Hill makes his point with victory

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The Independent Online
MOTOR RACING

Damon Hill opened his 1995 world championship account in style as grand prix racing returned to Argentina, taking his 10th win and scoring an important psychological victory.

Having been beaten off the line by both his team-mate, David Coulthard, and his arch rival, Michael Schumacher, Hill mustered his forces to pass both. When he outbraked Schumacher at the end of the pit straight on lap 11, it marked the first time since their rivalry began in earnest last season that he had actually overtaken the German on the track.

It was, however, a far from easy victory, for Jean Alesi in the Ferrari dogged him all the way. Where both Hill and Schumacher adopted race strategies which called for three fuel and tyre stops, Alesi gambled on only two.

Having been the most consistent driver all weekend, the Frenchman pushed ahead of Schumacher with this ploy, and then took the fight to Hill in a gripping encounter which at one stage seemed likely to yield him a long- overdue first victory. By the flag, however, Hill had 6.4sec in hand over the Ferrari, and 33sec over Schumacher's Benetton.

"The car was superb all day," said a delighted Hill. "I have never enjoyed driving a car in a grand prix quite so much in my career.

"I think I drove a good race, apart from my start, because of the difficult circumstances. It was hard with Michael, but once I was by I just had the worry for the rest of the race of being careful."

The first attempt to start the race ended with the red flag after an accident at the first corner, when Alesi had made a slow start and was then pinched over the kerb as fast-starting Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Eddie Irvine moved ahead of him to chase Mika Hkkinen and Schumacher, who were weaving in an attempt to outfox one another in the wake of the two Williams-Renaults. Alesi spun and was hit by Mika Salo's Tyrrell, and that triggered carnage.

Following a frantic dash for spare cars and repairs, the race was restarted half an hour later. Again, Coulthard made the most of his first pole position and, as Schumacher contained Hill, the Scot drew away until he suddenly slumped to third place on the sixth lap. "I was going into hairpin when the engine just cut out," he explained. "I thought it was all over but I flicked down through gears and when I got into first the engine fired again."

Like Hill, he passed Schumacher at the end of the pit straight on lap 16. "I knew I only had three laps to go before my fuel stop," he said, "so I wanted to pass him to make a point."

He certainly did that, but a lap later an excellent performance ended when he rolled silently to a stop with a problem in his electronic throttle.

Schumacher was clearly holding Hill back in the early laps, but as Coulthard fell back and Hill passed the Benetton, the German settled down to a tough afternoon's work. Like Alesi, he would find that setting up his car for a dry race, after practice which was run mainly in the wet, was a lottery.

"My car was handling inconsistently," he said. "I thought it was dust on the first set of tyres, which didn't work. The second set was normal but the third was bad too. I used brand new tyres for my fourth set, and finally the car was very competitive." By then, though, it was too late.

Hill, too, was unhappy with his second set, which made his Williams understeer excessively, but Alesi was delighted with the balance of his Ferrari. "I was racing the spare car after the first-corner accident. I thought I was out of the race, so I was very happy to see the red flag!"

After a trying weekend, Herbert was relieved to finish fourth and score his first points since 1993, while Frentzen was fifth for Sauber after only one stop. After a long pit stop early on, Gerhard Berger took sixth in the second Ferrari.

Another strong drive by Salo was ruined when Aguri Suzuki tangled clumsily with his Tyrrell, while Hkkinen's weaving at the second start helped him puncture a tyre on Irvine's Jordan. Both failed to finish.

Schumacher and Coulthard now wait to see if their appeals against exclusion from the Brazilian Grand Prix are upheld in Paris on Wednesday, but Hill is on a roll. "It's good to reach double figures," he laughed. "It gets better all the time."

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