Hill must rediscover boldness

Derick Allsop gathers opinion on how Britain's world champion in waiting can crush the doubters and clinch the title on Sunday
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The Independent Online
Damon Hill may find it easier securing the drivers' title on Sunday than winning the universal acclaim befitting a world champion.

The British driver requires just a point from the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, and given the superiority of the Williams-Renault he has only to stay out of trouble and finish the race to manage that. Even that modest task will not be necessary if his team-mate and rival, Jacques Villeneuve, achieves anything less than victory.

A sensible course, however, may not be sufficient to convince many members of the Formula One fraternity and the watching public he is worthy of motor racing's ultimate prize. Hill has heaped this scepticism upon himself in the two races since he was informed he would not be retained by Williams for next season. He tossed away the opportunity to wrap up the championship in Italy, and did so again when he surrendered to an inspired Villeneuve in Portugal.

All the old doubts and, perhaps, prejudices returned. Suddenly his early season domination was seen in a different context. The car was so good no other team had a look- in and Villeneuve was too new to Formula One to represent a serious threat. In the later stages Villeneuve has blossomed, his growing familiarity with the team, the car and grand prix racing drawing his vibrant talent into the open.

Martin Brundle, the acknowledged sage of the drivers' union, articulated the thoughts of many compatriots when he said: "I hope Damon actually goes out and wins it, and doesn't just let it come to him.

"I think that overall this season he deserves to get the championship and I hope he does, but I really believe he needs to be seen to win it in style, from the front.

"It's fair to say there is a general feeling something has gone from Damon's racing and his challenge in recent grands prix and that if he came in fifth or sixth it would not have a lot of value. It would actually be rather meaningless.

"It would be understandable if Damon played safe but that might be asking for trouble. It's the same in all sports. When you take it easy you are liable to get hurt. When you hesitate on a race track you are likely to make contact with another car.

"It's an entirely different situation for Villeneuve. He's got to win, he knows he's got to go for it, and he can go into the race with that different mental approach. More often than not, when you've got nothing to lose it comes off for you, and the momentum is certainly with him."

Brundle suggests Hill takes with him the winner's trophy from the 1994 Japanese Grand Prix as a lucky charm. "He should cuddle that trophy and hope it encourages him to be positive and put on the kind of performance he produced two years ago," the Jordan-Peugeot driver said. "He had to find something special that day and he did, in torrential rain, to beat Michael Schumacher. That's the kind of drive I'm sure his fans would like to see from him on Sunday."

The demon in Damon has been apparent too infrequently for Williams' liking, hence their decision to replace him with Heinz-Harald Frentzen, but Sunday's race could be tailor-made for the customary, composed drive by Hill - out in front.

John Watson, the former grand prix driver, believes, like Brundle, that Hill may be inviting trouble by curbing his natural instincts. Watson, now a television commentator, said: "When you know that all you need is a point it may be difficult to think in

terms of going for a win, but in Damon's case I believe it may be the safest policy.

"If Damon gets pole, and he must have a good chance of that, and then gets a clean start, he should try to go away because when he's out in front he flows normally. He's comfortable there. His problems arise when he's caught up in traffic and has to overtake."

Watson, renowned for his overtaking prowess during his Formula One days, offered Hill a little advice to arm him should he be trapped by the pack. "You have to make up your mind you are going to pass and send out a clear message that you are coming through," he said. "You have to let the other guy know it's going to happen, no matter what.

"If Damon isn't getting the information he needs from his team to help him during the race he should be on the radio to them demanding to know. Schumacher talks incessantly to the pits. Damon has to assert himself in the same way."

Brundle and Watson will not be alone in looking for Hill to assert himself when the class of 1996 line up for the last time on Sunday.

n The Japanese company Bridgestone announced yesterday they plan to provide tyres for Arrows in 1997, a year ahead of schedule.