Destiny deals Ligier lion's share of luck

motor racing
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The cavorting in the Ligier-Mugen-Honda compound went on as neighbouring teams silently and, in some cases solemnly, packed their equipment for the journey home.

Winners and losers usually leave contrasting images, but when the winners have been losers for 15 years they are entitled to paint the scene in flamboyant brush strokes. And this team is French, winning again, after all that time, in the Monaco Grand Prix.

Ligier were in danger of losing their national identity when Flavio Briatore, the Italian head of the Benetton team, took control and brought in the no-nonsense Scot Tom Walkinshaw to run affairs. Rumblings of French discontent, if not quite a revolution, threatened Walkinshaw's plan to assume total command and, when the option arose, he plumped for Arrows instead, taking key personnel with him.

Formula One waited for Ligier to sink deep into obscurity. Even when Olivier Panis gave more distinguished drivers a view of his gearbox in practice here, no one anticipated the spectacle to come in Sunday's race.

Of course, Panis and Ligier were fortunate the likes of Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill and Jean Alesi dropped out, but he was there to seize the opportunity ahead of a dismayed David Coulthard and the only other finisher, Johnny Herbert.

It may still prove a one-off, a whim of fate. Ligier might have to wait another racing generation to produce a victory. This is a circuit like no other, a race like no other. Add a good measure of water to start with, and anything can happen.

However, the fact that this result breaks the trend of the previous 12 years must be even more galling for Hill, who led, unchallenged, until his Renault engine failed. He and the Williams looked better than ever on a surface most of the others found treacherous.

Only the true greats had won in that period - Alain Prost four times, Ayrton Senna six times, Schumacher twice. More importantly to the Englishman, his father, Graham, had won the race five times, a record eclipsed only by Senna.

Hill could not help but wonder whether he was destined never to win this one. Racing can be like that. His father may have reigned in the Principality but he never won the British Grand Prix. He went close, only for something - destiny, perhaps - to decree otherwise.

Nigel Mansell, Britain's last world champion, also driving a Williams- Renault, virtually made Silverstone his own domain yet was always denied here, notably in 1992 when a late, enforced pit-stop left him the impossible task of passing Senna on these narrow, winding streets. Racing can be like that.

The championship leader should console himself in the knowledge that he heads for Barcelona, on Sunday week, with his 21-point advantage intact. If Hill merely maintains this lead through the rest of the campaign he will be crowned in Italy and may have no great concern whether or not the Portuguese Grand Prix goes ahead, as scheduled, on 22 September. It appears Estoril could lose the race because the organisers have yet to complete required improvements to facilities.

An obvious replacement would be Jerez, in Spain, but there could also be bids for a United States race, perhaps in Las Vegas, and a Pacific event at Aida, in Japan, or even Adelaide.