Hill prepares to enter the last-chance saloon

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Motor racing

DAVID TREMAYNE

reports from Aida, Japan

Damon Hill continues to shrug off a hairline fracture in his right leg as he prepares to grasp what could be his last chance to keep his fading World Championship hopes alive here at the Aida circuit in the first part of the Japanese double-header. He retains a mathematical chance of beating Michael Schumacher to the title, but is aware that the reigning champion needs only three points from the remaining three races to retain his crown.

Hill sustained his injury when he crashed out of the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring three weeks ago, but is more concerned with this race and with the outcome of an FIA World Council meeting in Paris yesterday, where his demands for clear interpretation of the rules of engagement of his profession were among a number of subjects under debate.

Hill, who is known to hold what appear to be increasingly unfashionable views of maintaining good manners during confrontations on the racetrack, said recently: "I believe the racing could be much better if everyone played by the rules. I'm beginning to wonder if I stand alone on this, but I simply want to make myself clear. I just want the FIA to clarify the situation, that's all."

Max Mosley, the FIA president, lunched in London last week with the vice- president, Bernie Ecclestone, Hill, Schumacher and fellow drivers Gerhard Berger and Martin Brundle to discuss the matter, and the outcome is expected to be made public very shortly. If the World Council shares Hill's view on what is acceptable and what is not, it could result in a fundamental change in some drivers' tactics. Hill and Schumacher have fallen out with each other over just such matters several times in the past two seasons.

Although Hill's willingness to race is thought to have denied the IndyCar champion, Jacques Villeneuve, a possible chance to bring forward the graduation to the Williams race team that he is due to make in 1996 - when he will replace Hill's current partner, David Coulthard - health problems elsewhere have given the young Danish driver Jan Magnussen his chance. Mika Hakkinen's recent appendicitis operation has obliged the McLaren boss, Ron Dennis, to call up his team's test driver on a circuit that few drivers know really well.

Meanwhile, Brundle watches from the sidelines, having been obliged to stand down at Ligier in favour of the Japanese driver Aguri Suzuki.

The Pacific Grand Prix was originally scheduled to take place in April, but had to be postponed following the earthquake at nearby Kobe. Although there was talk of a five-year deal when the industrialist Hajime Tanaka staged his inaugural grand prix last year, it now seems unlikely that there will be a third race in 1996.

Despite that, however, this year's event is regarded in Japanese circles as a symbol of the country's ability to rise above not just its economic, but also geographical problems.

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