Hill heightens the tensions

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The Independent Online
At last, a hint of edge, even hostility, to enliven the world championship contest. Jacques Villeneuve, and now Damon Hill, are talking dirty.

In Hill's case it is out of character, and probably all part of the mind games, to keep his Williams-Renault team-mate guessing, possibly wary. When he arrived here for Sunday's potentially decisive Portuguese Grand Prix, the Englishman delivered what amounted to a threat of raw aggression.

The championship leader's tantalising declaration came in response to reports that Villeneuve had accused him of forcing the Canadian's car wide at the start of the Italian Grand Prix, a fortnight ago, the first public sign of discord between them.

Hill, who will be confirmed champion here unless Villeneuve beats him by at least four points, said: "I do not want to resort to unfair tactics, but it is always a matter of opinion what is fair and unfair, and I'm at liberty to drive in a way that may not be the way some people expect me to drive. So everything is at my disposal, everything is possible.

"If I am in the lead I will defend vigorously. If I am ahead of Jacques at the end of the race I'll finish it off, and even if I am behind I could. I'm the current championship leader and I'm determined to win it."

It was put to Hill that he would surely not resort to deliberately driving Villeneuve off the road the way some previous champions saw fit to complete their missions: "Why not?" he replied.

Deliberately provocative? Certainly, what his admirers have perhaps waited to hear from him. Had not the likes of Senna, Prost and Schumacher - great champions all - turned nasty when they deemed it necessary? The Gary Lineker rather than the Vinnie Jones in Hill re-emerged, however. "I've seen the championship decided in ways which are unsatisfactory and I don't want it to be that way. I can start on pole, not see a soul for the entire race and win cleanly."

Hill has the majority of the paddock sympathy on his side. Villeneuve's cocky manner had alienated members of the grand prix fraternity before he denounced the Brazilian, Pedro Diniz, as "one of those idiot drivers who should not be in Formula One''. Luca Di Montezemolo, president of Ferrari, took it upon himself to suggest "Villeneuve would not even be in Formula One if his name was Johnson."

Martin Brundle, an elder statesman of the drivers, said: "It is fair to say Damon would be the more popular winner."

Hill professed himself relaxed, and grateful his error in Italy had not undermined his campaign. "Monza proved two things," he said, "that God truly is on the side of Ferrari, and that he wants me to win the championship."

He was less lyrical about his plans for life after Williams. He would favour a move to Benetton-Renault, but unseating Jean Alesi presents contractual problems and the latest buzz is that he will be named as a Jordan-Peugeot driver on Monday. Eddie Jordan's team are due to announce the signing of Ralf Schumacher, younger brother of Michael, for the other seat this morning.

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