reports from Montreal
Michael Schumacher is on a roll, Ferarri are closing in. The portents do not look so encouraging for Damon Hill as he had imagined not so long ago, but now, he contends, is the time to determine the destiny of the Formula One World Championship.
The depression of Monaco has given way to optimism as Hill anticipates Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix here. The discovery of a faulty differential on his Williams-Renault at Monte Carlo eased his anxieties about a performance advantage for Benetton-Renault. Testing at Silverstone last week convinced him his campaign is back on track.
Hill, five points behind Schumacher in the standings, said: "It's a relief to know what the problem was at Monaco and now we can put that behind us. There are another five months, another 12 races to go. It's what matters in the next three months that will be important. I did think I'd be in a stronger position at this stage of the season but the Championship hasn't really started yet. Now we get down to the real business."
Hill appears to have an insatiable appetite and is depending on Williams to recover their customary reliability and satisfy his needs on the track. He said: "Williams have, for a very long time, had a very good reliability record and what David Coulthard [his team-mate] and I have experienced this season is not what is expected at Williams. So reliability is a big worry.
"You do feel let down after committing yourself, but these things happen. It's irritating, to say the least. But I have no doubts that when they put their minds to it, the team will provide bullet-proof equipment."
Hill is conscious, however, that after feasting on championships for so long, it is unrealistic to expect Williams to have the craving for success that he has. "It can't be the same as my hunger," he said. "They have won so much, so many constructors' championships, so many drivers' championships. I've never won it. I hope through my driving I give them that extra motivation, and I think I can see that in the mechanics and the people I work with. They have faith in you and you repay it by delivering."
Fuel stops and strategy are a prickly issue in the Williams camp, of course, so it is none too surprising to hear Hill's proposal for regulated pit schedules.
He said: "The best races are when everybody is on the same fuel stops and perhaps Max Mosley [the president of the sport's governing body, the FIA] could be requested to look at the possibility of a specified number of fuel stops. That will be better for spectators and I'd prefer to race the guy I'm competing with."
He has a point. Fuel stops have been the curse of racing, as well as a gratuitous danger to everyone in the pit lane. Whatever the future of refuelling, Hill is confident his title ambitions will be replenished here.
He said: "I do expect it to come my way this weekend. I believe I've got all the ingredients to win this year. I just need a little bit of luck and the guarantee of finishing the races."