Hill heads the home standings

Motor Racing
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The Independent Online
Damon Hill has left the rest of the United Kingdom's Formula One drivers in his wake this season and the pattern is being reflected in the shake- up of jobs for next year.

This past weekend has proved immensely productive for Hill. Not only has he won the Hungarian Grand Prix and revived his World Championship challenge; he has also, evidently, successfully concluded negotiations for a new contract with Williams-Renault believed to be worth $10m (pounds 6.4m).

However, for his partner, David Coulthard, and others of the home contingent, the future looks less certain. Coulthard, Johnny Herbert and Mark Blundell are all seeking alternative employment for 1996. While Martin Brundle seems likely to stay with Ligier, Eddie Irvine, of Jordan-Peugeot, is the sole UK representative with a declared deal beyond this year.

Coulthard, burdened by the "golden boy" mantle, has frankly struggled to justify his place at Williams, his distant second here being another case in point. It is not unfair to suggest he has been pushed too hard too soon and the team are expected to confirm tomorrow that he is to be replaced by Jacques Villeneuve, the French Canadian currently competing in IndyCars. The Scot's management organisation contends he rejected a new contract with Williams, which is a mite mysterious. Equally difficult to comprehend are claims that he has multi-million pound offers from McLaren- Mercedes and Ferrari.

Coulthard is certainly negotiating with those two teams and he has influential connections with their major sponsor. McLaren are said to have an option on his services, which expires today. Ferrari, due to announce the signing of Michael Schumacher from Benetton-Renault, will need to recruit a No 2 if Gerhard Berger moves on. The Austrian is also a candidate for McLaren.

Coulthard, who admitted he could not keep pace with Hill on Sunday and made an error which allowed Schumacher through, remains adamant he will still be among the heavyweights next season. However, it scarcely makes sense for anyone with ambition to be No 2 to Schumacher. The German demands outright senior status.

Coulthard, 24, said: "I'll be in a top four team, no question. I am here to gain experience at the highest level, racing against proven winners. That's the experience I need and when I get my first win I'll go forward from there."

Herbert has achieved his maiden victory this season, yet that has hardly compensated for a torrid experience as a bit-part player in the Schumacher show at Benetton. There has even been speculation here that he could be dropped for the next race, in Belgium, on Sunday week. He appears to have scant prospect of being retained for next season and will have to scour the middle and lower grid to stay in Formula One.

The same plight confronts Blundell, called up by McLaren after the Nigel Mansell shambles. He was one of those busy off the track as well as on it over the weekend and had lengthy talks with Sauber-Ford. One of Sauber's present drivers, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, is a contender to run with Jean Alesi at Benetton next year. Another is Jordan's Rubens Barrichello. They may test for Benetton on Thursday.

Alesi is booked to switch from Ferrari and replace Schumacher, although the latter might be wondering whether he is taking the right course. Schumacher's aides naturally say he is not going to Maranello for the money - pounds 16m of it - explaining he needs the fresh challenge and so on. Schumacher also says he does not consider himself automatically entitled to the championship every year. But again Ferrari were well off the pace in Sunday's race and again Alesi's car broke down.

So, too, did Schumacher's Benetton, but it was the first time he had been brought to a premature halt by a mechanical fault for more than a year. He must feel the fates conspired against him here. A fuel rig problem threw his pit stop strategy out of sync and he had to retire little more than three laps away from a valuable six points.

Hill has expressed himself content that his arch adversary is bound for Ferrari. The Englishman clearly suspects his title chances next year, as well as this, have been considerably enhanced.

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