Hill aims to settle title race quickly

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A sunny Spa, a bright and positive Damon Hill: what a difference a change of scenery can make. So much so that the championship leader has publicly declared his intention to be the championship winner in the next two races.

Victory here, in Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix, and in Italy, a fortnight later, will give him the title regardless of how his only challenger, his Williams-Renault team-mate Jacques Villeneuve, finishes. Such was Hill's mood when he arrived at Formula One's most spectacular and awe- inspiring circuit that the usual air of caution was jettisoned in favour of expressions of confidence and purpose.

Hill had, he said, practised his starts, a source of anxiety and lost points of late, and was encouraged by human and technical improvements. He also maintained that the atmosphere within the team had not been polluted by his claims of "confusion" and a difference of opinion over pit stop strategy, in the Hungarian Grand Prix, a fortnight ago.

A grand prix was a battleground, where the combatants had to think on their feet, he reasoned. He accepted there were certain factors from the team's point of view that were not necessarily evident in the heat of conflict. "I have no complaints about Hungary," he said. "We're professionals, we work as a team and there was never a question of ill feeling."

That unity extended to his relationship with Villeneuve and, after a family holiday in the South of France, he was focused on completing the championship campaign with a flourish.

Hill, who leads the Canadian by 17 points, said: "I'm never complacent but I'm looking forward to finishing the season as quickly as possible. If I win here and at Monza it's all over, and I certainly have that in mind."

The 35-year-old Englishman has apparently flushed away the nagging concerns that appeared to haunt him in the immediate aftermath of his narrow defeat by Villeneuve at Budapest, and that should prove every bit as significant as better starts. He is adamant that he is justified in keeping his foot- operated clutch rather than the hand mechanism favoured by Villeneuve. And, unlike the Hungaroring, this magnificent circuit will not summarily condemn a driver for a tardy getaway.

This is an authentic race-track, a genuine test of driving skills. It is the circuit that ought to carry Hill within touching distance of his objective.