Action Replay: Hill rises above chaos to realise his dream

Next Sunday's British Grand Prix could be Damon Hill's last in Formula One, but he will have fonder memories of 1994, when he won the race for the first and only time. Derick Allsop reported from Silverstone for the Independent.
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The Independent Online
DAMON HILL'S day of destiny survived the mayhem and controversy, and, at last, the family name, one of the most famous in motor racing, was on the British Grand Prix trophy.

The 33-year-old Englishman, armed with the conviction that this was to be his race, realised the dream that had always eluded his late father, Graham, as, for once, a flaw was revealed in the strategy of Michael Schumacher and Benetton-Ford.

Schumacher was given a five-second stop-and-go penalty for twice overtaking pole position holder Hill on the formation lap, misdemeanours which yielded control to Hill and consigned the championship leader to second place.

It might have been worse for the German. He did not respond to the black flag which indicated he should return to the pits in the prescribed period, but Benetton pleaded the mitigating circumstances of confusion and, rather than disqualify Schumacher, the stewards "severely reprimanded" driver and team, and imposed a pounds 16,000 fine "for not having full knowledge of the regulations".

Williams felt Schumacher, leading Hill by 33 points, should have been excluded, as Nigel Mansell was five seasons ago in Portugal. Frank Williams, the team principal, said: "It is quite clear in the rules. The black flag means he must come in immediately and if, for three laps, he ignores it, he is out of the race."

Mansell was not only disqualified at Estoril, he was also suspended for the following race and fined pounds 32,000. The next race in this championship is the German Grand Prix.

Flavio Briatore, the managing director of Benetton, said: "We were given a piece of paper on which was written `five seconds penalty for overtaking car number 0 during the formation lap.' The stop-go was not mentioned. We didn't ask Michael to come in and they showed him the black flag.

"I spoke to the clerk of the course and it was agreed that, because of the misunderstanding, Michael would then come in for the stop-go. By that time it was nearly impossible to win the race."

There were grumblings lower down the order, too. Behind Jean Alesi, a comfortable third for Ferrari, Mika Hakkinen, in a McLaren-Peugeot, and Rubens Barrichello, driving a Jordan-Hart, collided in the last-gasp surge for fourth place.

Barrichello sought refuge in the pits, while Hakkinen was pushed out of a gravel trap by marshalls. No one lodged an official protest, however, so Hakkinen was placed fourth and Barrichello fifth.

David Coulthard, relegated to the back of the field after stalling on the grid and causing the start to be aborted, revelled in the opportunity to carve his way through the field and collected the final point with sixth place in the other Williams.

Schumacher, seemingly practising his start, perhaps even indulging in a little psychological sparring, catapulted his car from the grid on the formation lap. He again went ahead of Hill on that lap and although he eventually allowed Hill through, the damage had been done.

An uncharacteristically glum Schumacher was evasive on the issue. "Damon was a little slow and I didn't want to break hard and lock up," he fumbled. "I thought the five seconds would be added to my race time."

Whatever assistance Hill had from the hapless Benetton camp, he was fired up for this race as no other. He had virtually pinned his reputation on the outcome. And when he had accomplished what his father could not, he expressed his emotions: "This is the best day of my life. It is like a dream. It may sound big-headed, but I just knew this was going to be my day.

"I won pole, I won the race. I feel everything has come together here. I felt I was destined to win this race. I want to thank everyone at Williams for getting behind me.

"I had a lot of motivation for this race, not least because my father had never won it. This was the hole left in my father's record." Hill was already in the mood for celebration and his mother, Bette, said: "I'm sure Graham is up there somewhere watching and having a party."

Schumacher was the only driver able to keep in touch with Hill, Ferrari again failing to sustain their qualifying form in the race. And, once more, Schumacher was quicker in and out of the pits at the first stop and assumed command. By then, however, his team and officials were debating the penalty that was to prove decisive.

According to Schumacher, gearbox problems restricted him in the later stages, but he had the grace to congratulate Hill and say: "This is something special for Damon, in front of his home crowd. He had a superb race."

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