probably appropriate for David to have won _ and beaten an Englishman."

Ironic, too. Coulthard is to be replaced at Williams by Jacques Villeneuve and join McLaren-Mercedes. Alain Prost confirmed yesterday he would not be making a return to racing, an option offered by McLaren, who plan to name their drivers for 1996 on Sunday.

Coulthard commanded the race from the start, leaving Hill to contend with Schumacher. Hill's lengthy first stop, required to take on extra fuel but also enforced by an uncooperative gearbox, compounded his problems and although he went ahead of Schumacher as the Benetton stopped a third time, his advantage quickly dissipated.

Breaths were held as the two men - under the threat of suspension after early skirmishes - were side by side through the chicane, but Hill acknowledged the inevitable. He said: "I thought I had a good gap but he caught me up and just went through. Without crashing into him, I couldn't stop him."

DETAILS FROM ESTORIL

1 D Coulthard (GB)

Williams-Renault 1hr 41min 52.145sec

(ave speed 113.9mph)

2 M Schumacher (Ger)

Benetton-Renault +7.248sec

3 D Hill (GB)

Williams-Renault +22.121

4 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari +1:24.879

5 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari +1:25.429

6 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Sauber-Ford +1 lap

7 J Herbert (GB) Benetton-Renault 1

8 M Brundle (GB) Ligier-Mugen Honda 1

9 M Blundell (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 1

10 E Irvine (GB) Jordan-Peugeot 1

11 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Peugeot 1

12 J-C Boullion (Fr) Sauber-Ford 1

13 M Salo (Fin) Tyrrell-Yamaha 2

14 L Badoer (It) Minardi-Ford 3

15 T Inoue (Japan) Footwork-Hart 3

16 P Diniz (Bra) Forti-Ford 5

17 R Moreno (Bra) Forti-Ford 7

Did not finish (not classified): 18 A Montermini (It) Pacific-Ford 53 laps completed; 19 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 44; 20 J-D Deletraz (Swit) Pacific-Ford 14; 21 O Panis (Fr) Ligier-Mugen Honda 10; 22 P Lamy (Por) Minardi-Ford 7.

Did not start: U Kayatma (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha; M Papis (It) Footwork- Hart.

Fastest lap: Coulthard 1:23.220 (117.88mph).

World Drivers' Championship standings (after 13 races)

1 Schumacher 72pts

2 Hill 55

3 Coulthard 39

4 Herbert 38

5 Alesi 34

6 Berger 28

7 Frentzen 15; 8 Hakkinen 11; 9 Blundell 10; 10= Panis, Barrichello 8; 12 Brundle 7; 13 Irvine 6; 14 Boullion 3; 15 Salo 2; 16= Morbidelli, Suzuki 1.

Formula One Constructors' Championship standings

1 Benetton 100pts

2 Williams 88

3 Ferrari 62

4 McLaren 21

5 Sauber 18

6 Ligier 16

7 Jordan 14

8 Tyrrell 2

9 Footwork 1

(Benetton deducted 10pts and Williams six for fuel irregularities).

Race distance: 71 laps, 193.465 miles.

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