Discarded Hill has Monza on his mind

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Damon Hill drives both for the championship and his career in Sunday's Italian Grand Prix at Monza, after his association with Williams-Renault was ended by the appointment of Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

Despite widespread interest in Hills' services, following the announcement he had been dropped by Williams for next season, he is not intending to commit himself to a new team this week. While Williams are expected to confirm as his replacement the German, Frentzen, on Thursday, in a $12m (pounds 8m) two-year deal, Hill is said to have thoughts only for the title this week.

His manager, Michael Breen, said: "We are taking stock and are not going to rush into anything. All that is really concerning Damon right now is the championship and he is focused on winning that.

"We have had contacts from other teams since Damon's announcement was made, but nothing will happen regarding his future before Monza."

Williams yesterday pledged to give Hill their full backing for the remaining races. "As far as the team are concerned Damon will be given 100 per cent support - as will Jacques [Villeneuve]," a spokeswoman said. "They will be given the same equipment and the same support as has been the case throughout the season. The team will make sure they both have an equal chance of winning the championship."

Once the title is decided, Hill's choice appears to embrace three teams: McLaren, Mercedes, Jordan-Peugeot and Stewart-Ford. McLaren will doubtless be Hill's preference and they have indicated an interest in him as a possible replacement for Mika Hakkinen. However, their contracted driver for 1997 is David Coulthard and Mercedes and the team's new German-based sponsors are unlikely to favour an all-British line-up.

Jordan represent a more feasible option, but for Hill it would mean stepping down from the "Premier League" much as the Silverstone organisation project themselves as a coming team.

Jackie Stewart's new outfit are due to announce a huge sponsorship deal, but they cannot be expected to figure among Formula One's major players in the short-term, and Hill, 36 in a fortnight, is presumably reluctant to involve himself in long-term projects.

Whatever decision he makes, it seems he will have to lower his racing and financial sights, although the championship would, of course, strengthen his bargaining position.

Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One's impresario, suggests the title should have been Hill's guarantee of another year at Williams.

"If I was a team owner I would have it in a driver's contract that if he won the championship he would stay for at least another year, on a set fee," he said.

Ecclestone believes Hill, 13 points ahead of his partner, Villeneuve, with three races remaining, will successfully complete his championship mission.

"Damon's obviously going to win it," Ecclestone said. "This will probably make him drive harder and better. It will spur him on. He might have thought he would have had another chance, anyway, if he blew it this time, but now he knows he hasn't."

Frentzen's two-year contract will cover Williams' last season with Renault and their first with new engine partners, perhaps a convenient commercial arrangement should BMW be among the candidates to fill the void. Mercedes might also consider a switch to the champion team if they feel McLaren cannot fulfil their expectations.

Apart from his German nationality, he has also natural pace to offer, even if it has not been particularly obvious during this season, driving the uncompetitive Sauber-Ford.

At $6m (pounds 4m) a season, he comes cheaper than Hill, who is understood to be earning $7.5m this year and, despite claims that no demands for next year were made, is believed to have been seeking $15m from Williams.