Hill plays down expectations

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The Independent Online
The rest of the world have already crowned him and he is aware they have, and by Sunday evening Damon Hill, too, may feel comfortable enough to acknowledge the World Championship is within his grasp.

Hill leads his Williams-Renault team-mate Jacques Villeneuve by 21 points, and a win in the Hungarian Grand Prix would open up the possibility of his securing the title at the following race, in Belgium.

The portents for Hill look good. Despite the aggressive showing of Benetton- Renault at Hockenheim a fortnight ago, Williams are expected to be the stronger this weekend and Michael Schumacher has, in public at least, written off Ferrari's chances. Villeneuve is a stranger to this track and if his showing at Monaco earlier this season is anything to go by, he will still be trying to find his way round in the race.

So, on the circuit where Hill had his maiden victory three years ago, his 21st beckons. It would be his eighth of this campaign, leaving him one short of the record for a season, shared by Nigel Mansell, Britain's last champion, and Schumacher, the reigning champion.

"I'm in a very good position; 21 points is a healthy lead," he conceded. "And there's a temptation after Hockenheim to think everything is settled."

But then he went on to remind us five races remained, almost a third of the championship, that the competition was closing, and that he did not have the "cosy" luxury of a team-mate willing to back him up.

It is a thoroughly professional attitude to take and the sport's promoters will doubtless thank him for talking up a good race.

The more serious talking is going on behind the scenes, where driver and the team principal, Frank Williams, are vying for positions of strength.

Williams has the best car - which should be confirmed here with the completion of another Constructors' Championship success - and an option on the services of Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Hill should shortly have the drivers' championship and that, he believes, will increase his bargaining power. Benetton, McLaren-Mercedes and Jordan-Peugeot have all been linked with the Englishman.

"Of course I've discussed the situation with Frank," he said, a mite tetchily. "It's on-going. Things are going well enough."

Hill is generally judged to go less well in traffic, to be less than decisive and convincing in the art of overtaking. He replied: "There are always observations made about drivers that don't hold up under scrutiny."

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