Hill has one chance left to climb the mountain

MOTOR RACING: Time is running out for the country's leading driver after a bad year for the British, argues Derick Allsop

Out of defeat, new hope and resolve: the old ethos is a pillar to lean on and no one is in greater need of support at the end of this Formula One world championship than Damon Hill.

Success at the final grand prix, in Australia, served to shore up Hill's self belief and, perhaps more importantly, his stature within the Williams- Renault team. They now have all winter to complete the restoration work.

Hill and Williams have been soundly beaten this year and the championship, as a contest, has consequently suffered. No combination was better equipped to challenge Michael Schumacher and Benetton-Renault, but too often that potential was squandered by driver or team, or both.

Mutual dissatisfaction undermined the Hill-Williams effort. He felt they did not afford him due consideration, they gave the impression they regarded him almost unworthy of the dynasty.

The contrast with Benetton, where Schumacher was the focus of the operation, compounded Hill's frustration, yet the more he spoke about it the more resentful and resistant Williams appeared to become. Alas for the Englishman, erratic performances tended to throw his claims back into his face.

And all the time Schumacher, a smirk seemingly fixed on his face, pounded out his superiority. He won his second championship by a distance and equalled Nigel Mansell's record of nine victories in a season.

The pick was probably Spa, where he mesmerised the field from 16th on the grid. His car control and judgment on slick tyres on a damp track were the stuff of greatness.

If the destiny of the crown was determined early, Formula One consoled itself with a spectacle worthy of the name. After the Belgian Grand Prix, we saw one of the most dazzling periods in the sport for years.

Overall, it has been a disappointing season for the British. David Coulthard found an extra gear too late to involve himself in the championship and still paid heavily for lapses of concentration. He loses the benefit of the Williams next season, moving to McLaren- Mercedes, but at least he has a job and time on his side. Johnny Herbert and Mark Blundell, released by Benetton and McLaren respectively, are seeking work and may never get further chances with top teams.

Eddie Irvine will feel 10 points and 12th place represent an unsatisfactory return and Martin Brundle's limited programme for Ligier-Mugen inevitably consigned him to a bit part.

Jean Alesi, who made a long-awaited breakthrough in Canada, Mika Hakkinen and Heinz-Harald Frentzen all presented, between the aberrations, further evidence of burgeoning talent beyond these shores.

The serious injuries sustained by Hakkinen at Adelaide were also a reminder that, for all the stringent safety restraints imposed following the tragedies of last year, this remains a perilous pursuit. By and large, the regulations have worked well and the new-found confidence in the pit lane has been bolstered by the quality of the racing in the later stages of the season.

Formula One is therefore optimistic about 1996. Schumacher may be a league above the rest, but he has to raise the level of performance and reliability at Ferrari to complete a hat-trick of championship wins. He embarks upon the task with a first run for the team on Thursday and continues in earnest, testing with a V10-powered car next week.

Benetton, intent on proving there is life and glory after Schumacher, have two possible contenders in Alesi and Gerhard Berger, and also get down to business next week, while McLaren, it has to be assumed, will be the stronger for not having to change engine manufacturers this winter.

The team bound to be at the head of the field are Williams, and Hill knows he cannot afford to misdirect what might be a final shot at the title. He has the car and he now has the experience to help carry him over obstacles - actual or imagined - within his camp.

One barrier will come in the shape of his new partner, Jacques Villeneuve, another ambitious tyro, but Hill has the momentum to leap clear. How soon the Great Race beckons again...

n Mika Hakkinen, who suffered severe head injuries in practice for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix, has been released from intensive care. He is expected to remain in hospital for another week.

The front of the starting grid 1996


Michael Schumacher

Eddie Irvine


Damon Hill

Jacques Villeneuve


Jean Alesi

Gerhard Berger


Mika Hakkinen

David Coulthard


Rubens Barrichello

Martin Brundle


Johnny Herbert

Mark Blundell

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£30,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a perso...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Payable Clerk

£21,000 - £24,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a new opportunit...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Manager

£55,000 - £65,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accountant with ...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

£45,000 - £55,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified accountant...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor