Hill determined to match fire with fire

motor racing Derick Allsop reports from the Nurburgring
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The Independent Online
Another championship lost, the next instantly contemplated, and for that Damon Hill is prepared to adopt the more aggressive style of driving again proven to be essential in modern Formula One.

Michael Schumacher's awesome victory in the grand prix of Europe here has, as Hill concedes, effectively secured him a second consecutive title, the Williams-Renault driver being reduced to the role of vanquished, if gracious, onlooker after crashing out of the race. This is a brutal business, where only the strong prosper.

Schumacher had, yet again, demonstrated the way to succeed. The 26-year- old German is blessed not only with wonderful feel for a car, blinding pace and an extraordinary racing brain, he is also an uncompromising fighter. It takes all those qualities to make a winner. Ayrton Senna had them, and Britain's last champion, Nigel Mansell, was nothing if not combative.

Jean Alesi also outfought Hill on Sunday, refusing to yield and placing his Ferrari across the bows of the Williams, causing the damage which put victory beyond reach for the Englishman. Hill, who has always professed himself dedicated to upholding the ideals of fair play and common decency, even at the height of his confrontation with Schumacher, now says: "The way Michael drove was typical of the aggressive approach he has. That's the way he drives. I can drive like that again. It seems to be that is the way it is."

That is the way it is likely to be again next season. Schumacher in a Ferrari will be no less committed. Alesi, swapping places with him, is determined to convince Benetton-Renault he can be just as competitive. The same goes for Gerhard Berger.

More ominous still for Hill could be the potential indicated by Jacques Villeneuve in his early reconnaissance runs with Williams. Their relative times this week in testing at Imola should be enlightening.

Hill can reasonably claim he has not had the rub of the green this season, and that he is not alone in performing second best. Williams' racing operation has generally been inferior to Benetton's. At a crucial stage of Sunday's race, for example, Hill was stuck behind Alesi and an earlier than scheduled pit stop was surely advisable. Driver and/or team lacked either the instinct or flexibility to accommodate such a move. Schumacher had, by then, made his second stop and was piling on the pressure, eventually having sufficient time to stop a third time and still beat Alesi to the flag.

Perhaps if Williams had instructed David Coulthard to slow in the closing stages and allow Hill to take third place, the latter would have stayed on the track and at least prolonged the championship contest. That would also have kept the team closer to Benetton in the constructors' championship.

Schumacher, 27 points clear of Hill with a maximum of 30 available from the final three races, is about to be rewarded for his efforts with another title, and Benetton, 20 points in front of Williams, are within sight of a maiden constructors' triumph. Williams, as well as Hill, need to be more aggressive next year.

Coulthard, confirmed here as a McLaren-Mercedes driver for 1996, contends Hill is capable of rising to a challenge, but offers an interesting theory as to why the former motorbike racer may not be able to match Schumacher.

He said: "I've got nothing but respect for the way Damon responds, especially in pressure situations. He didn't show that here because he spun off chasing me and it's very unusual for him to make a mistake like that. If there is a difference, it's probably because Michael's been racing on four wheels since he was 11 years old, and Damon started when he was 23 and missed all those formative years. Damon has shown he can race aggressively, but at the moment Michael is picking up the wins and Sunday was his best ever."

Coulthard acknowledges he cannot be sure when he will be in a race-winning car again after this season, but hopes McLaren are beginning the climb back to prominence. "With the resources and commitment McLaren have, and the commitment I can see at Mercedes, we can get back into a winning situation," Coulthard said.

He would doubtless have preferred to stay at Williams, but no firm offer was made and McLaren took the opportunity denied them by the independent contracts board last winter.

n Nigel Mansell yesterday refused to contemplate retirement, saying that he is ready to return next season. "We are going to make a decision within the next two or three weeks whether or not we accept a full-time drive in 1996," Mansell said. "I won't be there making the numbers up in whatever I do, whether it's the other side of the Atlantic or in Formula One."